Are you heading into HSC English and feeling intimidated by the content? We understand it can be a little daunting to think about all the texts you have to read and quotes you have to memorise. Or maybe you dislike how subjective all the assignments can be.
But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Meet Gian, a recent HSC Graduate. While studying for her HSC, Gian mastered the new English syllabus and graduated with an incredible Band 6 in English Advanced and E4 in English Extension 1!
We talked to Gian to hear some of her top study strategies and tips for acing HSC English.
What are you waiting for? Let’s jump right in!
Laying the Foundation
The very start of Year 12 was a really important part of Gian’s approach to HSC English.
In the early weeks of Year 12, getting all her quotes sorted was Gian’s top priority. She didn’t want to leave it to the night before the HSC because starting early allowed her to build a solid foundation and develop her personal response which she could then polish and practice over time.
Working with her Art of Smart Tutor & Mentor, Miranda
Throughout her HSC English journey, Gian found the support she received from Miranda, one of the tutors and mentors at Art of Smart, really valuable.
She worked with Miranda to understand context and get a better idea of the author, the time period the text was set in and any other relevant historical details. “Once you’ve got that context you start to understand [the text] through the intended lens and not just us reading it as a mandatory English text,” said Gian.
Once she had her quotes prepared, Miranda also helped her experiment with essay questions, work on draft paragraphs, and find plenty of resources for practice questions. Gian told us that working with Miranda was essentially “a big trial and error brainstorming session!”
For Gian, one of the best parts of lessons with Miranda is that it was a very natural mentoring connection and her needs for that moment were being catered to! “Having that reassurance that there is improvement happening just made all of the difference, even across other subjects,” she said.
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Gian’s Top 5 Tips for Approaching HSC English
#1: Read Early
One thing Gian found super valuable is to jump into the texts as early as possible! In fact, she read through her texts before studying them in class so that she had a chance to actually enjoy them without having to stress about annotating, finding techniques, or upcoming assignments.
“I read all of my texts for the year ahead in the summer holidays and then read along with them when we were doing them in class, and then I read all of them in the break before the HSC,” said Gian. That’s three readings of the texts!
#2: Make Good Annotations
Gian tells us that making good annotations and study notes when reading the text a second time is key when it comes to preparing for HSC English assignments.
She annotated her texts by simply highlighting the techniques, key quotes and themes that she came across. But she went beyond annotating! She also used her annotations to write Technique, Example, Explanation Tables (TEE Tables) and made flashcards to help her memorise them.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when annotating and writing study notes is that they shouldn’t carry out too much analysis! Gian made sure to create flashcards and notes that covered important bits like techniques, ideas and themes, but didn’t include any analysis to avoid memorising a generalised essay.
She told us that “the risk when you memorise general analysis is that it doesn’t answer the question… You can’t have an analysis to a question that you don’t really know yet”.
#3: Memorise Quotes
One of the biggest challenges for a lot of HSC English students is memorising all those complex quotes!
Gian was memorising around 30 quotes from her text and covered around 6 themes with 5 quotes for every theme. When memorising her quotes, she made flashcards that had little phrases, themes and ideas on one side and then 3-4 related quotes on the back.
She also found that colour-coding her flashcards was really useful to memorise quotes. She decided to colour-code her flashcards with different colours based on quotes, characters, and/or themes that worked well together, not by theme. This way she was able to think about the connections between different parts of the text and how they came together to form an argument.
“You can’t afford to have a memorised essay but you can afford to have an idea of a structure,” she said.
#4: Write Practice Essays
Now that you have your notes written and quotes memorised, the best way to prepare for HSC English is to practise with exam-style questions!
Gian tells us that she found it most useful to write a thesis statement or introduction in response to practice essay questions and then plan what quotes she’d use for her three body paragraphs. This way, she was able to go through more practice questions and feel confident about any curve-ball question that might come up in the HSC!
“I just did that basic scaffold of what an essay would look like to know exactly what I wanted to say without taking up all that study time,” she said.
Gian also worked collaboratively with her classmates and study groups to make up questions for each other to answer. She would then plan out a scaffold to the question, no matter how crazy it was!
She told us that “because it’s such a new syllabus no one knows what’s going to come up, so even if someone comes up with a completely crazy out of the box question, you never know… you just go at it as a group or on your own and brainstorm what you would use!”
#5: Master the Analysis
Of course, even though essay scaffolds were a bigger component of Gian’s HSC English study strategy, she also wrote plenty of whole practice essays to help develop her analysis and argument.
Gian tells us that she started writing practice essays as soon as she had her first lot of quotes locked down rather than waiting until the week before her HSC!
She made sure to write all of her practice essays under timed conditions so that she was familiar with the pressure of writing and thinking fast. She also chased up her teachers to get feedback on all her practice essays.
Even though this can feel a little daunting, Gian actually pushed her teachers to give her constructive feedback on how to improve, even if it was already a great practice essay!
This also gave her a chance to take risks and experiment with different paragraph structures, arguments and quotes so that she could continue to refine and improve her writing based on the feedback she received.
Gian’s other top tip when it comes to getting good at analysis is to just engage in lots of discussions! She mastered her English analysis by borrowing her family and friends and talking to them to do a verbal brainstorm that helped her break down ideas. She told us that the idea behind this was to teach herself exactly how she was being taught in class.
Tackling Module C and Creative Writing
One of the most stressful parts of HSC English for many students is Module C and creative writing. But Gian found herself quite relieved to have a module that required less practice!
She says that the key to tackling Module C is simply to embrace the fact that you can’t prepare and memorise a response for it. For Gian, preparing for Module C meant practising her creative writing a lot to master getting her ideas across, not to preplan responses for the exam!
This meant she collected ideas over time and found inspiration in her everyday experiences, then used them in her practice responses.
She also made sure to pay attention to the ideas, techniques and experiences she was naturally drawn to and inspired by. “I had these ideas that I noticed popping up in my writing naturally, and I just ran with them!” she said.
And there you have it!
By working with Miranda through Art of Smart’s tutoring and mentoring lessons and by implementing these key study strategies, Gian was able to walk into her English exam feeling confident and ready to ace HSC English!
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Maitreyi Kulkarni is a Content Writer at Art of Smart Education and is currently studying a Bachelor of Media and Communications (Public Relations and Social Media) at Macquarie University. She loves writing just about anything from articles to poetry, and has also had one of her articles published with the ABC. When she’s not writing up a storm, she can be found reading, bingeing sitcoms, or playing the guitar.