HSC 2020 English Advanced Paper 1 – How would we answer?

Head of English Josephine Sarvaas and English Tutor Caleb Burke show us how they would have tackled Section I of the Common Module HSC English Advanced Exam.


We asked our Head of English, Josephine Sarvaas, and top tutor Caleb Burke to show us how they would have tackled Section I of the HSC English Advanced Common Module exam.

Section I of the Common Module required you to read five unseen texts, and answer a range of short-answer questions.

The texts included:

  1. An internet article
  2. An illustration
  3. A poem
  4. A nonfiction extract
  5. A prose fiction extract

The questions included:

  • A 5-mark question on the article and illustration.
  • A 5-mark question on the poem
  • A 4-mark question on the nonfiction extract
  • A 6-mark question on the prose-fiction extract

In order to gain maximum marks in this section, it is important to demonstrate several key skills:

  1. Accurately comprehending and articulating what ideas each text explores – in relation to the focus of each question.
  2. Identifying visual and language devices that construct these ideas.
  3. Being able to write a concise analysis that brings all these ideas together.

Note that 5-mark and 6-mark questions require longer responses that delve more deeply into the ideas of the text.

Here are some sample answers that demonstrate how you might approach each question!




Question 1 (5 marks)

Text 1 — Internet Article

Text 2 — Illustration

How do these texts use a variety of language forms and features to communicate ideas about being creative?

  • Your response to this question should identify a specific idea about being creative: what inspires creativity, what assumptions people make about creativity, what the quality of creativity allows people to do…
  • You should analyse two examples from each text to support your response, bringing you to four examples in total.


Both Text 1 and Text 2 present creativity as intrinsically codependent with the experiences that a composer has. However, Text 1 posits the idea that creativity is limited by an author’s experience, whereas Text 2 presents creativity as a liberating medium through which the world may be newly explored.

Text 1 discusses “ideas for things (that) come into one’s head, or bits of ideas” to personify creativity as an autonomous force that enters authors’ minds as a result of their experiences, and provides sustenance for their creative endeavours, as indicated by the metaphorical “meat on the bone.” However, the persona is “as constrained as anyone (else) by the material that’s available”, delineating creativity as not only fostered but also limited by experience. The word “constrained” negatively connotes inadequacy, and the text’s metafictive quality indicates the persona’s inability to write cohesively due to some lacking experience. Ultimately the audience is to consider the necessity of lived experiences before engaging in creativity.

Text 2, however, focalises creativity as a means of interpreting human experiences, as indicated by the use of text which fits within the organic strokes of the artwork. The text within the water creates a gliding alliteration of “WHILE”, “WHITHER”, “FLOW,” which symbolically allude to the function of language to replicate life and experience. In conjunction with this, the placement of the character at the centre of the image whose gaze creates a vector directed out of the frame is reflective of language’s ability to provoke curiosity and catalyse the discovery of new human experiences.

Other answers may include:

  • Creativity as a powerful force that ‘leads’ authors and creators into new worlds, and how ideas can ‘control’ the author’s process rather than the author being the one in total command.
  • The disparity between audiences’ understanding of creativity (believing it to be a freeing process), and composers’ understanding of its limitations and constraints.
  • The joy and freedom provided by the creative process.
  • The power of language and creative endeavours (art, writing) to capture experiences and concepts.
  • Creativity’s power to “transport” both authors and readers to new worlds, indicated by the symbolic boat being labelled “the pencil.”

Question 2 (5 marks)

Text 3 — Poem (It Begins with Darkness)

How does the poem explore the power of storytelling?

  • Your response to this question should identify what is powerful about storytelling – what specific effect does it have on people? 
  • Your response should be supported by four succinctly analysed examples from the text.


It Begins with Darkness reveals the power of storytelling to immerse audiences in new worlds, creating a shared experience that forges connections between individuals.

The opening stanzas create a juxtaposition between stark realism and dramatic imagery to reveal the power of storytelling to challenge one’s perspectives. Before the play within the text ensues, the poem cumulatively lists features in the scene such as “a leather couch” and “a chrome and bakelite stand,” which is purely descriptive and omits imagery. This bleak realism is juxtaposed by the performance, in which an auditory experience is replicated through the syllabic alliteration in the simile of the actor’s voice being “loud as wind swatting at the loose sheet of corrugated iron”. The performance becomes a symbol for the power of storytelling as it adds a sensory layer to the prosaic backdrop of the real world. 

This immersive, shared experience unites those in attendance and allows the persona to forge a new connection with his son. The persona mentions that “[w]hen [their son] comes on stage he swears five times”, employing high-modality language to perpetuate the persona’s found engagement with the play, taking it to be real despite its fictionality. As the play progresses, the initially uncertain persona feels a growing sense of unity with other audience members, as seen through the cumulative listing of “everyone…. laughing… smiling and nodding and taking in every move my son makes.” This reveals how the process of storytelling undertaken in a theatrical production takes audiences on an imagined journey, resulting in an emotionally impactful collective experience.

Other answers may include:

  • The power of storytelling to evoke emotions (indicated through the persona and broader audience’s journey through uncertainty, angery, joy, empathy, nostalgia…)
  • The power of storytelling to shift the persona’s perception of his son: from a lack of confidence in his career as an actor, to a newfound appreciation for acting as a craft and an art form.
  • The power of storytelling to create an imagined experience just as powerful as a physical sensory experience (as seen when the persona compares it to his own memories of “the relief of taking off your helmet… enjoying the coolness of a harbour breeze…”)
  • The power of storytelling to evoke memory and connection (the persona’s memories of his son in childhood, and his deceased father)

Question 3 (4 Marks)

Text 4 – Nonfiction Extract (Extract from Humour)

Explain how this text examines the human experience of laughter.

  • Your response should articulate what specific idea about laughter is being conveyed in the text.
  • Your response should be supported by three succinctly analysed examples from the text.


Text 4 exhaustively accumulates types of laughter to argue against the idea that laughter is a “uniform” human experience by presenting it as a complex medium for communicating an array of emotions. Namely, Eagleton provides a counterclaim which denounces laughter’s uniformity across human experiences through the metaphor of “Laughter is a language with a host of different idioms.” In comparing it to language, Eagleton raises the possibility of multifaceted purposes and interpretations, which subverts the reader’s understanding of laughter from being a social reaction to a complex feature of communication.

Eagleton continues by listing various synonyms of laughter, such as “cackling”, “chortling”, “shrieking”, screeching”. The contrasting use of positive and negative connotations logically invalidates Samuel Johnson’s argument that laughter is universally the same, by presenting communication via laughter as a complex form of unique individual experience. Ironically, Text 4 subscribes to a highly formal register to omit the use of humorous tone, as to present a possible contrapuntal view that humour only contributes towards an emotional experience, and not an intellectual one. Therefore, the audience learns to embrace the diverse emotional layers of the human experience which is shaped by humour and other comedic language.

Other answers may include:

  • The paradox between laughter being primarily associated with happiness and humour, yet also being a means to express negative emotions.
  • The importance of laughter to human communication and the multitude of ideas and emotions it can express.

Question 4 (6 marks)

Text 5 – Prose Fiction Extract (Extract from Carpentaria)

Analyse the ways this text represents the relationship between identity and place.

  • Your response should explore what impact places have on identity (or vice versa: how one’s identity affects their response to a particular place), identifying the specific landscape and type of identity being explored in the text.
  • You should draw on 5-6 examples from the text to support your response.
  • You should use a ‘mini-essay’ structure for a response of this length, with a brief introduction and two body paragraphs.

Text 5 emphasises the powerful relationship between individual identity and natural landscapes, revealing both how one’s cultural identity may allow them to forge spiritual connections to place, as well as how an individual’s legacy may become part of the collective memory of a specific location.

Initially, the extract begins by describing the landscape as hostile and unforgiving, as “(Phantom) lived amidst thickets of growing slender plants with barely anything for leaves… a thousand thorny branches.” The negative connotations of “slender,” “barely” and “thorny” create discomfort in audiences, suggesting a barren landscape devoid of potential sustenance. However, this attitude is starkly juxtaposed with Phantom’s ability to forge a deeply meaningful spiritual connection to the landscape, as “he could grab hold of the river in his mind and live with it as his father’s fathers did before him”. The soft consonants “h”, “f” and “l” instil feelings of safety, accompanied by the repetition of “father,” which suggests that despite the seeming hostility of Phantom’s landscape, it acts as a conduit which connects himself to his familial identity, passed down by his ancestors. The simile “Normal was like ebbing water” utilises natural imagery to reveal the significance of the natural world to Phantom’s sense of self, suggesting his symbiotic connection with his surroundings. Wright therefore conveys the powerful way an individual’s inherited cultural identity allows them to forge emotional connections with natural environments.

Furthermore, Wright reveals how one individual’s identity can have an enduring impact on the legacy of a particular landscape. In the line, “No one remembered what the port had looked like… no picture… no one… thought it was worthwhile to take a photo,” the repeated negative diction reinforces the river’s lack of memorable features, and how the townspeople failed to construct a sense of its historical legacy. However, this contrasts the extract’s final line, “Everybody knew that this was Normal’s river,” which utilises high modality language alongside the possessive of “Normal’s” to emphasise that the river has become indelibly associated with one individual’s actions. In this way, Wright shows how an individual’s significant relationship with a place has the potential to become part of its identity in the collective memory.

Other answers may include:

  • The emotional and physical connections an individual can have with a natural landscape.
  • The way a landscape can foster an individual’s qualities, and therefore their identity (considering Normal’s ‘friendliness’ with the gropers, bravery in challenging the crocodiles…)
  • The way someone’s beliefs and values as a result of their cultural values can influence their perceptions of a place.
  • Normal’s “identity” as perceived by the townspeople being shaped by his close relationship to the river (their belief that Normal may “live for hundreds of years,” and “knew the secret of getting (to the stars).”)

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