Wace English Essays

Dennis shares his tips for success in the HSC English Exam.

How to do well in HSC English

1. Learn your grammar

A shocking number of students who are really smart and native English speakers write essays that don’t make grammatical sense. Before year 12, you should pick up a grammar book, and be familiar with fun like verb noun agreement, singular plural agreement, and parallelism. Remember, the rules of idiomatic written English differ from those of spoken English.

2. Learn how to read

HSC students have a weird habit of micro analysing every piece of text they see. Their analysis looks like: The author’s use of the dichotomous paradox between the words black and white creates a symbolism with the pathetic fallacy of the rain falling on the symbolic umbrella. This might sound smart at first, but when you take a step back, you realise it sounds confusing and has nothing to do with the wider themes of the book. Relax and read the text as a whole. By micro-analysing, you are missing out on the most important thing—the underlying themes behind the text.

3. Learn how to write

If you want your writing to make an impression on the marker, it should follow a clear linear progression that follows logic. Think of it this way, the examiner is someone who wants to cross a river. Each sentence, you are trying to lay a stone so that they may take a step forward. When they reach the other end, they are persuaded by your argument. Your stones should be not too close, or they think they’re going nowhere; and not too far or they’ll lose you. Likewise your essay should be making clear progression from sentence to sentence, moving forward, without making abrupt jumps. Also, if you were guiding someone across a river, you wouldn’t put stones in a circle. Move forward in a logical way, and don’t jump from place to place.

4. Get your meaning across with the shortest sentence, using the shortest words

Ideally, nearly all of your sentences should be short single clauses (a clause has a subject and an object, if you didn’t know this—point made in my first tip). You should use plain and simple English as much as you can without losing meaning. Instead of, “he commenced his journey”, say “he began his journey”.

5. Be creative in your creative

Don’t write about not belonging in a school-yard. A creative writing piece has to be interesting. You can set in during a war, during a famine in a poor country, in a science fiction world, or in a world of magical realism. You can experiment with styles like existentialism or untrustworthy persona to give your creative writing piece an extra layer of sophistication. Remember, a creative shouldn’t be preaching a moral lesson, or simply triggering a feeling such as sympathy for the alienated person. It should be more complex. It should be thought provoking and possibly morally ambiguous—just like all your fictional HSC texts.

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It is claimed time and again that writing an essay is like building a house. The statement is rather clichéd, but that doesn’t nullify its truth. Both require a solid foundation to support additional components or ‘levels’, and each require something to reinforce or complete the structure.  For a house, this finishing piece is a roof, and for an essay it is a conclusion.  In order to ‘build’ that perfect essay, follow the structure below, making sure to ‘support’ your argument with textual evidence:



First, answer the question and then introduce your thesis statement.  Remember, your thesis statement is your ‘big idea’ or ‘main argument’.  After this, introduce the texts which you will use to support and elucidate your thesis.  Provide a sentence or two that specifically explains their thematic or conceptual relevance to your thesis.  Finish with a concluding sentence to links to your first body paragraph.


Body Paragraphs

Always begin with a topic sentence which states what theme/concept/aspect of the text you will be discussing in the paragraph.  After this, explain this theme/concept/aspect in further detail, drawing in contextual information if relevant to your argument.  Then, introduce a textual example to support your argument and identify the techniques the composer uses to demonstrate their effect on meaning.  Repeat as required.  End with a concluding sentence that summarises your key point in the body paragraph. Follow this structure for however many body paragraphs you have.



Your conclusion should mirror your introduction by answering the question. You should also restate your thesis and in turn consider whether or not it holds up after your analyses of the texts. Finish your conclusion with a brief summary of the main concerns of your essay.


Revise, Revise, Revise!

After finishing your essay, remember to read over it a few times in order to correct grammatical inaccuracies and spelling errors. It’s important that you take time to revise your essay. See if you can find places where you can make your point more succinctly and where your argument is not properly supported by evidence from the text. Ultimately, revising your essay will help you to get extra marks, particularly if you are on the cusp of a band.

Hopefully, these tips will assist you in mastering the essay genre.  If you’re still experiencing trouble with structuring your essays or need additional assistance with textual analysis, remember that you can always visit the Writing Centre at Chatswood and Strathfield. Our tutors have a wealth of experience among them and are more than happy to go over your essays with you. Good luck!

Find out more about our English courses. Matrix classes are available for HSC English, Maths, Physics, Biology and Chemistry.


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