Key verbs for HSC English are really important!
It sounds simple, but understanding the vocab you’re likely to come across in your HSC English exam, be it Standard, Advanced or Extension, is the best way to get on the path to success.
By understanding the meaning of key verbs for HSC English, what it’s asking and how to use it, you can make sure that your essays are one step above!
Without delay, here are the key verbs for HSC English success!
Key Verbs for HSC English
These are the kinds of words and phrases you’re going to be encountering constantly while preparing for, then doing, your HSC.
Example: “Analyse the conflicting ideas about human experience in the text.”
Meaning: The markers are looking for more detail here, so you’re aiming to deconstruct the ideas in the text. The best way to tackle the example is by using the ‘TEE’ method (technique, example, effect) on 2-3 different scenes or ideas.
E.g. “Conflicting ideas about human experience in the text are revealed in [scene] through personification… (include a quote involving personification and how this shows conflicting ideas).”
Example: “How does the author represent human experience in relation to their culture?”
Meaning: When the markers ask about context they want you to link your answer to the time or place in which a text was created. In the example question you’d want to respond with 2-3 ideas or scenes that represent human experience, then explain what these mean in the time/place the text was made.
E.g. “Written in 1947, the author represents complex human experiences through [idea] to draw ties to the horrible discoveries after the war ended in 1945.”
Example: “Discuss how the text reveals ideas about the collective human experience.”
Meaning: The markers want you to talk about a variety of ideas in relation to the question. In the example you’d choose 2-3 different scenes/ideas that show varying collective human experiences in different ways. Basically keep it varied!
E.g. “The text uses [idea 1] and [idea 2] to reveal different ways in which the collective human experiences can be perceived.”
Example: “Describe the ways in which the author portrays human experience.”
Meaning: Markers simply want you to look at several ideas about the question/topic. For the example use the ‘TEE’ (technique, example, effect) method to talk about 2-3 ideas/scenes portraying the human experience and how it’s done.
E.g. “[Scene] portrays human experience through similes, such as in [reference/quote], which (describe the effect it has on the audience).”
Example: “Explain how the author shows a character’s human qualities and emotions as arising from a human experience.”
Meaning: The markers want you to identify the key ideas related to the question and then give reasons for why they’re important or why they work. For the example question, you’d want to choose 2-3 scenes or instances of characters experiencing human qualities and emotions which have come from a particular experience and then talk about what techniques are used to show it.
E.g. “In [scene] the author uses metaphors to show characters experiencing [emotion] as a result of [human experience].
Example: “Explore the ways in which the text portrays the collective human experience.”
Meaning: The markers want you to identify different ways in which ideas are shown in texts. For the example question, you’ll want to choose 2-3 different ideas to explore, making sure there’s some major variation.
E.g. “The text explores the collective experience as being unifying, yet also polarising”
Example: “The human experience is often paradoxical and conflicting. How accurate is this statement in regards to the text?”
Meaning: In these questions the markers want you to tie your answer directly to whatever statement was made and then evaluate it. For the example, you’d want 2-3 ideas/scenes about the human experience, then talk about how they are or aren’t paradoxical and conflicting. At the end, if you have more paradoxical/conflicting scenes, say that the statement is accurate – if you have fewer paradoxical/conflicting scenes, say the statement isn’t accurate.
E.g. “In [scenes] the idea that ‘the human experience is often paradoxical and conflicting’ is proved, as these scenes all reveal the human experience to be full of contradictions.
In What Way
Example: “In what way does the text portray the human experience as being perplexing?”
Meaning: Markers don’t want just one way, no matter how the question sounds! This basically mean you should talk about the different ways a text answers the question. For the example, choose 2-3 ideas that the text uses to show the human experience as being perplexing, then make sure to explain how these ideas do it (TEE method).
E.g. “Through [ideas 1, 2 and 3] the text successfully portrays the human experience as always being perplexing.”
In Your View
Example: “In your view, does the text present human experiences as always being inconsistent?”
Meaning: These questions trick you into thinking the markers want your personal opinion – which they kind of do – but not in an informal way! Remember never to use personal pronouns (I/me/my) in your essays and always keep things formal. The question does, however, want you to make an evaluation, so answer it just as you would a ‘to what extent’ or ‘how accurate’ question.
Example: “How does the author represent/reflect/ portray/etc. ideas about the human experience in the text?”
Meaning: The markers like using fancy words to replace “show” to try to confuse you. These words are pretty much all stand ins for show! In these cases, you can safely read the example question as “How does the author show ideas about human experience in the text?” and answer it as such.
To What Extent
Example: “To what extent does the text represent the idea that the human experience consists of contradictory behaviour and motivations?”
Meaning: Similar to ‘how accurate’, the markers want you to make a judgement of how much a text fills certain criteria or relates to certain statements. In the example you want to choose 2-3 scenes/ideas to talk about, evaluating how contradictory a human experience’s behaviour and motivation is or isn’t. Then make a final judgement of how much the text represents the idea that ‘human experiences consist of contradictory behaviour and motivations’.
E.g. “[Scene] portrays that one’s behaviour and motivations can be aligned, showing that the text doesn’t truly represent the idea of behaviour and motivations within a human experience to always be contradictory.”
Example: “With reference to the prescribed text and one related text…”
Meaning: This is where the markers want you to use quotes! It’s always good to use quotes regardless, but this generally acts as a reminder. Be especially careful when doing short-answer questions in the first section of the first paper. Always remember to use quotes!
That rounds off our top list of key verbs for HSC English!
Now that you know exactly what these words mean, take one or two of these examples (taken from past papers) below and figure out just what the question is asking!
If you’re looking for a list of key HSC English literary techniques, make sure you check out this definitive list here! And if you want to get some practice with answering questions with HSC English verbs, check out our master list of past papers here.
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Maddison Leach completed her HSC in 2014, achieving an ATAR of 98.00 and Band 6 in all her subjects. Having tutored privately for two years before joining Art of Smart, she enjoys helping students through the academic 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. She’s currently studying a Bachelor of Design at the University of Technology Sydney and spends most of her time trying not to get caught sketching people on trains.