Just started the HSC English Common Module: Texts and Human Experiences and need some info on your prescribed text? You’ve come to the right place!

In this article, we’ll:

  • Walk you through what the Common Module is all about
  • Break down the key human experiences in your prescribed text
  • Highlight key context surrounding your prescribed text
  • Provide practice questions specific to your prescribed text in the Common Module

So, what are you waiting for? Let’s dive into the prescribed texts for the HSC English Common Module: Texts and Human Experiences!

What is the Common Module about?
How will I be assessed?
What will I study in Texts and Human Experiences?
What is a prescribed text?
How to approach a prescribed text
The Complete List of Common Module Texts

What is the Common Module ‘Texts and Human Experiences’ all about?

Texts and Human Experiences is the new Common Module which focuses on deepening students’ understanding of how texts represent individual and collective human experience. This can include examining how texts represent human qualities and emotions associated with, or arising from human experiences.

This module takes up around a quarter of your course time in HSC English and as the name implies, is common to students of Advanced English, Standard English and English Studies.

It will likely be the first topic you study for HSC English, but hopefully not the hardest one.

How will I be assessed?

You will be assessed on Texts and Human Experiences in both school-based and external assessment (HSC English Paper 1, held on the very first day of the HSC exam block).

The external HSC exam for the common Texts and Human Experiences module will consist of two sections:

  1. A short-answer section in which you respond to a range of unseen texts
  2. An essay about your prescribed text

Unlike in previous years, this exam will not be the same for Advanced and Standard but rather, it will comprise of two separate exams targeted at each respective course – an improvement, as it means the exam will be aimed specifically at your ability level and will neither be too easy or too ridiculously hard.

You can check out some sample papers for Texts and Human Experiences here!

If you’re looking for practice questions to brush up on your essay writing skills with, check out our Texts and Human Experiences practice questions here!

What will I study in ‘Texts and Human Experiences’?

Within Texts and Human Experiences, you will study:

  • ONE prescribed text (check out the prescribed texts in the syllabus, here)
  • ONE related text of your own choosing (see below for tips on how to find it!)
  • And a range of short texts, likely given to you by your teacher

You will be assessed on your prescribed text in both school and external assessments however, you will NOT be assessed on your related text in your external HSC assessment (the HSC English Paper 1 Exam).

For more information on Texts and Human Experiences, see our guide here

Now that you’ve started the Texts and Human Experiences Common Module, you will be aware of your prescribed text.

What is a prescribed text?

Your prescribed text is the text listed as an approved text on the syllabus, of which there are twelve different possible texts for this module.

This means engaging with it on multiple occasions, in order to develop a deep understanding of its characters, settings, themes, technical features and other aspects. 

In this guide, we lay out some suggestions for key human experiences within the text, the novel’s context, including background information about the author and the events and phenomena which informed the novel, and a list of practice essay questions.

One of practice questions has been pulled from the HSC exam from 2018, one focuses on a technical feature which is used often within the work, and one asks you to write on a particular experience presented within the text. 

How should I approach my prescribed text?

Your prescribed text is the core of the module, so it makes sense to learn as much as you can about it.

You want to develop a deep understanding of your prescribed text’s characters, setting and context, themes, ideas, technical features and other aspects. 

Upon the first read-through or watch, it’s good to note down major scenes, as these will hint of the most important themes in your text.

From there, it’s best to revisit your prescribed text and create more detailed notes on themes, techniques and analysis such as through using a TEE table for analysis.

If you’re not sure what a TEE table is, check out our article on using them to develop your analysis skills in English here!

The Complete List of Common Module Texts

Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell

Human experiences:

The experience of the struggle between the oppressed and tyranny, the complexities of maintaining one’s individuality amidst conformity, and the loneliness of rebellion. 

Context:

Nineteen Eighty-Four, as a dystopian novel, as well as a warning against totalitarian governments, is a reaction to the fascist regimes, led by dictators, which emerged in the years before its writing, particularly those of Adolf Hitler in Germany, Francis Francisco in Spain, and Joseph Stalin in the USSR. Orwell was a soldier in the Spanish Civil War, fighting for the Republicans against Franco’s nationalists. The novel also reflects the growing usage and possibilities of recording technology, which is used in the novel as a means of total surveillance. 

Practice questions:

HSC Question: To what extent does the exploration of human experience in Nineteen Eighty-Four invite you to reconsider your understanding of loneliness?

 

In what ways does Nineteen Eighty-Four demonstrate the paradoxes of maintaining one’s individuality? 

 

How does the novel’s use of symbolism and other textual features allow it to explore a variety of human experiences?

The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare

Human experiences:

The experience of seeking love, the complexities of friendship in the face of financial need, and the turmoil of undergoing prejudice. 

Context:

While, obviously, The Merchant of a Venice is to be understood in its context as Elizabethan theatre, it is also a comedy, a genre which involves a happy ending (generally involving weddings), comical situations involving deception, and jokes throughout the play, among other features. It reflects the period’s anti-semitism (at the time, it was illegal for Jewish people to be in England), through its characterisation of the villainous Shylock and that his conversion at the end of the play is intended to be read as a happy ending for his character. Additionally, it signals a shift between a time when the primary means of gaining wealth was through lineage, into a time when it became possible to become wealthy through trade. 

Practice questions:

HSC Question: To what extent does the exploration of human experience in The Merchant of Venice invite you to reconsider your understanding of deception?

 

How does the play’s use of symbolism and other textual features allow it to explore a variety of human experiences?

 

In what ways does The Merchant of Venice explore the complexities of seeking justice? 

PLUS check out our video below to see how to examine The Merchant of Venice and build some in-depth analysis to help you get started on your essay!

Waste Land, by Lucy Walker

Human experience:

The experience of struggle in the developing world, questioning the division between economic classes, and the complexities of making art in a punishing environment.

Context:

Lucy Walker’s documentary captures the experiences of workers at Jardim Gramacho, the largest landfill site on the planet. In particular, it focuses on Vik Muniz, an artist who creates work out of the garbage in collaboration with the catadores, or waste pickers. It speaks to the wider context of poverty across the developing world, and the immense class division within Brazilian society. 

Practice questions:

HSC Question: To what extent does the exploration of human experience in Waste Land invite you to reconsider your understanding of power?

 

How does the film’s use of interviews and other textual features allow it to explore a variety of human experiences?

 

In what ways does The Waste Land explore the paradoxes of maintaining hope? 

The Boy Behind the Curtain, by Tim Winton

Human experiences:

The experience of finding solace in a dangerous world, an engagement with a complicated natural world, and the inconsistencies in a spiritual progression. 

Context:

Tim Winton is one of Australia’s most significant authors, who has published a range of novels, short story collections and plays across his prolific career. The essays are chiefly in memoir style, and deal with a number of issues such as class, spirituality, environmentalism, and importantly, his adolescent and childhood memories’ influence on his current self. Even as he deals with wide-ranging subjects, they are rooted in the personal – although Winton often uses it to speak to wider experiences. While always engaged with the natural world, Winton’s recent writings are significantly more political in their engagement with the environment and humanity’s interaction with it, which is seen in the essays. Another important feature of the essays is their very reflective nature: often he will recall his experiences and then reflect on the changes between then and now.

Practice questions:

HSC question: To what extent does the exploration of human experience in The Boy Behind the Curtain invite you to reconsider your understanding of independence?

 

In what ways does The Boy Behind the Curtain explore the paradoxes of humanity’s ties to nature? 

 

How do the essays’ use of allusion, intertextuality, and other textual features allow them to explore a variety of human experiences?

Selected poems of Kenneth Slessor 

Human experiences:

The struggle against restricting obstacles, the complexities of the relationship between past and present, and the complexities of the relationship between a place and how it is experienced.  

Context:

Among other qualities, Slessor’s poetry is distinct amongst its time and place in that he sought to express philosophical thought, inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche, while capturing an urban experience, rather than the bush-centric verse which dominated Australian poetry. It is also useful to building an understanding of Modernism’s influence on Slessor — in particular, his poetry could be considered ‘imagist,’ a style characterised by its approach to detailing precise visual detail and clarity of language.

Practice questions:

HSC question: To what extent does the exploration of human experience in Slessor’s poetry invite you to reconsider your understanding of struggle?

 

How do Kenneth Slessor’s poems use dramatic monologue and other textual features to explore a variety of human experiences?

 

In what ways does the poetry of Kenneth Slessor explore the complexities of time and memory? 

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Human experiences:

The experience of resisting authority, the sense of the contradictory nature of beauty amidst violence, and the inconsistencies experienced in navigating war. 

Context:

A historical novel that takes place in World War II, in particular, the German invasion of France, while using features of the modern literary postmodern novel, particularly the use of non-linearity (the events are not presented in the order that they happened) and the subversion of narrative conventions. Drawing on the author’s comprehensive historical knowledge, the novel is vivid in its description of place. 

Practice questions:

HSC Question: To what extent does the exploration of human experience in All the Light We Cannot See invite you to reconsider your understanding of courage?

 

How does All The Light We Cannot See use perspective and other textual features in order to explore a variety of human experiences? 

 

In what ways does All the Light We Cannot See explore the complexities of war? 

I am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai

Human experiences:

The experience of passion for equality, demonstrating resilience after violence, and the shock of adapting to profound change. 

Context:

Growing out of a series of BBC diaries in which Yousafzai chronicled life under the brutal Taliban, the co-written biography is an account of Yousafzai’s activism for education for women and the publicity she received as a result. It also deals with her survival of a shooting by the Taliban after she was targeted for her public presence, while she was on a bus home from an exam. The book discusses the rise of extremism and violence by the Taliban in Pakistan, and the importance of education and equality. Further, it also discusses Malala’s new home in Birmingham, England, and the difference between two cultures.

Practice questions:

HSC question: To what extent does the exploration of human experience in I am Malala invite you to reconsider your understanding of strength? 

 

In what ways does I am Malala explore the complexities of one’s relationship to their culture? 

 

How does the autobiography’s use of metaphor and other textual features allow it to explore a variety of human experiences?

Billy Elliot, Directed by Stephen Daldry

Human experiences:

Pursuing one’s passion, the shifts in relationships as one grows older, and the issues of belonging. 

Context:

Released in 2000, Billy Elliott is set in Northern England during the coal miner’s strike in the 1980s, as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher aimed to close the mines to strong resistance from the miners. The difficulty the miners had supporting their family is a plot point, and it is this working class culture that Billy grows up amongst. There is a clear sense of class division within the film, which speaks to the economic divide of the time. Also, Billy’s artistic passion is used to question the gender norms of the time, from the vantage point of the decade and a half between the time depicted and the time when the film was released. 

Practice questions:

HSC question: To what extent does the exploration of human experience in Billy Elliot invite you to reconsider your understanding of commitment?

 

Within Billy Elliott, how does the director use contrast and other textual features to convey a variety of human experiences? 

 

How does Billy Elliott demonstrate change and inconsistency over time to be an aspect of human experience? 

The Crucible, by Arthur Miller 

Human experiences:

The tension between the community and the individual, enduring the hypocrisy of those searching for justice, and the complexities of trying to find truth. 

Context:

While Arthur Miller fictionalises the Salem witch trials in his play, it is a veiled reflection of the American political climate after Joseph McCarthy’s creation of the House Committee of Un-American Activities during the Cold War. The agency led to paranoia about who was a Communist, and those suspected were persecuted and barred from work. 

Practice questions:

HSC Question: To what extent does the exploration of human experience in The Crucible invite you to reconsider your understanding of love?

 

In what ways does The Crucible demonstrate the paradoxes of seeking justice?

 

How does the novel’s use of symbolism and other textual features allow it to explore a variety of human experiences?

PLUS, check out how to analyse The Crucible and apply this analysis in your responses in the video below!

Vertigo, by Amanda Lohrey

Human experiences:

The struggle of adapting to a new way of life, the complexities of searching for relief after loss, and the inconsistencies associated with love. 

Context:

While it is a literary novella with fable-like qualities, Vertigo provides a realistic and unvarnished representation of modern life in the country. Published in 2009, it is steeped in modern anxieties about city life, in particular, status and financial stress, but also in the danger of the Australian country, represented through the bushfire in the novel’s climax. 

Practice questions:

HSC Question: To what extent does the exploration of human experience in Vertigo invite you to reconsider your understanding of resilience?

 

In what ways does Vertigo challenge assumptions about rural life? 

 

How does the novel’s use of characterisation and other textual features allow it to explore a variety of human experiences?

Rainbow’s End, by Jane Harrison

Human experiences:

The experience of maintaining one’s identity in adverse circumstances, the complexities of intergenerational familial ties, and the complexities of navigating time. It concerns the housing projects which came as a result of activists attempting to secure funding. While they were successful in gaining funding, the managing of ‘The Flats’ was characterised by racism, scrutiny, and harsh rules. It also puts the focus onto the Indigenous women of the era and acknowledges them as heroes. 

Context:

Informed by the playwright’s Murawari background, the play is set during the 1950s and more specifically deals with the Australian visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1954.

Practice questions:

HSC question: To what extent does the exploration of human experience in Rainbow’s End invite you to reconsider your understanding of acceptance?

 

How does Rainbow’s End use dialogue and other textual features in order to explore a variety of human experiences?

 

In what ways does Rainbow’s End explore the complexities of finding oneself in time?

Past the Shallows, by Favel Parrett

Human experiences:

The complex nature of familial bonds, an attachment to a dangerous natural world, and the past as a shaper of identity. 

Context:

As a modern literary coming of age novel, Past The Shallows is rooted in its realistic portrayal of regional Tasmania, which comes through in how nature is represented as both a destructive force and vital to the livelihoods of Joe, Miles, and Harry’s father. The novel is also reflective of its author’s home in Hobart, in particular how visits to the beach has been an important part of her life.

Practice questions:

HSC Question: To what extent does the exploration of human experience in Past the Shallows invite you to reconsider your understanding of loss?

 

How does the novel’s use of imagery and other textual features allow it to explore a variety of human experiences?

 

In what ways does Past The Shallows demonstrate the complexities and inconsistencies of family bonds? 

PLUS check out the video below to learn how to conduct some awesome essay analysis for Past the Shallows and how to apply this within your responses.

Collected poems of Rosemary Dobson 

Human experiences:

The awareness of life’s transience, the changes undergone in interpersonal relationships, and the complexities of seeking freedom.

Context:

Rosemary Dobson’s work is a part of the experimental poetry which emerged after World War II. Tempered by her travels in Europe, Dobson’s poetry uses imagism, which has a number of features but incorporates simplicity and an unvarnished (rather than figuratively described) focus on its subject. Parts of Dobson’s work are examples of ekphrasis, which is the detailed description of visual art in a literary sense. 

Practice questions:

HSC Question: To what extent does the exploration of human experience in Dobson’s poetry invite you to reconsider your understanding of ageing?

 

In what ways do the poems of Rosemary Dobson demonstrate the complexities and inconsistencies of seeking escape? 

 

How do the poems of Rosemary Dobson use imagery and other textual features in order to explore a variety of human experiences? 

Go Back to Where You Came From and The Response, Directed by Ivan O’ Mahoney

Human experiences:

The search for safety from a hostile environment, the divergent responses taken to new experiences, and complexities of one’s beliefs being challenged.

Context:

Broadcast on the ABC in 2011, the documentary makes explicit reference to the Tampa affair, after Australia refused a Norwegian freighter carrying 433 refugees entry into its waters. The moment triggered a debate about refugees in the lead-up to the 2001 Federal Election, with John Howard being remembered for his fierce stance against asylum seekers. It speaks to the previous decade of refugees debate, with participants selected from an array of different views and perspectives on the treatment of refugees. As a blend of reality and documentary television, the program and its response are specifically edited to form characterisations for its audience. 

Practice questions:

HSC question: To what extent does the exploration of human experience in Go Back to Where You Came From invite you to reconsider your understanding of fear?

 

How does the program’s use of documentary techniques allow it to explore a variety of human experiences?

 

In what ways does Go Back To Where You Came From and its response challenge assumptions about refugees?

If you’re looking for related texts for each of these novels, check out our related text recommendations in our guide here!

That wraps up our guide to all the prescribed texts in the HSC English Common Module: Texts and Human Experiences – good luck!

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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.