How I improved 20% to achieve a Band 6 in English

Sara is a tutor with Dymocks Tutoring, but before that, she was a student with us. Today she breaks down how she managed to jump a HUGE two bands in English Advanced across her HSC year! Quick, grab a pen and read on...

By Sara Lowe

Study Schedule

Throughout the term, it is important to dedicate a few hours of the week to your English studies. 30 minutes at the end of each class or an hour at the end of the week summarizing your notes (making them more concise) as well as gathering quotes from your text and analyzing them, will be immensely useful for your revision in the future. As you continue to work through the module dedicate 1-1.5 hours a week to start writing practice essays for that particular module (i.e. aim for at least one practice essay per week). Remember that your revision is continuous, so consistently revise what you know- for example if you are only starting to study module A at school, you may find it useful to write a practice essay on the previous module (i.e. the common module). This will act as constant preparation and revision for trials and HSC. Make sure to receive feedback on your essay from a tutor or teacher in order to improve on your work.

Preparation Tips and Tricks

Audio recordings

It can be very difficult to memorize all the quotes and techniques in all of your texts. A good way to overcome this is to record yourself saying the quote and a brief analysis of the quote on your phone. Mark the file and whenever you can (on the bus, whilst brushing your teeth, going for a run, even when falling asleep) listen to the recording.

When you study a series poems you will have to remember many quotes for each one. A very useful tool for remembering quotes taken from poems, is to listen to a formal reading of it. These formal readings may be found on Youtube. Listening to the entire poem a few times, will not only help memorize the words but will also aid your understanding of the form, tone and rhythm of the poem.

1,2,3 Practice Essays

Practice essays are undoubtedly the best way to prepare for HSC English. Exposing yourself to a wide range of questions will prepare you for any question asked in the exam (remember to also have an in depth understanding of the module rubric as this is where your exam question will come from!). There are two main things to keep in mind when writing an essay- (1) knowing your quotes & analysis, (2) time. It is therefore important to practice closed book essays that have a time limit (in HSC this is approx. 40mins per essay). However, this can be quite daunting to do straight away. To build up to an eventual 40min closed book essay the 1,2,3 technique is useful.

The 1,2,3 practice essay structure is:

  1. Write an essay open book and with no time limit
  2. Write an essay open book but place a time limit (depending on how much time you have to prepare you may also like to experiment with your time limit i.e. first set a 55min time limit and then 50min etc…)
  3. Write an essay closed book and with a time limit

Make sure to receive feedback from a teacher or tutor. Then aim to work on this feedback – this will greatly improve your essay writing.

Shared Study

Studying in a group setting is beneficial as it allows you to exchange ideas and be exposed to different ways of approaching a variety of questions. If possible, try to form an English study group where you practice writing essays (or even parts of essays i.e. only the introduction). After writing, exchange work with each other and provide feedback on what was done well and what could be improved. This will not only provide you with direct feedback from your peers but will also enhance your understanding of English by sharing ideas and offer new perspective and insight.  

The Importance of Feedback

Constantly seeking feedback for your work is an extremely important step in improving in English. This can be done through your teachers, tutors and peers.

Some common pieces of feedback include:

  • Making the ideas in your essay more conceptual
  • Show a clear understanding of the module
  • Answering the question (i.e. not a copy and pasted version of a previous essay)
  • Essay flow (making your essay flows- think of connective words or ideas that make your paragraph flow from one to the other)
  • Vocabulary (always seek to enhance your vocabulary)

It is also extremely useful to have a look at the comments made by NESA on the 2019 English paper. This will help you see what markers are looking for as well as expose mistakes made by past students allowing you to not make the same mistakes. Their comments may be found at the following links:

Organizing Notes and Revision

It is useful to organize notes in order of modules. It is key to have an in depth and clear understanding of the demands of the module- the rubric (released by NESA on their website) is the best place to source such demands. Once you have read through the rubric a few times, pick out some key points that are outlined. Form a table as shown below:

Example table of the common module: Texts and the Human Experiences


Ideas from Rubric (these are only a few ideas) The role of storytelling The anomalies, inconsistencies and paradoxes in the human behaviour Individual and Collective Human experiences  
How this correlates to my text FOR EXAMPLE:   Storytelling reveals aspects of the human condition/ fallibility of man that are otherwise unexamined  (+ relate to your text)    

A similar table can be done for other modules, however, adapt the table to the demands of the module.

FOR EXAMPLE ENGLISH ADVANCED MODULE A: this module is all about the common and disparate themes and ideas explored between two texts. A table comparing their similarities and differences, for example, would be better suited for this module.

When studying a series poems, it is helpful to identity overarching themes common to each poem and a few quotes from each that correlate to said theme. You may then choose to organize your ideas into a table format which will help you to draw connections between poems and develop certain concepts.

Overall English Tips

  1. Start preparation early

Being to write practice essays as soon as possible- this will allow you to receive feedback and improve upon your work. It will also make you feel more comfortable and confident closer to the exam date.

  • Read your text

Be sure to read your text so to grasp a good understanding of what you will be asked to write about – don’t simply rely on sites like Sparknotes (however this is a good place to source chapter summary’s and character analysis)

  • Don’t forget about part 1 of paper 1

Don’t neglect practicing comprehension style questions for the first part of paper one. Practice for this may be found online or in the 2019 HSC English paper. Be sure to familiarize yourself with NESA verbs and don’t forget to always link answers to the rubric (in part one of the paper link it to the Human Experience)

  • Quality and Quantity

Whilst the quality of your writing is critical for success, it also about how much you write. Try and aim to fill up the entire booklet given. To prepare for the amount of writing you will have to do try and write everything by hand – i.e. taking down notes in class, practice essays etc.

  • Keep calm

Remember the HSC does not define you and panicking will not help! When stressed, take a few deep breathes and remember that as long as you have a good grasp of the module, the exam question and your text you will be fine!

Good Luck!

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