Struggling with English and wondering if there is light at the end of this seemingly dark and formidable tunnel? Stress not!
English is known as a notoriously tricky subject, not only is it subjective but there is a particular style of writing that the syllabus favours that can be hard to nail. Yet, English is also an incredibly formulaic subject and there are a few tips and tricks that can help give a massive boost to your marks.
We sat down with Hugh, asking him about his English journey. Learn how he transformed his English marks from 60% to 83% for his HSC. Hugh talks about his learning strategies and how he overcame a 5/20 mark in his Trial exams and what he learned from it.
Let’s dive in!
The Tricky Middle Ground
At the beginning of Year 12, Hugh realised that he was struggling with Advanced English while doing the Common Module. He reflects on it and says, “I remember walking into the assessment and it was a total nightmare. Time ran short so fast and… I got to write two paragraphs and an introduction, pulling a 12/20.”
Time management is a common challenge among students, especially if you aren’t used to writing a whole essay within 40 minutes. This gets even trickier in whole papers where you are left to manage a whole two hours by yourself!
Hugh states that the “enemy of great is good”, stating how the marks and the mistake were not bad enough for him to drop out of Advanced but it was also a path that he knew he could not continue on. He knew that a major problem for him was that he did not finish the assessment within the time period and set about finding a solution to this.
“In hindsight, it is important to learn from your mistakes. You definitely don’t want to sit on it and study two modules concurrently when you are supposed to be moving onto the next one. It’s important that if you screw up, you know what went wrong as you move onto the next module.”
Addressing the Need for Change
Following his first assessment, Hugh was told by a concerned teacher that he would be sitting in a mid Band 4 for HSC if he continued the way he was studying. Feeling like he could do better, Hugh asked himself what he had to do to get himself to the top B range where he felt he should be.
Hugh states that it really “comes down to how gritty you can be and your work ethic”. He made changes to his study timetable and schedules to ensure he was putting in the time and effort he needed to get to where he wanted for English.
Currently studying a Biomedical and Commerce degree at USYD, Hugh candidly shares that his ATAR was below the cut off. However, he had achieved a solid Band 5 for English and got into his desired degree through the bonus point scheme.
Recalling his surprise when he received his results from NESA, Hugh expressed his pleasant surprise at receiving an 83. “English was always such a struggle for me, but it’s important to hold your head in there and work as consistently as possible.”
What changes were implemented?
The current English syllabus places emphasis on engaging with set texts on a personal level to develop your own unique perspectives and interpretation of the text. For Hugh, this meant a lot of reading and learning about texts through academic articles found on JSTOR and Google Scholar.
Hugh’s teachers helped with this by providing him around 5-10 readings on the texts that are related to the module, which he found helped him to “form my own thought processes about a text,” adding that he also found English techniques he had never heard of that he could use in his essays.
Hugh stated for him it was:
Step 1: Read your texts, gather evidence and analysis.
Step 2: Engage more deeply with your texts by reading critical essays written by academics.
Hugh would start from week 1 in the term, taking up to two weeks to finish reading the set text while he gathered evidence and analysis which he put into a TEE table immediately. Next he would start doing a lot of reading and looking for academic articles.
Hugh reassures students saying that “they are hard to understand due to their sophisticated language, so don’t feel bad if it takes you a few tries.”
This would then help him with thesis development and constructing answers that are compelling, sophisticated and hopefully somewhat novel. His wide reading of the texts helped him to show markers a unique perspective and develop a flavour that was his — “reading the critical essays is not just about getting ideas for your analysis and your evidence, it is also about understanding the thought process that academics have about the text”.
Working with Art of Smart
Hugh learned how to articulate his ideas in his essays when working with Art of Smart. Ian, the tutor he worked with, showed him how to write in the style that NESA favours which Hugh observed “can be tricky to master if you haven’t been doing it throughout high school.”
Furthermore, Hugh attended our Skill Classes which he found helped him to practise for Craft of Writing through exercises that encouraged and helped him to think through his ideas.
Tackling Trials and HSC
While many often talk about the leap between Year 11 and Year 12, Hugh also talked about the transition from studying for one module to balancing all four at once.
“It’s really hard going into Trials, because up until Trials, you have just been studying one text throughout the term and doing your assessment on that texts. When it comes to Trials and you have to do five sections, and it’s hard to prepare for.”
Hugh stated that for him, his school weighted Module B slightly more so he prepared thoroughly for it which resulted in a 70% for the essay. However, he completely bombed out on another part and only got a 5/20, Hugh reflects stating “I had just done such little preparation for it.”
In preparing for Module B, Hugh had done a lot of practice questions and practised developing his thesis. “Probably not full essays, two or three were just introductions and two full essays. The two full essays you generally want to do at the start, and then you get to a stage of confidence where you can just do an introduction.”
However, reflecting in hindsight, poor time management in studying and the exam meant that he had not dedicated enough time to the section he scored badly on. Thus, Hugh also emphasised the importance of completing practice essays under timed conditions!
When asked about whether he rote-memorised his essays, Hugh said, “By the end of English, I had such little motivation to rote-memorise a response and I think that was good in the end. You get into this state when you are doing a lot of past paper questions that you don’t need to rote-memorise your essay.
“Obviously you memorise your evidence and analysis, but rote-memorising essays has an element of pointlessness to it since the markers do not want to test your memory. Instead they want to see that you can think.
“It is really hard to fit a pre-prepared response into an unseen question or stimulus. You get into a state where you know what phrases to use and what sentences work where, and that just comes from doing past questions.”
Feel like you’re in the same boat that Hugh was? Check out our step-by-step guide to acing HSC English Paper 1 with tips and tricks!
“For me personally, I was scoring 60% for most of my essays throughout Year 12, including the Trials. Part of that was that I was not great at dealing with the exam stress associated with an essay and so I would say that brought down my rank.
“And I remember I got 90% in that assignment which raised my rank by five places. And the reason assignments are so easy to score top marks in is because the gap between the top students and everybody else is less significant than in an essay or a test.
“You just have to push harder to get into that top range. Definitely, use the assignments in English to your advantage.”
Although English may not have been his favourite subject, Hugh said that “you have to find the joy in it and be willing to work hard.”
Looking for some extra help to ace HSC English?
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Tiffany Fong is currently completing a double degree in Media and Communications with Law at Macquarie University. She currently contributes to the university zine, Grapeshot where she enjoys writing feature articles, commentary on current affairs or whatever weird interest that has taken over her mind during that month. During her spare time, Tiffany enjoys reading, writing, taking care of her plants or cuddling with her two dogs.