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English in the HSC – 5 Step Check-list for a Band 6

What have you done since the Trial HSC for English? Still waiting until after graduation before you start? Well, in all honesty, a lot of students post Trial HSC don’t even start working on their English until about 3 weeks out from the HSC examination as it’s really hard to decide what exactly you need to do.

If this speaks to you then don’t worry, there is still time.

Coming from my experiences as a 2013 HSC graduate (98.85, Band 6 English Advanced) I have prepared this article for English Advanced or Standard students to better prepare themselves to get a Band 6 result for the HSC. Also, coming from my experiences as a tutor, I have seen this checklist work time and time again for my students in achieving a band 6 or significantly improving.


Step 1 – Understand your Trial Results


The first and most important way to get a band 6 result and start working on English preparation is to interpret your results from previous examinations and most importantly your Trial HSC.

The easiest way to do this is to look at the comments that are provided throughout your essay, marking criteria sheet or a Comments from the Marker on that specific task. You probably glanced at this when you got your results back and didn’t pay much attention to the specific details. 

A comment that is often provided by markers is “your essay is lacking analysis” and/or “you haven’t answered the question”.

To address any lacking analysis, look at each of your quotes and your explanations for them and ask yourself whether you are story-telling or breaking it down for the sake of your arguments. In order to do this, you should take less time providing the context of your quote and try your best to add this into the analysis, such that the story actually plays a role in reinforcing your argument. Often, you’ll find that your paragraphs were meant to explore a certain theme or idea but you ended up just explaining the story.

To address the issue of not answering the question, you have to look back at each of your arguments. Each of your arguments must target terms of the question, presenting themes and ideas that that convey your viewpoint.  A well-written viewpoint is one that combines the rubric of your module and your own understanding of its significance. You must demonstrate that you are able to provide a thoughtful perspective on the question through your arguments. If you struggle to find this out on your own, do this with a friend who is achieving great results in English or the teacher/marker who gave you those comments specifically

Simply, as you’re re-reading these comments, go through your essay with a red pen and try to find out yourself which sections of your essay you believe the comments are talking about. This will give you a set of tasks you need to work on to improve your essay immediately.


Step 2 – Editing your Essay


The editing process is indefinite and can even continue into the exam room as it’s all about what you believe your essay should be.

Although, what should be an obvious step in terms of English preparation it is often neglected. When reading your own work, you will find that it is hard to think you’ve done anything wrong and this is definitely dangerous as you are preventing yourself from improving.

Some important things to look out for when your editing your essay can be achieved by asking the following questions:

  • Am I talking about this point for too long? Can I shorten it down to fewer sentences?
  • Does my point make sense at all?
  • Does my technique work for this quote?
  • Does this even make sense?
  • Am I answering the question here?

Based on the answer you have on each of the above questions you’ll find that you can scrutinise every sentence of your essay. Sometimes you’ll find that deleting whole paragraphs and analysis points are necessary to making a refined essay in 800-950 words.

Editing should be something you do yourself, but if you’re still finding it hard to get anything done don’t feel afraid to ask the help of others to get you started. Tutors, teachers, and your friends may be willing to lend a helping hand.


Step 3 – Feedback and Peer-Marking


After you’ve spent those hours editing your essays and perfecting them to a standard that you are comfortable and happy with you can now seek out the help of others without wasting either parties time. The benefits of asking someone else who is skilled at English to look at your work is that you simply find out if you are writing like them, and this is really beneficial if they scored a great mark or are scoring good marks for English.

To do this effectively you have to make sure you understand that the person marking your work is taking their time out to do this, so offering anything you can do in return is always preferable. If it’s a tutor or marking institution money usually is sufficient.

But if you’re talking to a friend you might want to take a different approach. One of the best ways you can offer to help out is to try and see if you can do a little bit of a swap, either see if they would like it if you marked their essay as well or whether they want you to help them on something else.

When you receive feedback, make sure you understand it by working the comments through with your marker and make sure you find out what they actually want you to do to improve.

Here are some questions you can ask your friend/marker to ensure you cover everything:

  • What did you think of my essay?
  • Did it answer the question?
  • What does this ___________________ mean?
  • If a friend marked your work – Thanks for marking my work, by the way, can I do anything to help you out?

All in all, after you’ve received any feedback or comments, it’s time to hit the drawing boards and start editing your essays again on your own. Keep doing this until you’re really confident with your essay.


Step 4 – Preparing to adapt to any Question


After you’ve spent time making the perfect ‘general’ essay, it’s time to practice whether or not you know how you can change it during the exam to fit any question. I made sure to do this at least 2 weeks out from the HSC.

The best way to do this is to look at past HSC or Trial HSC exams and collate all the essay questions for your text and module. Although the syllabus changed in 2015 for AOS to discovery, a lot of the modules are largely similar and a little tweaking and swapping out key words will make any question workable.

If you didn’t already know you can get past HSC questions from here

If you have a lot of time, a smart way of approaching this task would be to first memorise your essay (or your quotes if you’re adventurous) and then go about answering the question in under 40 minutes, typed or hand-written. Not only will this probably help with your exam-preparation in terms of writing out the essay, but you are also finding out whether or not you can answer a question that wasn’t one you originally prepared for. If time definitely allows, ask a friend or your teacher to see whether or not you answered the question, take their comments seriously and then keep practicing to avoid any future mistakes.

If you don’t have a lot of time, the most efficient way of doing practice questions is to simply write dot points as to how you would form your thesis, arguments and potentially shift around any analysis to better suit the question.

It is definitely important to do this as you need to be ready for anything come exam time.


Step 5 – Handwriting, Writing Speed, and Exam Preparation


This step is consistent throughout your whole study of English and probably any of your subjects.

One of the most important things that a Band 6 student for English can do is actually write out all their essays in the exam period, in a legible fashion. Keep in mind, you have to be aiming to write for 40 minutes for each of your sections which for essays and creatives is roughly 800-950 words. This also applies to your comprehension but this becomes a matter of reading speed as well.

Some ways you can improve your handwriting and writing speed is to simply handwrite all your essays enough under timed conditions. Try your best to make your words legible, personally, writing in block letters with only certain words being cursive seems to work quite well. There isn’t any quick way of improving and you should definitely consider putting in the hard yards to make sure this doesn’t drag your mark down.

If you wanted some exercises that can help you relieve pain from writing you can check out this video by Dr. Levi Harrison. (you can ignore the fact that it’s for Gamers).

 For exam preparation everyone differs in what they want to go into the exam room with, some students prefer memorising full essays while others go with quotes and their understanding of the module. In either case, the most important thing to ensure strong exam preparation is to actually sit a mock exam at least once for your Paper 1 and 2. If you set 4 hours aside to try and complete these essays under timed conditions not only will you ensure that you won’t struggle in the exam room but it will put you ahead of everyone whose only practice has been the Trial HSC. Give yourself new questions to answer and see how you go.




With all that in mind, if you’ve made it this far you’re definitely one step closer to a better mark for your HSC, good luck!

Feel free to message me directly if you have any questions.



By Martin S Phabmixay

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