Got no idea how to adapt your English essays to answer unseen questions?

Well, meet Madisson, she’s an exceptional HSC English tutor and our Coach of the Month for September 2019 due to her amazing work with students!

In Year 11 and 12, she developed some awesome strategies to ensure that she could write an essay for ANY potential questions in her English exam.

She also managed to ace the HSC with an ATAR of 96.75!

So let’s jump in and find out Madisson’s 4 killer tips for students who want to adapt their English essay plan to suit various unseen questions.

Tip #1: Don’t do a Pre-written Essay
Tip #2: Study by Theme
Tip #3: Utilise Quotes to Remember Essay Structure
Tip #4: Start on Your Essay Plan Early

Tip #1: Don’t do a Pre-written Essay

So a lot of people memorise their essay word for word.

Madisson reckons that this is one of the WORST things you can do.

The thing is, if you’re just memorising an English essay word for word, you’re giving yourself far less room to adapt.

By memorising your essay so intently, you’re putting up walls in your brain as you become so accustomed to the one structure.

If your essay doesn’t fit the question provided in the exam properly, it’s going to be hard to break apart the structure you’ve been spending so much time revising and just start something new.

Rather, Madisson believes that you HAVE TO FOCUS ON THE QUOTES/EVIDENCE. 

The time you’re wasting memorising your essay is the time you could be spending on memorising more quotes.

The wider variety of quotes you have, the more unseen questions you’ll be able to answer.

This is because you’ll have numerous pieces of evidence to back up various arguments!


This is why by the time Madisson got into her HSC English exam, she had memorised over 100 quotes – because she got on top of it early!

A bit closer to the HSC, she would spend around two hours a night memorising quotes.

Now, while you may not be able to spend this much time on your quotes, it should still make up a big chunk of your English study. 

Tip #2: Study by Theme

So how can you make better use of your time?

Throughout Year 11 and 12, Madisson developed an effective method for writing study notes that allowed her to create a set essay structure that was also easily adaptable!  

Let’s jump in and find out how she did it.

Step #1:

When Madisson wrote her study notes for a module, she would place them all underneath four, consistent and overarching general ideas.

Each of these themes/ideas were pretty much a different paragraph to be included in her essay structure.

The ideas differed a tiny bit between her prescribed and chosen texts, but for the most part, they were shared!

This meant that when it came to her English exam, it would be way easier to incorporate her related texts into her essay structure.

Step #2

After this, Madisson would go through her English rubric and write notes on each key syllabus point. 

The thing is, she would write these notes in a way that would make the syllabus points relevant to her overarching paragraph themes/ideas!

As she was making her notes, she was essentially writing out a regular essay structure just with slightly different arguments that were relevant to various potential questions (as based on the syllabus).

In a sense, she was killing two birds with one stone:

While creating a solid essay plan, she was also broadening her knowledge through traditional note-taking!

Step #3

Each time Madisson repeated this process, she would add about three quotes for each relevant syllabus point.

It would look something like this:

She would make sure that these quotes were still relevant to one of the four overall paragraph ideas/themes. 

This meant that she had a recurring essay structure that was easy to remember. However, she also had a massive bank of quotes that would be relevant to different questions.

This form of note-taking made her essay extremely easy to adapt!

Tip #3: Utilise Quotes to Remember Essay Structure

As we’ve established, knowing your quotes is one of the most effective ways to make an essay adaptable. 

Madisson believes that an effective method that’ll aid you when facing unseen questions is to visualise your essay structure as quotes, rather than dot points on the argument of each paragraph.

If you write out all of the quotes from your essay structure and memorise them in order, it really helps to de-clutter your brain when you get into a test. 

By remembering each quote in sequence, the argument that you paired with that quote will just come to you naturally!

If you get a question that doesn’t work with your original essay plan, the quotes are the only bit that you’ll be able to use to justify a new argument.

This is why it’s important that you know them really well as opposed to the other fluff that will most likely come to you naturally anyway!

Tip #4: Start on Your Essay Plan Early

If you want to adapt your English essay to unseen questions, you have to work on developing a solid essay plan over time!

As Maddison worked throughout the school year, she took on board teacher feedback, noted the stronger arguments within her essays and added new quotes she learnt from class into her structure.

Over time, as you apply your general essay to more and more questions, you start to realise the holes in its structure.

By doing this, you can go back, look at what quotes, evidence or arguments need to be added and create a stronger essay that’s more widely applicable. 

Want to Work With a Tutor Like Madisson?

Madisson is our Coach of the Month after being nominated by students and parents!

One parent said:  Madisson is fantastic. She is patient and thorough, ensuring the student attempts the work themselves and testing again that they have understood, rather than just telling them how to do it. The insights she has shared about her own experience of HSC and study have been invaluable in building rapport. She is professional and always comes prepared. A great tutor.

We pride ourselves on our many inspirational mentors and tutors just like Madisson who can help support you during the HSC.

With small groups classes, or personalised lessons conducted one-on-one in your home or at our state of the art campus in Hornsby, we can find the perfect tutor for you regardless of where you live!

To find out more and get started with an inspirational tutor and mentor get in touch today! 

Give us a ring on 1300 267 888, email us at [email protected] or check us out on Facebook!