Top 7 English Exam Preparation Tips

7 Top tips for studying for an English Exam

by Tim

  1. Know your text(s)

  • Have a thorough understanding to the main themes and concepts within your texts of study
  • A way to test your knowledge is to write a paragraph in your own words explaining and describing your insight to a particular theme in your text.
  1. Put all your notes into a table

    This will organise your notes neatly and allow you to easy access your notes.

  2. Draft 1… Draft 2… Draft 3…

  • Whether your assessment task is an essay, creative task or speech you should have your first draft (typed or written) at least 2 weeks before your exam.
  • Write about themes that your liked or enjoyed when you were studying the text. Expect to make multiple drafts for your assessment tasks, especially for creative writing.
  1. Hand in your Drafts to your school teacher, tutor or parent/friend to read and edit

  • Remember to get comments and feedback from the person who read your Draft.
  • Make the appropriate changes according to your Drafts to make it even better.
  1. Read other essays/creatives and become the person to give feedback

  • Read other people’s essays/creatives to gain insight only and not to copy them
  • Read to learn from them, look at their strengths and weaknesses, and see how you can replicate it in your own way.
  • When reading, out yourself in the shoes of an HSC English Marker. This way you will understand what are the specifics that they are looking for and repeat this step with your essay/creative.
  1. Practice… Practice… Practice…

  • Practise answering different essay questions with your ‘perfect essay’ and practise moulding your response so that you answer the essay question each time.
  1. Never memorise responses, only memorise your main ideas and analysis

  • During the exam you must be writing your response to answer the question or stimulus given.

Must Know Creative Writing Tips!

Creative Writing Hints and Tips

Stuck with how to start your piece of creative writing – enjoy our hints and tips for improving your creative writing.

  1. Establish a credible setting: use evidence, quotes, physical and emotional spaces. Use similes and metaphors to extend your description.
  2. Think about structure: Where is the end point of the story. What are the series of events, complications and climax that shape the structure.
  3. Who is the protagonist? Is there an antagonist?
  4. Play with your sentence structure. Try short/long sentences – look for effect.
  5. Play with imagery/patterns of imagery/symbolism.
  6. Use figurative language sparingly but not clichéd.
  7. Go for the simple language/ simple sentence. Cut the adjectives and see the effect.
  8. Go for atmosphere – try and create a relaxed or tense mood. Think about pathetic fallacy.
  9. Give a credible ending – open ended/cliff hanger or tying up loose ends.
  10. Where is the climax? Is there a denouement?
  11. Is there symbolism inherent within the text? Repeated motif.
  12. Can you make any allusions to classical/popular culture?
  13. Is there a postscript?
  14. Do minor characters play a part?
  15. HSC Creative writing is to a Novel like a Trailer is to a Movie. Your story must be packed with techniques AND be able to tease the reader – BUT not satisfy them.

By our tutor Anne Marie.

Top 10 Exam Tips

Generally speaking, the top ten things you should keep in mind as you do your exam:

  • Exam tip #1: Make it easy for the marker.
  • Exam tip #2: Use a black pen.
  • Exam tip #3: Write on one side of the page only.
  • Exam tip #4: Try to avoid writing extra pieces in margins that are linked by asterisks, arrows, etc.
  • Exam tip #5: Read and follow all key instructions. For example, if you are asked to provide a title to a response, than make sure you do.
  • Exam tip #6: Write in the correct genre/form and sustain it throughout. For example, if you are asked to write a speech, make sure it is clearly a speech from beginning to end. If you are asked to write a letter, make sure it has a salutation and address at the start, reads like a letter throughout the response and has a farewell or something similar at the end.
  • Exam tip #7: Try, as much as you can, to write clearly and legibly. Perhaps leave a line between paragraphs. Don’t be afraid of white space – it makes reading easier.
  • Exam tip #8: Practice the key conventions that demonstrate mastery of English: the correct use of apostrophe, the correct title conventions (either underlining or using inverted commas), the full use of a text’s title at least once and the correct spelling of key character names and composer’s names (at least).
  • Exam tip #9: If you have time during the exam, quickly proofread your work and check the pages are in the right order and that as many mistakes as you can find are corrected. (Examiners understand you are under pressure and that this is a first draft but demonstration of control of the key conventions is the mark of a more sophisticated response).
  • Exam tip #10: You may also be required to write a more personal response, which includes your ability to demonstrate you have reflected personally on the effect of studying a particular module or area of study. Think through how to do this.

This exam advice is general in nature and may need to be adapted for different subjects.

HSC Essay Skills

Any questions that asks you to discuss, compare, give reasons, or examine is asking you to use impersonal or formal language. “I” should be avoided if possible.

HSC Essay Skills – Formal Writing

Formal writing is writing that you would use in a formal context e.g. letter writing, business, formal invitations, legal contracts, essay writing, newspaper writing. In essays you should try to use formal language as much as possible and avoid colloquialism and slang e.g. “Babe is an incredibly excellent movie” is better written as “Babe is a fine film, well written and imaginatively directed”.

HSC Essay Skills – Brainstorming

  • Write your essay topic on a spare sheet of paper.
  • Write down everything you can think of regarding the topic.
  • You might use circles or diagrams to mind map your ideas.
  • Select relevant points.
  • Identify ideas that you can link together.
  • Work out the order in which you are going to write about your ideas
  • Link your points together in a coherent argument


Extension English (E1/E2)

In the Preliminary English Extension course, students explore how and why texts are valued in and appropriated into a range of contexts. They consider why some texts may be perceived as culturally significant. At Smart Moves our HSC Tutoring style guides the HSC English Extension student through the maze of HSC assessments and answers their questions regarding: interpretation of questions, essay response structure and the course syllabus aims.

Extension English – Module A:


Students consider the ways in which genres are adapted to different times and cultures and the attitudes and values reflected by these adaptations. They examine why genres arise at particular times and the social and cultural conditions that are conducive to their endurance or recurrence in popularity. Students consider the reasons for and validity of generic distinctions.

There are three electives for this topic- Crime Fiction, Revenge Tragedy and The Essay, students must also explore and integrate this unit with texts of their own choosing.

Comparative Study of Texts and Context

This module requires students to compare texts in order to explore them in relation to their contexts. It develops students’ understanding of the effects of context and questions of value.

Each elective in this module requires the study of groups of texts which are to be selected from a prescribed text list. These texts may be in different forms or media.

Students examine ways in which social, cultural and historical context influences aspects of texts, or the ways in which changes in context lead to changed values being reflected in texts. This includes study and use of the language of texts, consideration of purposes and audiences, and analysis of the content, values and attitudes conveyed through a range of readings.

Students develop a range of imaginative, interpretive and analytical compositions that relate to the comparative study of texts and context. These compositions may be realised in a variety of forms and media.

Elective 1: Exploring Connections

In this elective students will explore how meanings of a pair of texts can be shaped and reshaped by considering the nature of the connections between them. Exploration of the connections between the texts will enhance understanding of the values and contexts of each text. Relationships between these texts may be implicit or explicit. Connections may be established through direct or indirect references, contexts, values, ideas, and the use of language forms and features.

Students can select the following pairs of texts for comparisons:

Shakespearean Drama and Film

  • Shakespeare, William: King Richard III
  • Pacino, Al: Looking for Richard

Prose Fiction and Poetry

  • White, Patrick: The Aunt’s Story
  • Dobson, Rosemary: Selected Poems
    • Young Girl at the Window
    • Chance Met
    • Landscape in Italy
    • Azay-Le-Rideau
    • The Rape of Europa
    • Romantic
    • Primitive Painters

Prose Fiction and Non-Fiction

  • Austen, Jane: Pride and Prejudice
  • Weldon, Fay: Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen

Poetry and Drama

  • Donne, John: Selected Poetry
    • Death be not proud
    • This is my playes last scene
    • At the round eaths imagin’d corners blow
    • If poisonous minerals
    • Hymn to God my God, in my sicknesse
    • A Valediction: Forbidding mourning
    • The Apparition
    • The Relique
    • The Sunne Rising
  • Edson, Margaret: Wit

Elective 2: Texts in Time

In this elective students compare how the treatment of similar content in a pair of texts composed in different times and contexts may reflect changing values and perspectives. By considering the texts in their contexts and comparing values, ideas and language forms and features, students come to a heightened understanding of the meaning and significance of each text.

Students can select the following pairs of texts for comparisons:

Prose Fiction and Film

  • Shelley, Mary: Frankenstein
  • Scott, Ridley: Blade Runner

Prose Fiction and Poetry

  • Fitzgerald, F Scott: The Great Gatsby
  • Browning, Elizabeth Barrett: Aurora Leigh and Other Poems
    • Sonnet I
    • Sonnet XIII
    • Sonnet XIV
    • Sonnet XXI
    • Sonnet XXII
    • Sonnet XXVIII
    • Sonnet XXXII
    • Sonnet XLIII

Drama and Non-Fiction

  • Albee, Edward: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
  • Woolf, Virginia: A Room of One’s Own

Extension English – Module B:

Texts and Ways of Thinking

Each elective in this module involves the study of at least two print texts, relating to a particular historical period, that demonstrate the influence of particular ways of thinking on literary and other texts. In addition, students explore, analyse and critically evaluate a range of other texts that reflect these ideas.

Students explore the ways that values are inscribed in particular texts and how they are reflected by texts. They consider whether and why texts are valued in their own time. They also consider why and by whom those texts are valued today. The electives for this unit are Individual and the Society, Post-modernism and Retreat from the Global.

Critical Study of Texts

This module requires students to engage with and develop an informed personal understanding of their prescribed text. Through critical analysis and evaluation of its language, content and construction, students will develop an appreciation of the textual integrity of their prescribed text. They refine their own understanding and interpretations of the prescribed text and critically consider these in the light of the perspectives of others. Students explore how context influences their own and others’ responses to the text and how the text has been received and valued.

Shakespearean Drama

  • Shakespeare, William: Hamlet

Prose Fiction

  • Ondaatje, Michael: In the Skin of a Lion
  • Winton, Time: Cloudstreet
  • Jones, Gail: Sixty Lights
  • Bronte, Charlotte: Jane Eyre

Drama or Film

  • Ibsen, Henrik: A Doll’s House
  • Welles, Orson: Citizen Kane


  • Yeats, William Butler: W B Yeats: Poems selected by Seamus Heaney
    • An Irish Airman
    • When You Are Old
    • Among School Children
    • The Wild Swans at Coole
    • Leda and the Swan
    • The Second Coming
    • Easter 1916
  • Harwood, Gwen: Selected Poems
    • Father and Child (Parts I & II)
    • The Violets
    • At Mornington
    • A Valediction
    • Triste Triste
    • The Sharpness of Death
    • Mother Who Gave me Life
  • Slessor, Kenneth: Selected Poems
    • Out of Time
    • Five Bells
    • Sleep
    • Five Visions of Captain Cook
    • Sensuality
    • Elegy In A Botanical Garden
    • Beach Burial


  • Orwell, George: George Orwell: Essays
    • Why I Write
    • Notes on Nationalism
    • Good Bad Books
    • The Sporting Spirit
    • Politics and the English Language
    • Writers and Leviathan
  • Speeches
    • Atwood, Margaret: Spotty-Handed Villainesses
    • Keating, Paul: Funeral Service of the Unknown Australian Soldier
    • Pearson, Noel: An Australian History for Us All
    • Aung San Suu Kyi: Keynote Address at the Beijing World Conference on Women
    • Bandler, Faith: Faith, Hope and Reconciliation
    • William, Deane: It is Still Winter at Home
    • Sadat, Anwar: Speech to the Israeli Knesset

Extension English – Module C:

Language and Values

Students examine language modes, media of communication, forms and features, and structures of texts. They consider such notions and processes as symbolic representation and metaphor, convention, subversion and appropriation, composing and responding. They describe, analyse and evaluate influences on language change and the valuing that occurs in and through language.

Students develop a range of imaginative, interpretive and analytical compositions including some that explore the effects of language variation for a range of audiences. These compositions may be realised in various forms, modes and media. Students investigate topics and ideas, engage in independent learning activities and develop skills in extended composition.

Representation and Text

This module requires students to explore various representations of events, personalities or situations. They evaluate how medium of production, textual form, perspective and choice of language influence meaning. The study develops students’ understanding of the relationships between representation and meaning.

Elective 1: Conflicting Perspectives

In their responding and composing, students consider the ways in which conflicting perspectives on events, personalities or situations are represented in their prescribed text and other related texts of their own choosing. Students analyse and evaluate how acts of representation, such as the choice of textual forms, features and language, shape meaning and influence responses.

Shakespearean Drama

  • Shakespeare, William: Julius Caesar

Prose Fiction

  • Guterson, David: Snow Falling on Cedars

Drama or Film

  • Whelan, Peter: The Herbal Bed
  • Levinson, Barry: Wag the Dog


  • Hughes, Ted: Birthday Letters
    • Fulbright Scholars
    • The Shot
    • The Minotaur
    • Sam
    • Your Paris
    • Red


  • Robertson, Geoffrey: The Justice Game
    • The Trials of Oz
    • Michael X on Death Row
    • The Romans in Britain
    • The Prisoner of Venda
    • Show Trials
    • Diana in the Dock: Does Privacy Matter
    • Afterward: The Justice Game

Elective 2: History and Memory

In their responding and composing, students consider their prescribed text and other texts which explore the relationships between individual memory and documented events. Students analyse and evaluate the interplay of personal experience, memory and documented evidence to broaden their understanding of how history and personal history are shaped and represented.

Prose Fiction

  • Kingston, Maxine Hong: The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts
  • Carey, Peter: The True History of the Kelly Gang


  • Frears, Stephen: The Queen


  • Levertov, Denise: Selected Poems
    • Ways of Conquest
    • Don’t You Hear That Whistle Blowin’ …
    • In Thai Binh (Peace) Province
    • A Time Past
    • Libation
    • A Letter to Marek About a Photograph
    • The Pilots

Non-Fiction or Multimedia

  • Baker, Mark Raphael: The Fiftieth Gate
  • Smithsonian National Museum of American History September 11 website

Selective Schools Test

  • Selective Schools Test Information

    The NSW Selective High Schools Test will be held usually in March. The exams consist of four test papers covering four different areas: Reading Comprehension, General Ability, Mathematics and Written Expression. All sections except Written Expression are in multiple choice format.

    Part 1 – Reading Comprehension or ‘English Language’ (40 min)

    This section is included in all NSW Selective Schools and Scholarship tests. The student is required to read a series of different texts of various types and answer questions to show how well they understood them. Generally, there is only one question per text and 40 questions in total. In some cases there can be questions relating to more than one text.

    Part 2 – General Ability Test (40 min)

    This tests your reasoning skills – how well you can think through problems. This part of the test varies from year to year but as a guide there can be up to 60 questions in a 40 minute period. The questions are a mixture of literacy and numeracy questions focusing on verbal and non verbal reasoning skills. A good background in reading and writing is essential to this section.

    Part 3 – Mathematics (40 min)

    This part consists of around 40 questions. Remember calculators, geometric equipment and rulers are not allowed. Questions cover Numbers, Data, Measurement, Patterns and Algebra. There will be room for working on the booklet.

    Part 4 – Written expression (20 min)

    In this part students can be asked to write one or two pieces of creative writing based on a stimulus (words or pictures). Typically 20 minutes is allocated for each piece of writing. There is no set length for the pieces but it is recommended that they be about one and a half pages or 200-250 words.

  • More detailed information can be found here: NSW Public Selective Schools or Private Selective School Scholarships 
  • Hints:
    – Use your time wisely! Don’t spend too much time on any one question.
    – There is not much “study” that can be done for these tests. The best way to prepare is to find past papers or similar questions to do.
    – If you have some time to spare, go over your answers.Students are encouraged to book further lessons to prepare for their selective schools exam.

Area of Study – Belonging

Students often find the outcomes described in the Syllabus difficult to respond to effectively. In order to write an essay they must de-construct, analyse, and understand what the question is asking them to do.

How do you answer your assessment questions correctly?

At Smart Moves our tutoring philosophy looks at the individuals essay skills, develops their ability to read questions critically, and insightfully. So each individual can achieve their personal best. No matter what the subject or topic.

HSC Tutoring for Area of Study: Belonging

This area of study requires students to explore ways in which the concept of belonging is represented in and through texts. Perceptions and ideas of belonging, or of not belonging, vary. These perceptions are shaped within personal, cultural, historical and social contexts. A sense of belonging can emerge from the connections made with people, places, groups, communities and the larger world. Within the area of study, students may consider aspects of belonging in terms of experiences and notions of identity, relationships, acceptance and understanding.

Texts explore many apects of belonging, including the potential of the individual to enrich or challenge a community or group. They may reflect the way attitudes to belonging are modified over time. Texts may also represent choices not to belong, or barriers which prevent belonging.

Perceptions and ideas of belonging in texts can be constructed through a variety or language modes, forms, features and structures. In engaging with the text, a responder may experience and understand the possibilities presented by a sense of belonging to, or exclusion from, the text and the world it represents. This engagement may be influenced by the different ways of perspectives are given voice in or are absent from a text.

Our tutors at Smart Moves focus on a style of HSC tutoring that nourishes the student’s ability and helps to build their confidence. So the student can effectively write top band essays. This is achieved through our one-on-one HSC tutoring style. Each student is able to see BOS model answers and understand how the writer effectively answered the question.

Addressing the Area of Study

In their responses and compositions, students examine, question, reflect and speculate on:

  • How the concept of belonging is conveyed through the representations of people, relationships, ideas, places, events and societies that they encounter in the prescribed text and texts of their own choosing related to the Area of Study.
  • Assumptions underlying various representations of the concept of belonging.
  • How the composer’s choice of language modes, forms, features and structures shapes and is shaped by a sense of belonging.
  • Their own experiences of belonging in a variety of contexts.
  • The ways in which they perceive the world through texts.
  • The ways in which exploring the concept and significance of belonging may broaden and deepen their understanding of themselves and their world.

Our tutors can help you learn how to effectively respond to these text types and reflect the concept of the journey. This is achieved in our one-on-one HSC Tutoring lessons. Our Tutors teach the key elements to a narrative as well as the other text types set for the HSC exam.

The HSC Standard English Exam

HSC Standard English Exam

The HSC Standard English curriculum focuses on themes and perspective taking. Students are expected to be able to utilise and demonstrate higher order thinking skills through their responses. They are expected to be able to analyse, synthesise and evaluate different texts within a range of questions and text types. These skills are necessary for both Paper One and Paper Two – HSC Standard English.

Are you stressed about responding to any of the following prescribed texts?

HSC Standard English – Module A:

Experience Through Language, Telling Stories, Dialogue and Image.

Elective 1: Distinctive Voices (HSC Standard English)

Students consider the types and functions of voices in texts, investigating how varied language affects interpretation and shapes meaning.

Students will choose one of the following texts as the basis for their further exploration of the elective, Distinctive Voices.

Prose Fiction:

  • Day, Marele: The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender


  • Shaw, George Bernard: Pygmalion


  • Burns, Joanne: On a Clear Day
    • On a Clear Day
    • Public Places
    • Echo
    • Australia
    • Kindling
  • Paterson, A B: The Penguin Banjo Paterson Collected Verse
      • A Bush Christening
      • Clancy of the Overflow
      • Mulga Bill’s Bicycle
      • Saltbush Bill
      • In The Defence of the Bush
      • Old Pardon, the Son of Reprieve
      • Seachange



  • King, Martin Luther: I Have a Dream
  • Cullis-Suzuki, Severn: Address to the Plenary Session at the Earth Summit Rio Centro, Brazil
  • Kennedy, John F: Inaugural Address
  • Street, Jessie: Is it to be Back to the Kitchen?
  • Spencer, Earl: Eulogy for Princess Diana
  • Gandhi, Indira: True Liberation of Women 

    Elective 2: Distinctively Visual (HSC Standard English)

    Reflects on how forms and language of texts show, or assist us to visualise, images. Visual media is particularly evocative; this elective explores the effect of the visual on the responder.

    Prose Fiction:

    • Lawson, Henry: The Penguin Henry Lawson Short Stories
      • The Drover’s Wife
      • In a Dry Season
      • The Loaded Dog
      • Joe Wilson’s Courtship
    • Goldsworthy, Peter: Maestro


    • Misto, John: The Shoe-horn Sonata


    • Stewart, Douglas: Selected Poems
      • Lady Feeding the Cats
      • Wombat
      • The Snow-Gum
      • Nesting Time
      • The Moths
      • The Fireflies
      • Waterlily
      • Cave Painting

    Film or Media:

    • Tykwer, Tom: Run Lola Run
    • Cox, Deb: Seachange
      • Playing With Fire
      • Not Such Great Expectations
      • Manna From Heaven
      • Law and Order

HSC Standard English – Module B:

Close Study of Text: This Module asks students to analyse how an author’s judicious and deliberate choice of language, writing conventions and ideas provoke an emotional response from the audience. They must be able to effectively write a variety of text types on their prescribed and chosen texts. Their analysis of their two supplementary texts must be integrated with their prescribed text in order to maximise their marks.

 Prose Fiction:

  • Haddon, Mark: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
  • Yolen, Jane: Briar Rose
  • Malouf, David: Fly Away Peter


  • Nowra, Louis: Cosi
  • Shakespeare, William: The Merchant of Venice


  • Owen, Wilfred: War Poems and Others
    • The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
    • Anthem for Doomed Youth
    • Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori
    • Futulity
    • Disabled
    • Mental Cases
  • AWright, Judith: Collected Poems 1942-1945
    • South of my Days
    • Train Journey
    • Flame Tree in a Quarry
    • For Precision
    • Request for a Year
    • Platypus

Non-Fiction or Film

  • Krakauer, Jon: Into the Wild
  • Weir, Peter: Witness

HSC Standard English – Module C:

Texts and Society is thematic, requiring students to integrate supplementary texts with their prescribed material.

‘The Institution and the Individual Experience’ examines the potential positive and negative effects of an institution on an individual, and an individual’s compliance or resistance with the authorities of the institution.

‘Ways of Living’ encourages students to consider scenarios from a perspective other than their own. It asks students to examine the way an individual’s personal experience, cultural background, values, beliefs and historical context can influence the way people live in contemporary society.

‘Into the World’ explores aspects of growing up and life transitions into new worlds. It is similar to Journeys in that it examines how experience can bring about transformation, personal growth and change.

Elective 1: Texts and Society (HSC Standard English)

This elective looks at communities and the individual in a global context. Through examining the positive and negative aspects of the global village, students investigate changing attitudes, values and beliefs. The global village has impacted the way in which individuals communicate, engage and interact with one another, as explored through varied uses of media and technology.

Prose Fiction

  • Koch, Christopher: The Year of Living Dangerously


  • Enright, Nick

Film or Multimedia

  • Sitch, Rob: The Castle
  • Wikimedia: Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia

Elective 2: Into the World (HSC Standard English)

This elective explores aspects of growing up and life transitions into new worlds. Students study texts that illustrate varied pathways to personal experience, allowing for growth and changing identity.

Prose Fiction

  • Burke, J C: The Story of Tom Brennan


  • Russell, Willy: Educating Rita


  • Blake, William: Songs of Innocence and Experience
    • The Echoing Green
    • The Lamb
    • The Chimney Sweeper
    • The Sick Rose
    • The Tyger
    • London
  • Watson, Ken: At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners
  • As a group
    • Bhatt, Sujata: The One Who Goes Away
    • Duffy, Carol Ann: Head of English
    • Mudrooroo, Nyoongah: The Ultimate Demonstration
    • Pilinszky, Janos: The French Prisoner
    • Holub, Miroslav: Brief Reflection on Test-Tubes
    • Rozenicz, Tadeusz: The Survivor

Non-Fiction or Film

  • Pung, Alice: Unpolished Gem
  • Stephen, Daldry: Billy Elliot

At Smart Moves Tutoring we can take YOU over these hurdles and help you understand what the question is asking and then show you how to write effective HSC Standard English responses.