HSC English Extension 1

Questions and answers for the HSC English Extension 1 exam

Former chief examiner of English Extension 1, Felicity Plunkett, answers questions from students studying for their HSC in the lead up to the 2021 exams.

How do you prepare for/practise for a common module essay [Literary Worlds]? / What is the best way to prepare for section 1?

The common module, Literary Worlds, provides the overarching framework for English Extension 1, within which you have studied the particular ‘worlds’ of your elective. Studying Literary Worlds, you are looking at the ways texts ‘represent and illuminate’ the complexity of lives – individual and collective.

How do you suggest I improve my creative writing to have the length and also get a top band? (If section 1 is creative) 

As your question implies, the common module question may be a creative one (but, as in the 2020 exam, it may not be). Practise creative flexibility, as described above, so that you’ve written in different voices, from different points of view, a range of characters and settings and so on.

How would you recommend we select our related texts in our essays; should they across different forms, or different contexts? / How is the discussion and essay analysis of film different than of a book? / Can you do an artwork as a second related text? 

Whatever the genre of the texts you are writing about, remember to balance your discussion of themes with analysis of some of the ways the composer uses language to express these. When selecting related texts, consider how they work as a suite with the set texts you’ve studied.

What is the best way to manage time in the exam? 

This is a good question about an important part of exam technique. Allocate your time in the exam according to the marks awarded per question. For example, spend twice as long on a question worth 10 marks as you would on one worth five.

If two questions are worth the same mark, devote an equal amount of time. Practically, you may find it helpful to write a note to remind yourself of the time you’ll need to move on to the next question. Don’t be tempted to ignore your own advice, even if you are on a roll with a particular response. You could build in a few minutes so that you have a moment to round off the response you’re working on. 

Practising timed responses as part of your revision will help you get familiar with what you can do within the timeframe. Some people find it works to start with a question they feel confident about, to boost confidence and momentum. It makes a lot of sense to spend a bit of time planning your response. Yes, nerves can make us want to jump straight in and start writing, but planning will take the pressure off by collecting the main ideas you’ll write about, and it will help you start strongly, giving your marker a good first impression of your response. 

Invest time in reading the questions carefully, making sure you’ve seen all the instructions. In Extension 1, there are likely to be several components to the questions. Respond to each of these.

How can I better evolve my use of expression when representing ideas? / My feedback often suggests that my essays lack expression. How can I make my expression more effective in conveying my ideas? / How do you have clarity with your written expression in the essays for the electives? 

Clarity is crucial. The exam context means relatively quick writing and responding, so lean, clear syntax is an asset. Have a look at the length of your sentences.

While long sentences may work in an essay you draft and redraft, they can sometimes detract from clarity, especially when there’s the pressure of time. You are aiming to convey each observation clearly and succinctly, so excess wordage may not be an ally. Don’t be afraid of simplicity. A very long sentence may be three shorter, clearer sentences. Have a look at writing you’ve found compelling and clear, and see what techniques its writer uses – rhythm, pace, number of points per sentence etc. Another aspect of expression may relate to voice, and the sense of your own views is important. Feel confident in owning your observations. If you draw on other critics’ views, say what you think about them. You won’t always agree. Think of your reader, marking lots of responses. If your writing is tangled or wordy, it can mean your reader has to dig around to understand what point you are making. In the exam context, aim to convey your ideas in ways that don’t give the marker a lot of extra work. Practise all this. If you can, work as a group or in pairs to mark swiftly written opening paragraphs. Assess how much has been conveyed, and how much ease and momentum there was in the response.

How do you juggle critical theories, the module, the text and your own authentic voice in a response? 

There is, as you suggest, a lot to juggle. In your response, depending on the nature and specifics of the question, you’ll also be drawing on particular stimulus material and instructions. It’s important to remember that whatever you write, you’ll have a sense of how much more you might have written, in another context.

Everyone has this, because you’ve spent a year reading, writing and thinking deeply. However, none of this care and attention is wasted – it shows up in your work. In this context, practically, consider a list on your planning page, so you include everything. 

Try to plan so that you devote equal time to each text, and budget your time according to the marks. Practise economical means of expression, including catalogues and analogues. Writing economically is a whole subject in itself, worthy of the thinking your question implies. You’re packing a suitcase and can only take hand luggage. Careful planning and technique is an asset and creative challenge.

Why do Literary Mindscapes and Intersecting Worlds tend to get more favourable questions than Worlds of Upheaval or Literary Homelands?

Exam committees are made up of lovely, intelligent educators who know the course well. If you can, imagine them as the teachers from whom you’ve learnt the most. They are deeply committed to fairness and equity in many ways, including across the paper. It can be tempting to consider that other students have had easier questions, but it’s wise to cultivate a positive sense of the examiners and the exam, and even to look forward to the creative challenge of the particular question. There are also lots of checks and balances in place to ensure equity in the marking process, so proceed with confidence.


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