Trying to write a Band 6 HSC English essay can feel like a mystery once you hit Year 12.
Is it my argument that gets me a Band 6? Is it my structure? Is it my writing style?
Truth is, all of these things will impact your ability to write a Band 6 HSC English essay!
Luckily, we’re here to break it all down for you in this article with a step by step guide to writing a Band 6 essay in 5 simple steps.
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s dive in!
Step 1: Understanding what makes a Band 6 HSC English Essay & Planning
HSC Bands — what do they mean?
Bands are how your HSC exams will be graded — instead of receiving a B+ or a mark out of 100, your exam results will be placed in a specific band.
Essentially bands are categories used to identify how well a HSC English Essay fulfils specific criteria. There’s Band 1 through to Band 6, with Band 6 being the highest and most sophisticated band to achieve.
- Band 6 – 90-100 marks
- Band 5 – 80-89 marks
- Band 4 – 70-79 marks
- Band 3 – 60-69 marks
- Band 2 – 50-59 marks
- Band 1 – 0-49 marks
Obviously we’re aiming for a Band 6 here, so the first thing we need to do is check out what’s actually required of us to achieve that mark. The best place to get that kind of info is NESA!
NESA describes the HSC English Essay Band 6 criteria as follows;
“Demonstrates extensive, detailed knowledge, insightful understanding and sophisticated evaluation of the ways meanings are shaped and changed by context, medium of production and the influences that produce different responses to texts. Displays a highly developed ability to describe and analyse a broad range of language forms, features and structures of texts and explain the ways these shape meaning and influence responses in a variety of texts and contexts.
Presents a critical, refined personal response showing highly developed skills in interpretation, analysis, synthesis and evaluation of texts and textual detail. Composes imaginatively, interpretively and critically with sustained precision, flair, originality and sophistication for a variety of audiences, purposes and contexts in order to explore and communicate ideas, information and values.”
Now that is a lot to take in, so let’s break it down into some terms and phrases that actually make sense.
|“Demonstrates extensive, detailed knowledge, insightful understanding and sophisticated evaluation of the ways meanings are shaped and changed by context, medium of production and the influences that produce different responses to texts.”||You show that you have a strong, very detailed understanding of exactly how time and place (context), text types (medium of production) and other influences can shape meaning in a text. You can also evaluate these things (analyse them) in a sophisticated way.|
|“Displays a highly developed ability to describe and analyse a broad range of language forms, features and structures of texts and explain the ways these shape meaning and influence responses in a variety of texts and contexts.“||You show that you are very skilled and practiced at describing and analysing in detail many different text types, literary and visual techniques. You can then explain how they create meanings or ideas in different texts and contexts (time and place).|
|“Presents a critical, refined personal response showing highly developed skills in interpretation, analysis, synthesis and evaluation of texts and textual detail.”||You show that you can write a detailed, sophisticated analytical response with your own, developed ideas. You can effectively analyse and evaluate different texts and literary themes/techniques.|
|“ Composes imaginatively, interpretively and critically with sustained precision, flair, originality and sophistication for a variety of audiences, purposes and contexts in order to explore and communicate ideas, information and values..”||You write sophisticated analytical responses (ignore the imaginatively part for this section) confidently, using your own, detailed original ideas and with strong structure. You’re detailed in answering different questions about different texts, while looking at many different ideas.|
As you can see, a Band 6 HSC English essay is all about sophistication and refinement.
Sophistication isn’t only about using fancy words, however, as the criteria points out that your actual ideas and analysis must be detailed and sophisticated as well.
Therefore you want to look at different, original ideas, comparing and contrasting your texts in an effective way and structuring your response so that it all flows smoothly.
This basically means that if your HSC English Essay can answer the question with detail and highly sophisticated language and structure, you’ll be able to get a Band 6!
Of course, this only tells you what your finished product needs to be — not how to get there. Luckily, the rest of this article will have you on your way to smashing this criteria out in no time!
Planning Your Essay — the First Draft
The quickest route to a lame HSC English essay is to just write it off the bat without doing any planning or thinking ahead.
While it’s true that some people can just come up with awesome ideas on the spot, you need to do at least a little bit of planning if you want them to come together neatly.
Plus, planning ahead makes it way easier to actually get started on your essay and can help kick procrastination’s butt!
You can start by reading over the question and creating an essay plan dot-pointing the key elements of what you’re planning to say in your response.
You can include everything from what themes you plan to explore, what techniques you’ll analyse, author context, etc. — if you think it’s important stick it in there!
Because this is the first stage of the essay, it doesn’t have to be anywhere near perfect, it’s just about getting your ideas down on the page.
Step 2: Construct Your Analysis Using TEE Tables
TEE Tables are based on the middle 3 letters of the STEEL acronym, standing for Technique, Example and Effect.
These are essentially the ‘filling’ of your essay body paragraphs, including the evidence that proves your point (your examples and techniques) as well as the points themselves (your analysis).
By creating a TEE Table you pretty much break this section down into an easily filled out set of columns that will build up to a super extensive collection of evidence for your essays.
TEE Tables are mainly useful for preparing for essay writing, as they allow you to get all your info, evidence and analysis down simply in one place.
Plus they make it way easier to figure out which quotes or examples are the strongest, or best suited to your essay.
That said, they’re also useful for once you’ve finished preparing your essay, as studying off TEE Tables makes it super easy to remember just your key points and quotes (rather than memorising an entire essay!).
So what first? Well, you’ll want to start by downloading our TEE Table Template here, or making your own.
Once you’re ready to start writing you need to focus on the first two columns. Our effect/analysis will come later based on our area of study, topic or question — what we really need to start with is our examples and techniques.
Now that we know the quote we want to use, we need to fill it into our Example column and pick out a technique or two for our Technique column. This is usually pretty simple, as most common techniques (similes, personification, etc.) are fairly easy to spot.
The purpose of your effect/analysis column is to very briefly and simply get down what point or idea you’re proving with the technique and example you’ve already listed.
Maybe they give insight to the overall topic you’re studying, or perhaps they’re a bit more niche and highlight an idea that would suit a devil’s advocate answer?
Just focus on linking everything back to the point your essay will be making.
Example TEE Table:
Within this TEE table on George Orwell’s 1984, I could make two paragraphs.
The first for showing the power of the Party’s propaganda and how it is not total, before discussing in the next paragraph how the rebellion of Winston and Julia is eventually a failure against The Party, despite Winston’s belief.
Generally you’ll want to have around 6 techniques/examples/effects per text, giving you 3 for each paragraph for comparative essay.
Of course, think quality over quantity: A great analysis of two examples is stronger than one that adds a third example with little connection to the argument of a paragraph.
Still, as you don’t know what your essay question will be, definitely have more analyses than you will need.
Step 3: Formulate Your Thesis Statement
There are a few ways you can go about writing your thesis statement. You can simply use the question exactly as it is or agree with what it’s saying OR you can argue against the question, to give your essay a real edge.
There are a whole bunch of reasons to argue against the question — otherwise known as ‘playing devil’s advocate’ — when it comes to writing an essay, most of which boil down to just not doing what’s expected!
You need to remember everyone who does the HSC ends up with the same questions, so putting a twist on it or arguing against it completely can really help set you apart.
That said, there are plenty of other reasons to play devil’s advocate too.
Here are 5 reasons to play devil’s advocate:
- It sets your essay apart
- Markers won’t expect it
- You’re creating your own thesis
- Your ideas will be more complex
- You’re showing a greater understanding of the text
We’ve told you why devil’s advocate essays are great, but we haven’t quite explained how to do it yet.
When it comes to developing your own devil’s advocate answer there are a few different ways to go about it based on what and how you like to write, but a few things stay the same as well.
Answer the Question!
The biggest mistake HSC students make when it comes to playing devil’s advocate is forgetting to actually answer the question.
This happens in two ways;
- Your thesis becomes too complex and you lose the original point
- You ignore the question and make a totally irrelevant thesis
The biggest thing to remember when it comes to playing devil’s advocate is that you still have to answer the question — you’re not ignoring it, just twisting it.
This means that no matter what you do, the question should always be focussed on the same idea or concept, just looking at it in a different way.
Create a Response
When you’re coming up with your devil’s advocate response there are heaps of ways to go about it, and most of the time it’ll come to you naturally.
That said, it’s still good to know the main categories of devil’s advocate responses — arguing against, creating a new thesis or twisting the question.
Arguing against is simply refusing to agree with the question — this may involve arguing that the statement is wrong, or that’s it’s not always right, or even saying that the complete opposite is true.
Twisting the question is more about giving it an edge or different spin by adding an idea, limitation or ‘twist’ to the original question and/or idea.
These can take a little longer to think up but they’ll almost always be more complex and encourage you to tackle some tougher concepts as you write your response.
Develop a Thesis
When it comes to playing devil’s advocate you can’t just jump in and start arguing the question because your markers will have no idea what you’re on about. You want to surprise your markers, not confuse them.
The best way to make sure your devil’s advocate ideas get across flawlessly is to develop a really solid thesis for your HSC English essay.
This means coming up with a new statement based on the original question and arguing that statement throughout.
Remember, your thesis doesn’t have to be long and complicated (in fact you want to avoid that) — it just has to state exactly what point you’re planning to make.
The best way to do this is by following a checklist like the one below:
- What is the original idea/concept?
- How can I argue it differently? (argue against, put a twist on it, etc.)
- How can I turn that into a snappy, succinct thesis?
It’s then just a case of going through and answering each of the questions for yourself!
Example – Devil’s Advocate Theses
Question statement: Through the telling and receiving of stories, we become more aware of ourselves and our shared human experiences.
Devil’s advocate thesis: The telling and receiving of stories allows us to partake in a shared human experience, but it may not involve us becoming more self-aware.
Question statement: Texts are influenced by a composer’s human experience.
Devil’s advocate thesis: Texts are inextricably linked to a composer’s experience, however they are also influenced by the collective experience.
Question statement: Positive human experiences shape humans in greater ways than negative ones.
Devil’s advocate thesis: Negative experiences shape humans in greater ways than positive ones by not reinforcing repeated actions but rather providing a chance to enable change.
Step 4: Write Your Body Paragraphs
Now, before you get straight into writing your body paragraphs and using various paragraph structures, you need to understand the purpose of a topic sentence and how they’ll back up your thesis and inform the rest of your paragraphs.
Basically, a topic sentence is the first sentence of your body paragraph. It sets the foundation for your upcoming argument/thesis within your paragraph.
Why are topic sentences important to have? They’re essential in your English essays if you really want to achieve a Band 6.
Maybe in feedback you’ve received from your teacher, they’ve said that your essay didn’t refer to the question closely enough or you didn’t have a strong thesis. This could mean that your topic sentences need some work.
Here’s how you can create strong topic sentences:
#1: Highlight the keywords of the question
Figure out what the keywords of the question are so you can make sure your essay specifically answers the question.
#2: Consider your module
Depending on the module, your topic sentences will require different things. For Module A, you’ll be looking at a pair of texts so you could either be writing using an integrated essay structure or have your body paragraphs focus on one text at a time.
For the Common Module, you’ll need to begin your topic sentence with the human experience you’d like to explore, and then introduce your texts in the sentence following your first.
With Module B, the Critical Study of Literature, you can start your topic sentence off with the prescribed text.
#3: Construct your argument
Remember that you aren’t supposed to just recount the plot of your text — you need to present an argument.
For example, with a “to what extent” question, it’s not about simply agreeing or disagreeing with the question — you need to consider the extent to which you agree or disagree.
#4: Put it all together to formulate your topic sentence
Now that you’ve decided how you’ll attach the question, it’s time to formulate the topic sentence!
To give you some examples of how you can write your topic sentence, we’ll be using texts from Module A — Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and Stephen Daldry’s ‘The Hours’.
A topic sentence for the ‘Mrs Dalloway’ (original text) paragraph could look like: Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway is a powerfully original and innovative text through which the 1920s notion of time is explored.
Simultaneously, for the paragraph written about ‘The Hours’, a topic sentence could be: Daldry meanwhile reshapes the notions of time that were presented by Woolf in Mrs Dalloway through The Hours, thereby creating an original and powerful text in his own right.
Though, if you’d like to write an integrated paragraph, a topic sentence could be: Whilst The Hours is a shadow of Mrs Dalloway, Daldry nevertheless succeeds in exploring notions of time presented by Woolf to create an original and powerful text in his own right.
Remember that your topic sentences do require some thought, as they’ll drive the flow of your arguments and the content of your body paragraphs!
Body Paragraph Structures
These mnemonics are pretty much just the same structure with different letters to represent each part. In saying that, you should choose the mnemonic that you’ll remember most because markers will be looking for this type of structure when reading through your essays.
One structure that’s commonly used is ‘PETAL’.
Your point is essentially your paragraph’s topic sentence — it responds directly to the essay question and backs up your thesis.
Select an example from your text that supports your argument (quote from a novel, film scene, etc.), but make sure there’s some sort of technique that you can discuss.
Identify the technique from your example, and try to choose one that conveys awareness of form.
This is where it becomes complex, but you’ll need to analyse both the example and technique in reference to the question.
Summarise what you’ve written by linking it back to the question and responding to it.
Another way for you to construct your paragraphs is by using the mnemonic STEEL.
The thing about STEEL is that it’s so simple, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be using it!
We want to immediately take a stance on the question, so our statement has to show what position we’re taking and hint a bit at how we’re going to go about arguing it.
Technique + Example
While this is where you’ll be bringing in your literary techniques, it’s not as simple as listing them off. Try to introduce your technique with the quote that acts as your example, as this makes your response smoother and more sophisticated.
Here’s where you’re going to start talking about just how the techniques and examples you’ve chosen actually reflect your argument. This is the ‘why’ — why you’ve included them, why they’re relevant and why they prove your point.
Now you need to link back to the question as well as the other text if you’re writing a comparative essay.
Of course, STEEL and PETAL aren’t just about structure — they’re also about content!
Without STEEL or PETAL not only will your paragraphs have lame structure, they may not even have all the info you should be including.
When you don’t create structured paragraphs, it’s easy to end up with a recount rather than an analysis, where you tell the reader what’s happened in a text, but not why it’s important or what it means.
Check out these two example paragraphs below. The first one used no structure, while the second one uses the STEEL structure – which sounds better to you?
“In The Hobbit by Peter Jackson shows that Bilbo feels a sense of belonging in the Shire, because he spends much of the film in his home. In the beginning Bilbo is seen in the Shire, where he appears happy and content, even though he knows a lot about the world outside the Shire. He doesn’t seem to need to leave the place he calls home, because he feels like he belongs there. He wears clothes that look like things in his house, with the same colours and materials, and he is shown doing things in his home, showing he belongs there. This just proves that Bilbo is happy where he is because he feels like he belongs there.”
[S] “The Hobbit looks at how one’s perspective of how they fit into the world can bring about a sense of belonging, as seen through Bilbo’s love of the Shire. [T] Props are used throughout the first few scenes of the film to establish that Bilbo has read widely of the world outside the Shire, [E] shown symbolically through his collection of maps and books on foreign places. [E] The fact that he is so interested in the outside world yet has no desire to leave the Shire clearly demonstrates that he feels he belongs there, and recognises that leaving his home would lead to severe alienation. This sense of connection to his home is cemented in Bilbo’s costuming, his clothes made of materials with the same worn textures and earthy colours that are seen throughout his home, Bag End. [L] Through this a visual link between him and his home is established and proves to the viewer just how connected to it he feels. These techniques are therefore used to demonstrate that while Bilbo is curious in his perspective of the world, he also recognises and is comfortable with where he belongs in it.”
As you can see, the paragraph using STEEL has a much better structure, but it also has much better information because we know exactly what to include!
Those techniques and examples that are missing from the first paragraph is what really fleshes out the STEEL paragraph, while the analysis is much more advanced because of following the structure!
Again, it all comes down to preference, but you can use either PETAL or STEEL and be well on your way to writing a Band 6 essay.
Step 5: Edit, Rewrite, Polish
Editing is one of those things that literally everyone could benefit from but very few people actually do or do it well.
The process of actually going over your own work with a critical eye and figuring out how you can improve it helps you in lots of different ways.
For one, editing allows you to improve on the task at hand — be it a class essay, a practice response or just something you’ve written for fun.
It also allows you to look at your work critically and identify any issues or weaknesses with your writing and work to fix them.
This in turn makes you more aware of where your writing needs improvement and therefore allows you to be more aware of these things and hopefully improve on them in the future.
Going Over Your Work
To ensure that your HSC English essay is worthy of a Band 6, it’s important to look over your work with a critical eye and figure out what isn’t working.
I’m not saying you need to tear your essay to shreds, but the most important part of editing your essay is being honest, so if something doesn’t sound quite right don’t let it slide.
Generally it’s best to go over and edit your essays in the morning, as your mind will be bright and awake and you’ll be way less likely to miss any silly things.
Plus you will have had at least 8 hours away from your essay while you slept, so you’re looking at it with fresh eyes.
When it comes to the actual editing there are lots of ways to do it:
- Read your essay out loud and circle anything that doesn’t sound right
- Use the ‘Review’ feature in Microsoft Word to track changes you make
- Go over it with a highlighter and pick out things that need improvement
It’s really up to you how you edit, but the main idea is that you’re picking up on things that need changing or want improvement.
Things to pay particular mind of include spelling, grammar, sentence structure and the overall flow of the essay.
You should also look out to make sure all your elements of STEEL or PETAL are coming across, your themes make sense and you’re really answering the question.
Final Version — Polishing
When you’re writing an HSC English essay it’s easy to forget that the marker won’t always know everything you know, so you may be leaving out vital information because you already know it.
At the same time, you always know exactly what you’re trying to say, but there’s no way of knowing if it’s actually coming across clearly unless you get someone else to read it. That’s why we get peer reviews.
Basically all you have to do is give your edited essay to someone else to read and have them give you feedback on it.
Now, if you’re giving it to a tutor, teacher or even a classmate they probably know what they’re looking for, but sometimes the person you give your response to won’t be sure how to review it.
For cases like that, we’ve put together a handy checklist of things to look out for.
Things for a peer reviewer to note:
- Sentences that are too long, too wordy or don’t flow well
- Overt repetition of words/phrases/ideas and rambling
- Poor spelling/grammar
- Text titles not underlined, quotes not in italics
- Lack of quotes/literary techniques
- A lack of coherence, which means your sentences don’t ‘flow’ well together.
- Paragraphs that seem much longer/shorter than 250 words
- Anything that doesn’t make sense (sentences, phrases, etc.)
- Doesn’t seem to answer the question
Once you’ve had your response peer reviewed, it’s time to go back in one final time and make any last changes to your essay.
You probably won’t have as many things to change, as you will have already done some awesome editing in the last section.
And there you have it! Our full-on, kick-ass guide to smashing out the Band 6 English Essay you know you can write!
We have tons more articles on different English related topics, from our English FAQ’s (Standard, Advanced and Extension) to tackling HSC Unseen Texts, we cover just about everything.
So there’s no excuse — get reading, get writing, and be the best HSC English student you can be! Good luck with your HSC English essay!
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Maddison Leach completed her HSC in 2014, achieving an ATAR of 98.00 and Band 6 in all her subjects. She enjoys helping students through academics and other aspects of school life, even though it sometimes makes her feel old. Maddison has had a passion for writing since her early teens, having had several short stories published before joining the world of blogging.
Cameron Croese is a qualified English teacher, who has a Bachelor of Education (Secondary) / Bachelor of Arts (English) from Macquarie University and is currently undertaking a Masters of Education in Melbourne. A long-time Art of Smart coach, Cameron has supported over 60 students from Years 7 to 12! When not studying, Cameron is an avid writer, having won several awards for short stories, including the Alan Marshall Short Story Award.