5 Ways to Prepare for a Successful HSC English Experience

  1. Become a writer

“I hate writing, I love having written.” Dorothy Parker

You will be assessed throughout the course in various modes (including listening, speaking, viewing and representing skills) but at the end of the day you will face a written exam, so you need to become a confident and competent writer.  It is most common to find that it is the written component that creates difficulties for students.  This is not unusual because being a writer is a difficult process for anyone, even talented professionals like Dorothy Parker.  Start by thinking of yourself as an emerging writer and learn the skills you need to become one, the first of which is to silence the voice in your head that says you can’t do this.

Where to start: Begin a journal where you can write (with paper and pen!) each day.  What you write doesn’t matter – it is for your eyes only – so it can be any random thought, but get into the habit of writing every day for 5, 10 or 30 minutes.  This experience builds up your writing muscles so that you can write for a long time without tiring, and also gives you the experience of writing without judgment about the quality of your work.

2.  Become a reader

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” Samuel Johnson

You may not think of yourself as a reader, especially if you have found it difficult or boring in the past, but being an effective reader is still a very important skill.  Think of the time we spend on social media or blogs and how much reading we do there.  The absolute best thing you can do in English is to read the text you have been set.  If you already have your text, get started now.  If you don’t think of yourself as a reader, try the same technique as for your writing – set yourself a daily goal of 2 or 5 pages to start with.  It will soon add up if you stick to it every day, and like most things it will get easier with practice.

Where to start:  Become an active reader; use a pencil to annotate your text by underlining any words that are new to you, any quotes that seem like they might be important, any questions you have or if you are confused by something, and note down in the margin any ideas or comments that come to mind while you are reading.  Don’t worry if a text doesn’t make sense to you straight away.  As you will learn in your HSC course, texts are very complex things so just persist with it and meanings will become clearer as you work through it.

3. Take effective notes

One of the big changes in becoming a senior is that you must take a lot more responsibility for your own learning.  The teacher will provide less direct instruction in class time and will expect you to capture the important information that he or she covers in class. (This is a part of the transition from ‘pedagogy‘ which is teaching children, to ‘andragogy‘ which is the way that adults learn.)  This means actively taking effective notes.  Students often come to me for tutoring who can’t tell me what they covered in class in the past week because of a lack of notes, or even worse they think that this week they covered “nothing.”  Comprehensive class notes are the most valuable resource you can use in English to work on your assessment tasks.

Where to start: This video  is aimed at university students who are fully responsible for taking their own notes during lectures.  You can take the same approach in your English class – jot down the date and the key ideas covered in each class as this will give you a valuable resource when it comes to essay writing and exam preparation.

4.  Belonging

Everyone doing the HSC will tackle the Area of Study “Belonging.”  This module can become very repetitive so it is important to understand why it is such a key part of the English curriculum.  It highlights a principle that underlies the whole English curriculum which emphasises the importance of exploring our connection with ideas and how our understandings of these ideas affect the real world around us.  This is known as a ‘cultural studies’ approach to texts and emphasises both the everyday ways that all kinds of texts reflect our world, and also how they relate to ideas of social justice (which is a way of considering how power is distributed in our world and how to get greater equality).  So, even though at times Belonging might become a boring word it is a very important idea in our world so try and see the many ways that it can show up.

Where to start:  One of the key things to do in your study of belonging is to have a good vocabulary for discussing its different aspects.  In your note-taking try to capture the various words for belonging that you come up against in class or in your reading.  You will need these to explore the idea in depth rather than getting stuck on only explaining ways of belonging or not belonging.

5. Use your social media time to help you

There are a lot of resources to help you on the web including YouTube, facebook and twitter, and numerous quality blogs.  As well as using these tools as a source of entertainment, they can also be very efficient and beneficial skill builders so make your YouTube break work for you!

Where to start: Start with this video from MrStudyTV on how to use your holidays effectively – he provides some very useful advice about how to source related texts.  If you find it helpful, subscribe and look for other resources that can help you.  Follow this blog so you will receive updates on how to improve your analytical writing skills as well as information about the various prescribed and related texts.



Welcome to Bibliotherapy.  We believe that the right books and literature assigned to the right person can be therapy. In a world of increasing distraction the quiet solitude and highly interactive process of reading is more valued than ever. Join our blog and share with us some of those joys. For those students studying the HSC or IB we can offer you a range of links to various commentaries on prescribed texts and the great range of Literature in both courses. You can also come to our writing workshops or one-to-one tutoring.  Please contact us at bibliotherapists@gmail.com for more information.