Have you got questions about HSC Standard English? Don’t worry, we all did! But don’t sweat it, we have trawled through forums, asked people on Facebook and consulted the students we teach to find these HSC Standard English Frequently Asked Questions!

If you’re looking for general FAQs about HSC English, head over here!

1. Will Standard stop me from getting a high ATAR?

No, it definitely won’t! Doing Standard doesn’t automatically mean you’ll score lower than someone doing Advanced when it comes to ATARs. In fact, if you get tops standard results you can actually get a better score than lots of people in advanced who don’t keep up and then get lousy marks!

In fact, it’s all to do with percentile, quartiles and scaling. Elizabeth has written quite extensively about it here, explaining why your cohort and your performance are more important to your success than the level you’re studying.


The only thing that will stop you from getting a high ATAR is slacking off and not making the most of the subjects you chose. If you want and awesome ATAR you’ll need to work for it (just like the people in advanced) so keep up with coursework, try to get ahead and just keep pushing yourself to get the best marks you can.

2. How long should my essay be?

Generally there’s a benchmark of around 1,000 words when it comes to essays, but you have to remember that it’s quality over quantity. If what you’re writing is total garbage then a big word count isn’t going to mean much at all, because the essay itself isn’t saying anything. At the same time, if you raise some great points with awesome textual references and answer the question perfectly, then being a few words under the goal isn’t going to be too much of a worry.

When it comes to these things I always suggest using the 10% rule. This is where you can feel safe sitting within 10% above or under the set limit or goal – in this case that means 100 words above or under. So if your essay is anywhere between 900 and 1,100 words you should be okay, but remember to make sure the quality is there!

That being said, the girl who topped English in Elizabeth’s year at school generally wrote around 850 – 950 words but wrote darned good words. For the record, she got 99.95 for her ATAR.


3. How long should my creative writing be?

It’s a bit different when it comes to creative writing because there’s no set formula for it so it’s harder to tell how much is ‘enough’. Because you have the same time limit for it and your essay I usually recommend aiming to write the same amount for both sections, so around 1,000 words should be the benchmark again.

That said it’s much easier to do more with fewer words when it comes to creative writing, and sometimes you get to a point where adding more would just drag out the story unnecessarily. In these cases I say don’t be too worried about being under the word limit, but once you start getting seriously under 800 words is where you need to consider if you’re putting enough energy and thought into your creative writing. If you’re going too far over the goal of 1,000 words you really need to remember that more is less and try to wrap it up too.

Again, it is more important to producing good work rather than stale ideas. If you need help, you’ve got it right here!

4. What’s Module A about?

We have articles for that!

Follow this link for Distinctively Visual!

Follow this link for Distinctive Voices!

5. What’s Module B about?

We’ll be releasing articles where you can teach yourself Module B in the next coming weeks so be sure to check back soon!

6. What’s Module C about?

As above!

Consider Buying Notes

If you need reliable notes or simply want to check your notes are right, take a look at HSC-Notes.com.

Their English notes are crafted by the 99+ ATAR Club and provide concise answers to the HSC Syllabus dot points with what you need to know for your exams. Diagrams, mind maps, tables, dot points, paragraphs, sources are included to aid your learning.

With these notes you can spend less time rewriting your textbook and worrying about whether your notes answer the syllabus dot points correctly and spend more time learning and practicing your skills knowing your notes are accurate and concise.

Head on over to HSC-Notes to get your HSC subject notes now

7. How do I study for English?

There are actually heaps of different ways to study and different things work for different people. We have heaps of articles on study styles, techniques, etc. that I’ll link at the end of this answer, but when it comes to the absolute basics of English study I have 3 top tips.

  • Write notes: these don’t have to be massive, just dot points of key themes/ideas you’re discussing in class or about the topic you’re studying and what they mean. You can also make notes about the texts your reading (characters, themes, etc.) and related texts you’ve chosen. Try to make these at the end of each topic, or every fortnight or week if you want!
  • Do practice papers: go to BOSTES and start writing some practice responses to build your essay and creative writing skills. This is the best way to prepare and study for the HSC and it’s the number one thing that will get you ready for the real deal.
  • Get feedback: this means that any time your write a practice essay you should hand it to your teacher (or tutor!) and ask for some feedback. It doesn’t have to be massive, but they can usually point out a few areas you can improve on and where you’re going strong, which will help you polish your responses!

With that out of the way you should also check out these useful study articles!

8. Will I regret doing Standard over Advanced?

This all depends on you and why you chose to do standard English.

If you chose the subject because you thought it was the best for your skill level, you didn’t want to be stressed out by a difficult English subject or you just didn’t feel like you could succeed in advanced English, I’ll guess that in the long run you won’t regret it.

If you chose the subject because you thought it would be a bludge, then you might regret it.

The fact is that your subjects are your choice so you have to be accountable for them. If you realise halfway through the year that you probably should’ve done advanced because you knew your English skills were at that level but you thought you could just sail through standard, then you probably chose it for the wrong reason, and may regret it. So long as you chose the subject because it was right for you, it should be fine!

9. What do I do if my teacher sucks?

It’s tough, but you’ll definitely get a few duds throughout the years.

It might be that your teacher doesn’t seem to like you, or their teaching style isn’t one you enjoy, or even just that you think they’re lame! The fact is that you’re usually stuck with them and have to live with it.

By studying like an HSC State Ranker and keeping ahead, you will need to depend less upon your teacher than you might if you’re learning along the way.

You can ask a different teacher (maybe one you had last year) for some help, but if you’re comfortable enough with it, try to approach your current teacher about the issue and perhaps ask if there’s a way your learning style could be incorporated into their lessons. Often teachers don’t realise they’re confusing you unless you tell them, so if this is the case definitely have a chat to them!

If you’re having problems approaching them, start off with this:

“I am a little lost about (topic) right now. Would you be able to explain to me the basic principles of (topic) as simply as you can?”

It might sound like a silly request, but Ernest Rutherford said ‘An alleged scientific discovery has no merit unless it can be explained to a barmaid’ and whilst the quotation is dated it basically, the principle is no good unless it can be explained simply.

My Year 11 and 12 English teacher was the only teacher who had ever made me loathe going to class and I resented her for it, because I’d always loved English before then. I didn’t like her teaching style, our personalities clashed and I thought she was way too focused on the ‘boring’ stuff. In hindsight, I can see that she was actually a pretty good teacher, just not a good teacher for me personally.

And that’s just how it’s going to be sometimes, and in those cases you just have to grin and bear it.

If you absolutely must, you can ask for another teacher. Ultimately, it’s up to your school to see this through, but you need to give it your all before that!

10. Where can I get help/feedback on my essays?

The first person to ask is always your English teacher – it’s their job! Dropping a practice essay or two to them is always ok, and even though you may have to wait a week for some feedback, they can always give you great pointers on how to improve. If they’re busy, you could also ask a past English teacher (maybe one you had in year 10 or 11), but you may have to wait longer for feedback. Remember, even your teacher has a life outside of school to tend to!

If you need to go to someone else asking your friends or a study buddy can be helpful, or even an older sibling who has already finished any level of year 12 English. You can also post online at Bored of Studies if you feel up to it, or drop us a message here at Art of Smart and get you some feedback!


Have a question for us? 

Flick us a message on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/artofsmart/), give us a call on 1300 267 888, or email us on [email protected].


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.