2021 HSC English Standard Exam Sample Answers

Wondering how your answers for the HSC English Standard paper compare? We pulled together some sample answers with the help of our Head of English, Josephine Sarvaas!

Text 1 – Feature Article extract

Aboriginal astrophysicist proves anyone can aim for the stars

For Karlie Noon, the  sky tells a story.

When the Gamilaraay woman looks at the moon, she sees more than just a bright orb. A surrounding halo hints that a storm is coming. The halo’s size bears clues about the movements of the clouds. If the stars are hidden, rain is imminent.

She has gleaned this knowledge from a combination of traditional Aboriginal stories passed down by her elders, and a decade of scientific study.

“Observing the stars, observing the sky, observing the land – these are things that my ancestors have been doing forever,” Ms Noon said.

The 30-year-old was the first Aboriginal woman to complete a dual degree in maths and physics, before furthering her studies in astronomy and astrophysics.

She has just been named the Sydney Observatory’s first astronomy ambassador. “It’s honestly a girl’s dream job,” Ms Noon said.

Such achievements were once unimaginable for Ms Noon, who grew up in social housing near Tamworth and dropped out of school in year 8.

As a child, she had never enjoyed school. No one in her family had finished high school and education wasn’t considered that important. When she left school, Ms Noon began weekly tutoring lessons with an Aboriginal elder, during which she was surprised to rekindle her innate love of maths.

“I was able to disconnect learning from school and see them as separate things,” she said.

By the following year, she was doing maths at a year 12 level. With some convincing, after a few years at TAFE, she returned to school in year 10 and never looked back.

Ms Noon was drawn to astronomy due to its better, but still imperfect, gender balance and because it presented an opportunity to explore the scientific knowledge embedded within Indigenous culture and traditions.

She sees her role at the Sydney Observatory as a platform to share her love of space and science with a wider audience. But she also wants people to know that if a tattooed, proud Aboriginal woman has defied the odds to excel in a scientific field, anyone can do it.


Question 1 (4 marks)

Text 1 – Feature Article extract

Explain the ways in which the writer represents Karlie Noon’s unique experience.

Your response to this question should include:

  • A specific idea about what makes Noon’s experience “unique” – make sure that you are expanding on the terms ‘unique experience’ from the question, rather than just repeating them.
  • Examples and analysis of language techniques – the question has asked about “the ways” that the author “represents” the experience, which requires a focus on language and form.

Text 1 examines an individual’s ability to overcome barriers to education and success, and undertake a career which they have a unique cultural relationship to. Throughout the article, the writer represents how Karlie Noon faced unique barriers to education, stating that “such achievements were once unimaginable,” as she had “never enjoyed school” and “no one in her family had finished high school.” High modality negative diction such as “unimaginable,” “negative” and “no one” positions readers to understand that Noon’s initial experience of education was one of disillusionment and adversity. As a result, her dedication in realising a love of maths and pursuing a scientific career is uniquely groundbreaking. This is represented by the author through the repetition of “first” – “the first Aboriginal woman to complete a dual degree… Sydney Observatory’s first astronomy ambassador.” Throughout the article, Archibald-Binge also emphasises that Noon’s relationship with her scientific work is unique as a result of her Aboriginal heritage. A direct quote from Noon states that “Observing the stars, observing the sky, observing the land – these are things that my ancestors have been doing forever.” The superlative “forever” and the focus on Noon’s “ancestors” reveals that the experiences undertaken in the study of astronomy align with ongoing cultural practices, making Noon’s work as an astronomer distinctly meaningful compared to others in her field.

Text 2 – Prose Fiction Extract

A brilliant summer’s day up the coast. 

Fresh eyes scoped the entirety of the ocean. Home to one too many a beach memory. Nine-year-old me yearned for that salty tang of the sea breeze. I watched as my younger brother David clambered out of the car. We did most things together. Wearing colourful bathers, we raced to an empty shade-cloth area as Mum yelled, ’Quick! Before we lose it!’ as a line of cars pulled up a distance away. We anchored ourselves in cool sand and waited for Mum and Dad to come.

Fiddling with broken sticks, a crab scuttled past. A teeny one. Its home inches away from my feet. Curiosity got the best of me, I moved closer. David straightened up.

‘Where’re you goin’?’

‘Nowhere!’ I said.

I  shuffled closer to the hole, hoping to hide the entrance from him. David had a thing for crawling things. Lizards, insects, little mice… if it had four or more legs, Daid found it like hens to grain. 

The crashing of waves along the rocky coastline shifted my train of thought. Not far from where we were situated were the Blowholes: a mysterious spot where danger and beauty are one and the same. As if she had read my mind, Mum announces we’re off for a walk over there. I always enjoyed the spectacle of it. The big whooshing of the water as it rushed up from below, as if some supernatural force was behind it. The build-up of sticky tension from the anticipation of something magnificent about to unfold, followed by the explosion of a million insignificant splashes. This was something that was witnessed from a distance.

As we made our way cautiously over to the cliff’s edge, I sensed my brother’s hesitance. His face was a mixture of stifled fear and pure excitement.

‘Are we reeeally gonna go right up?’ David says.

‘Yeah, we are,’ I say back. ‘Even better! Let’s see who can stay right up at the edge for the longest!!’

Having known seven-year-old David, the opportunity was a given. The phrase Wouldn’t miss it for the world in capital letters could’ve been a flashing  neon sign on his forehead at that given moment. And we were off.
Rumbling from deep below, the feeling or promised unease filled us from the toes up. The feeling was similar to the monster underneath your bed – the unknown consuming you much more than the risk of physical harm. We both stood side-by-side like dolls in the shopfront, out for display… The air shifted, and a niggling thought crossed my mind. As I looked down, there was no water.

I could see a tiny crab, wedged between two crevices. It was so similar to the one back on the beach.

I should’ve known better than to stand that close… it was too close.

Extract from Coast.

Question 2 (6 marks)

Text 2 – Prose Fiction extract

Analyse how the writer represents a childhood memory.

Your response should include:

  • Some specific keywords about the nature of the ‘childhood memory’ – what emotions it evokes, what it reveals about the power or nature of memories, or whether it was a positive or negative memory.
  • Analysis of how the language techniques used in particular examples express each idea about memory.
  • A line of argument: As a six-marker this is a longer response, but we do not want to be proving the same point over and over – your examples should build on one another to construct a more detailed picture about what type of ‘childhood memory’ the text is exploring.

Text 2 captures the vivid nature of childhood memories, including both the sensory experiences that they entail, and the way hindsight can cause an individual to reflect differently on their past experiences.

The author represents how the return of a childhood memory can evoke both physical and emotional experiences. The author uses a series of sensory images – “that salty tang of the sea breeze… cool sand… the crashing of waves” – to immerse audiences in the narrator’s memories of the beach. This reveals that despite the time that has passed since childhood, a return to the same physical environment can prompt past experiences to return with intensity. The narrator also recalls how those experiences, when had in childhood, were underpinned by a vivid imagination, as she compares the water’s movement to a “supernatural force” and the anticipation to “the monster underneath your bed.” The use of supernatural imagery captures how, in childhood, mundane experiences are viewed through a more magical, imaginative lens. These physical memories are also accompanied by remembered emotional experiences, as the narrator recalls “the build-up of sticky tension… stifled fear and pure excitement… the feeling of promised unease.” The use of tactile imagery and emotive language captures the feeling of anticipation, and reveals how childhood memories encompass not only the events that occurred by the feelings that accompanied them.

Text 2 also hints at how childhood memories are perceived differently in hindsight. Throughout the piece, the narrator comments upon the memories in lines such as “We did most things together… I always enjoyed the spectacle of it…” The use of the past-tense and the insertion of these lines throughout the pieces creates the impression that the narrator is not just revisiting their memories, but reflecting on their past self’s thoughts and relationships. This is intensified in the final lines: “I should’ve known better… it was too close.” Here, it becomes apparent that the narrator is rethinking their past decisions, with a tone of regret creating tension in the audience, who is left wondering what the consequence of this past action was. Overall, the author not only captures the childhood memories the narrator experienced, but explores how humans may ponder childhood memories as a means of rethinking their past decisions with a new awareness of their consequences.

Text 3 – Nonfiction Extract

New books find their way to us via a number of routes. Most obvious is bricks-and-mortar store browsing. There we are, in the shpo, reading the back cover, brushing fingers over embossed titles, handling and patting, appreciating the book as an object. We can tickle spines and open up to brush pages, and – if no one’s looking – devour their smell. If everything chimes then the book is placed in a wrestler’s headlock, claimed as a joey kangaroo in its mother’s pouch. Chances are that it will soon have siblings – our eyes are bigger than our bedside tables.

Or perhaps a new book may be fostered from a library or foisted upon you by a friend who insists you will appreciate it. On the way home, blurbs are again consumed, and other furnishings idly absorbed – the review quote and the About the Author, the writer dedication and the font declaration.

Then there is that saintly thud of an online order plummeting from the letterbox, or the luscious scrape of cardboard on floor as, on returning home, you push the front door against the package. To buy online leaves you blind in comparison with bookshop scrutiny, but the gamble is surely worth the prize of feverishly setting about unwrapping the parcel. We are Charlie Bucket unwrapping a Wonka Bar, and there is a golden-ticket feeling every time.

By whichever route a book finds us, in our hands we now hold, we hope, a future escape.

Extract from Scribbles in the Margin

Question 3 (3 marks)

Text 3 – Nonfiction extract

Explain how Daniel Gray uses language to invite the reader to share his experiences.

Your response should include:

  • A specific idea about what “experience” is being shared in – this should not only be literal (shopping for a new book) but emotional (how does the author feel during this experience?)
  • A focus on how language choices capture this experience – this means including quotes, techniques and their specific effect on the audience.

In Text 3, Daniel Gray immerses the reader in the pleasure and fulfilment of acquiring a new book. Throughout the piece, Gray uses adjectives such as “saintly,” “luscious” and “feverish” to describe the process of acquiring and unwrapping a new book. These words connote an exaggerated sense of ecstasy that causes the reader to share in Gray’s feelings of excitement and bliss during this experience. Gray also alludes to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate factory: “We are Charlie Bucket unwrapping a Wonka Bar, and there is a golden-ticket feeling every time.” The collective pronoun “we” directly invites the reader to partake in the experience, while the literary allusion reinforces the sense of delight and exhilaration that accompanies book-buying. 

Text 4 – Poem
For B, at Plaza Blanca, New Mexico, having known each other three days.

Here, you said, this is a piece of quartz,
Take it, and close your hand around it.

The rock was heavy for something so small. Its rough
edges pressed my outline, changed my shape in a small way.

I turned it over. I closed my hand around it.The rock made me think of difficult work
like lowering yourself into a bath. The quartz made me thinkof the enormous past, a vast plateau, on which the present moment holds still –

full and complete. I looked around. We were wrapped in the loose embrace of the ground, and the bare trees, and the low-slung clouds. The rock

is ancient. The white formations of Plaza Blanca are ancient, as sleep is ancient-and our young lives are winks in a deep night, wrinkles

on a long green sea. The sea is more alien than the moon to that white place. Yousmiled. You smiled as if to say we are two odd birds, aren’t we?

I unclosed my handand the quartz bloomed there-


Question 4 (3 marks)

Text 4 – Poem

How effectively does the use of imagery convey a human experience?

Your response should include:

  • Identification of what the ‘human experience’ being conveyed in the poem is, since the question does not mention it – this will show that you have a specific argument, and that you have understood the poem.
  • Focus on ‘imagery ‘as a technique, but with reference to specific images and their unique effect on the reader.

The poet’s use of imagery in Text 4 vividly captures the sense of wonder and awe that can be felt in a natural environment, causing the persona to reflect on human lives. The quartz is the catalyst for the persona to think about humans’ relationship to time and mortality, and the metaphorical image of the “enormous past” as “a vast plateau, on which the present moment holds still” evokes the immensity of time. This causes the reader to reflect both on the fragility of a single moment, yet how it can simultaneously be full of meaning, as the moment is described as “full and complete.” The poet goes on to use further natural metaphors to compare “young lives” to “winks in a deep night, wrinkles/on a long green sea.” This use of imagery highlights how small and fleeting human life is in comparison to the entirety of time, and immerses readers in the existential reflection that is experienced when in an overwhelming and ancient natural environment.

Text 5 – Prose Fiction Extract

With Lan, one of my tasks was to take a pair of tweezers and pluck, one by one, the grey hairs from her head. “The snow in my hair,” she explained, “it makes my head itch. Will you pluck my itchy hairs, Little Dog? The snow is rooting in me.” She slid a pair of tweezers between my fingers, “Make Grandma young today, okay?” she said real quiet, grinning.

For this work I was paid in stories. After positioning her head under the window’s light, I would kneel on a pillow behind her, the tweezers ready in my grip. She would start to talk, her tone dropping an octave, drifting deep into a narrative. Mostly, as was her way, she rambled, the tales cycling one after another. They spiraled out from her mind only to return the next week, with the same introduction: “Now this one, Little Dog, this one will really take you out. You ready? Are you even interested in what I’m saying? Good. Because I never lie.” A familiar story would follow, punctuated with the same dramatic pauses and inflections during moments of suspense or crucial turns. I’d mouth along with the sentences, as if watching a film for the umpteenth time – a movie made by Lan’s words and animated by my imagination. In this way, we collaborated.

As I plucked, the blank walls did not so much fill with fantastical landscapes as open into them, the plaster disintegrating to reveal the past behind it. Scenes from the war, mythologies of manlike monkeys, of ancient ghost catchers from the hills of Da Lat who were paid in jugs of rice wine, who travelled through villages with packs of wild dogs and spells written on palm leaves to dispel evil spirits.

Question 5 (4 marks)

Text 5 – Prose Fiction extract

How does Ocean Vuong represent the relationship between the characters?

Your response should include:

  • An argument about what type of relationship the two characters have, to create a specific response to the question and show that you have understood the text.
  • Analysis of language techniques sued to capture that relationship – the question asks “how” the author has “represented” the relationship, so you must identify specific examples and explain their effect  on the reader’s understanding.

In Text 5, Ocean Vuong captures how the sharing of memories between a grandparent and grandchild creates a sense of intimacy and connection. The metaphor of tales “(spiralling) out from her mind” and the listing of “scenes from the war, mythologies of manlike monkeys, of ancient ghost catchers…” represents the wealth of knowledge held by the grandmother, including both historical events and cultural myths, which can be shared with her grandchild through the process of storytelling. Vuong reveals how this process of sharing results in a close relationship between the characters, through the simile comparing the storytelling process to “a film” that is “made by Lan’s words and animated by my imagination… we collaborated.” The word choice of ‘collaborated’ emphasises that this is a two-way process forged by the unique connection between the grandparent and grandchild. Furthermore, the metaphor of the wall “disintegrating to reveal the past behind it” creates a sense of immediacy, suggesting the past is not something distant but kept alive due to the process of sharing memories. The relationship between the characters’ is therefore seen as integral in maintaining the next generation’s understanding of their family’s culture and past.

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