HSC English Advanced - Module A – Q&A

Highly accomplished English teacher, Jowen Hillyer, answers questions from students studying for their HSC in the lead up to the Advanced English Module A exams.


Do I need to quote a critic in this essay? Also, are block or integrated paragraphs the best for the essay? 

No, you do not need to quote critics. For this module you are asked to look at how it has been received through time and its critical reception – what others have to say about it.

How do I map the two texts with/against each other effectively? 

Remember this is not a just comparative study. You are not only looking for similarities and differences. Your job in this module is to look at the more recent text and seeing how it ‘answers back’ to the older text. 

How do you give a fair and equal analysis to two texts with very disparate content volume? 

Usually, this happens when it looks like one is denser – say a suite of poems compared to a massive novel. The volume is surface level.

All texts have a lot more to say when you unpack them. The texts are coupled around ideas not amount of writing/viewing. Get past the amount of words on the page and spend time unpacking the smaller text and analysing even deeper. 

How do you go about structuring a comparative essay? Should we approach this essay with two large body paragraphs or four small?

Totally depends on your style and the question. Sometimes one big thesis and two strands of that thesis will yield two main topics of conversation. Other times you will need four.

Honestly, this is your own personal argument style and the question on the day will dictate the approach to some extent, but (metaphorically) stretching your legs (without rambling) by writing longer substantial arguments as opposed to four very short superficial ones is usually best.

What is the best foolproof way to show the ‘conversation’ in an essay response?

Nothing is foolproof, but you need to demonstrate the conversation in your structure – discuss one text in the paragraph, have a few sentences discussing both, go to the next text and back to the first. A conversation should be balanced.

What is the purpose of studying module A?

Each module has its own job to do. Module A tests your ability to synthesise ideas and examine how they have changed through time or how some things are universal.

It’s almost like a grown-up version of narratives that shape our world (in year 11) combined with the common module – this examines human experiences through different times, contexts and forms. It is so we can see that you built on the skills from the common module and ramped it up to advanced level by putting two very different texts together and synthesising ideas.

When writing an extended response on Hughes and Plath, do we have to pick sides?

Of course not! You should not focus too much on their personal contexts (it’s easy to go down that rabbit hole) but focus on the whole world outside their texts which helped shape their texts – the historical, cultural, etc, paradigms.

Also, you are looking at the conversation between the texts – not between Hughes and Plath. The texts are representations; they are not reality. The people in the poems are personas. The structures of the poems speak to each other too. Think outside their relationship.

How do I structure my essay for a comparative?

You need to find balance. So, as an example only (not a definitive formula) I would suggest the following.

How do we answer the question in terms of value of the textual conversation?

What did you learn? If you learned nothing, what were you supposed to learn?

That longing for something is universal, but that what that thing is can change? That being conscious of mortality whether it’s the 1600s or 2010 determines the way we live? That between time periods truth is difficult to grasp? Try to think about two things you learned through studying this module – the big life questions. That is where you will find the value in the conversation. Often, the later text will show new ways of thinking that the old text raised first, adding to the richness of the whole topic for contemporary readers/audiences.

In my head I have an obvious character bias when reading the texts. How can I avoid reflecting that in my essays?

Don’t. We want to see your authentic voice. However, make sure you balance your treatment of the texts well and explore why you are biased towards a character due to YOUR context.

How do you prevent bias and in writing about two different composers, for example Plath and Hughes?

It helps to remember you are not writing about composers but about their work. How do the ideas in their work and the structures of their work ‘talk’ to each other.

How do you write a thesis on a form question? 

Form is not as tricky as you think. Answer these questions to guide your study: How did the composer use poetic/dramatic/prose/ film techniques to get those ideas across to me?

Did it affect the way I got the message? Was that form important in their context? Did that form add to understanding about a topic or idea? Why did they choose to ‘sell’ their version of big ideas in THAT way when they could have chosen any medium? 

For extract questions, do we have to use evidence from the extract?

Sometimes. The question will guide you. If it says ‘using this extract’, then yes. If it says ‘using this extract as stimulus, consider this question …’, then it’s just there to get your brain into gear and on the right path the essay is meant to go down.

How should we structure the essay if you recommend against ‘theme based’ responses?

A theme is different to a concept. A theme might be ‘Death’ but a concept would be ‘Mortality’ (what a composer thinks of death).


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