Section 1 of this paper consists of four unseen texts, which can be anything from a painting to an extract from a play or novel, and are usually a mixture of different text types, both visual and written. Following these, there are five questions, four of which are in response to individual texts, and the last which will ask you to compare two of them.
It is easy for students to dismiss this section of the paper due to the short length of the answers required, but it is important to remember that is is worth as many marks as the essay and creative writing sections. These are easy marks to gain and to lose!
Even though the answers in this section are short, it is important to remember to fully explain your ideas by using the PEEL (Point, Example, Explain, Link) structure, and to include specific references to the text, such as quotes or techniques. Answers which do not flesh out their ideas or include examples are heavily penalised, as the marking criteria only gives full marks to answers which explain in detail.
A simple guide to how much detail each answer needs is to look at the number of marks it has been allocated. The number of techniques you should use in your answer should correspond with how many marks it is worth, with the exception of the comparative question, where you should ensure that you refer to the two texts equally.
The 2014 notes from the marking centre indicated that candidates needed to improve in meeting the requirements of specific questions (for example, using the correct number of texts asked for), choosing the most appropriate quotes or textual features to support their arguments, and in analysing the texts with clearly explained textual references. In order to succeed, it is important to remember to cover these areas in your responses, as the markers will most certainly be looking closely to make sure students are improving!
The Area of Study covers a range of different kinds of discovery, including those which are emotional, creative, intellectual, physical, and spiritual. It encourages students to examine the personal, cultural, historical and social values and contexts of the texts they encounter. It also covers rediscovery of that which has been lost, forgotten or concealed. It is important to look back at the prescriptions list to ensure that your understanding of discovery covers all areas, and that you are confident using a range of different elements of discovery in your responses.
Finally, allow yourself to take the full forty minutes available to you for this section. It can be tempting to rush through it in order to give yourself more time for the essay and creative writing sections, but as each section is worth the same amount of marks, there is no sense in sacrificing it for the others.
Oliver Moore- Capra English Tutor
I am a mechanical engineering student at the University of New South Wales. As part of my degree I have been given the chance to do a lot of fun and interesting activities. For example, I have been on teams that have designed catapults, garbage-bots, pumps, coffee machines, satellites, trains and drones. This, I should mention, only covers one school of engineering.
There is a culture among high school students and high school leavers which is centralised around a student’s ATAR. Once you arrive at university, you will discover that your ATAR, and any remnants of its importance, is a thing of the past. This does not, however, suggest the ATAR is unimportant for you right now.
I wanted to do engineering and I wanted it to be at UNSW. I was quite lucky to get in: my ATAR was insufficient but universities often run further application processes. My path to entry involved an interview with a UNSW engineering academic who assessed my personal desire to study engineering and my performance in the relevant HSC subjects.
I got in to my chosen degree, but if I had acquired a stronger HSC result then my entry into university would have been significantly less troublesome (in fact, it could have been guaranteed). The big picture is while you may get an ATAR sufficient to get into your desired degree, a stronger ATAR can open more opportunities (such as scholarships). Perhaps you have multiple interests for study and your current results will only give you one of those opportunities. Will a higher ATAR solve this problem for you?
Achieving a strong ATAR tells an employer more than about your ability to write an essay or take the second derivative of a function. A strong ATAR will say you are a hard worker, you apply yourself and you are committed to doing something well. This, more than your academic abilities, is what your future employer is looking for.
Phillip Hamilton- Capra Tutor
My philosophy for learning.
When I’m teaching, one of my fundamental beliefs is that every child can succeed if they are given support, challenge and carefully chosen educational nourishment. Carol Dweck, a psychologist working at the University of Stanford, developed a new way of interacting with students in 2006 which she named ‘Growth Mindset’. The main aim of this theory was to empower learners by convincing them that they could learn anything and retain it, if their attitude was positive.
It sounds like a very simple idea, but the key to its success was in the clear language used to get this message across. When I teach, I tell the children that they ‘worked extremely hard’ to solve the problem, rather than that they were ‘clever’. Persistent, enthusiastic and hard-working learners will improve more than children who assume their intelligence is fixed. I encourage my learners to take charge over their own success by making them believe they can do it in the first place.
Adopting the Growth Mindset
My experiences have taught me that no one theory or idea can develop a child on its own. The vast range of personal, environmental and societal factors within the life of a 21st Century child makes learning a difficult task. The demands of testing and developing peer relations only makes the job more onerous. Turn the tables and try to master a video game or new app which a child finds so easy. How long would it take before you start to feel frustrated? How long before you give up? As adults, we know that to get something right, we have to practise and persevere. Too often we assume that children understand this concept too.
Learning is a fascinating, lifelong skill. The earlier a child finds their most effective strategies to learn, the better the results will be. But this can only happen if the child believes they are capable of learning in the first place. Part of my job is to teach new knowledge, but another part is to give children the confidence to become independent learners so that my role becomes that of the facilitator, instead of teacher.
Niall Hope- Capra Teacher
At some point, your teacher has probably handed you an essay with a comment like ‘you need a stronger thesis’. This is common. In fact, I’d be surprised if you hadn’t seen a comment like this, whether on a friend’s essay or your own. It can be baffling. There’s no clear mistake on the page—you can’t put your finger on anything you’ve done wrong—so it can be hard to say just what you should have done differently. I want to talk about this here.
Let’s start by acknowledging two different kinds of essays: essays that just show off what you know, for which you might score 17/20 (in one of the advanced modules, let’s say), and essays that also sustain a strong argument, for which you might get full marks. I’ll call the first kind an expository essay, and the second an argumentative essay. Obviously, you should aim to write argumentatively. If you’re used to seeing comments like ‘you need a stronger thesis’, there’s a good chance you’re writing expository essays. What’s more, if you write expository essays, ‘you need a stronger thesis’ might be the only substantial criticism you see. If that’s the case, the detail of your textual analysis is probably fine. What’s missing is the argument that frames your analysis, and the greater part of that argument is having a strong thesis. Your thesis, remember, isn’t just a few lines in your introduction. Your thesis is the thing you’re arguing for.
So what’s going wrong?
In most cases, the problem is that your thesis doesn’t differ enough from one that’s implicit in the question. It’s likely, in other words, that your thesis is basically a reformulation of the question. I’ve seen some students decide that this is a good approach. It can seem safe, and certain questions even appear to invite it—questions that ask ‘to what extent do you agree’, for example. If you want top marks, however, it’s not a good idea just to repeat what’s given to you. By themselves, most questions are far too simple to produce an interesting argument, and, more importantly, a decision to reformulate the question ignores the fact that novelty is a crucial part of any good thesis. Interpretation is what gives you something to argue for; you have to specify what you take the terms of the question to mean. Precisely because they’re couched in such simple terms, HSC questions cry out for it. If you don’t do this basic interpretive work, you’ll end up telling your reader—your marker—something that they already know, something that almost certainly goes without saying. In short, you’ll end up showing off what you know, rather than defending your understanding of it; you’ll end up writing an expository essay. A thesis doesn’t need to be radically original—just try writing something original about Hamlet, I dare you—but it does need to depart from the question.
Take as an example the questions given to extension students in the 2014 HSC. In every elective, students were asked to analyse how texts ‘engage us both intellectually and emotionally with significant ideas’. Imagine you had to answer this question. Clearly, it’s not enough simply to acknowledge that texts do engage us in this way. Before you can hope to answer this question, you have to let the reader know what the relevant ‘significant ideas’ are, and you have to specify what you take ‘intellectual and emotional engagement’ to mean. This isn’t something you can read off the question. Now, you’re probably tired of being reminded to ‘answer the question’, but it’s important to remember that answering a question involves more than leaving a trail of someone else’s terms scattered throughout your essay. Argumentative writing, after all, is also creative writing. When you sit down to write your introduction, it’s up to you to decide which ‘ideas’ qualify as ‘significant’, and to say what this significance consists in (this is why improvising introductions is invaluable exam practice). Writing stories is about naked invention; writing essays is about the novel articulation of an argument.
Once you know what you’re arguing for, you need to sustain the argument. I know that the word ‘sustained’ causes some confusion. It’s likely to puzzle you if you think that your thesis is something on the page—if, for example, you think ‘you need a stronger thesis’ is a comment about your introduction alone. This is a natural assumption if you think that a thesis is like a topic-sentence for the whole essay. It’s not. While it’s not a bad idea to conclude your introduction with a thesis-statement (in fact, it’s a good idea), a thesis-statement is no more a thesis than a punchline alone is a joke. Expository essays seem to want to get the thesis out of the way to make room for as much analysis as possible. The business of an argumentative essay, on the other hand, is to defend a thesis. So the whole of your essay must serve the thesis. Linking sentences are crucial here (I’m sure you’ve also seen the comment ‘refer back to the question’). They aren’t just recitations of the question; it’s no good writing this: ‘in this way, texts engage us intellectually and emotionally with significant ideas’. A linking sentence is meant to tie your paragraphs to your interpretation of the question. In other words, they’re meant not to remind the reader of what question you’re answering, but to draw the reader’s attention to how what you’ve just said contributes to your argument. This is what makes essays cohere. Each new paragraph represents another point in support of your thesis. Sustaining an argument is nothing more than making sure your paragraphs work together to this common end.
The take-home message of this post is a sort of holism: if you find yourself struggling to write a good thesis, you probably need to think about writing a different kind of essay. As you move through your final years of school, you need not only to show your reader what you know, you need to convince them that you understand.
Sam Lewin- Capra English Tutor
1. Show all working out. Ensuring that all of your reasoning and working is written down is crucial to obtain partial marks if your final solution is incorrect. Writing down all your working out also allows you to easily review and follow your solutions when checking your answers at the end. The marker can only mark what you have written, so don’t forget to include even the simplest of steps and calculations.
2. Substitute your answer back into the equation. When you solve an equation or inequality, check your solution by substituting your solution back into the original equation. Not all questions will allow you to do this, but where applicable, substituting the answer back in can minimise silly errors.
3. Look at the number of marks available. Check the amount of marks each questions is worth. If a question is worth only 1 mark, it will most likely require substituting a value into a formula or equation. If you find yourself writing half a page for 1 mark, then you are probably answering the question the wrong way. Stop and think before you start writing long solutions for 1 or 2 mark questions.
4. Use your reading time to interpret diagrams or graphs. At the start of reading time, it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with the last question, just to ensure that you answer every question up to it an including it. After you have familiarised yourself with the paper, turn to any questions that have graphs or diagrams. This will give you time to read the question thoroughly and start forming a solution. In 2 unit and 3 unit, you can start answering the geometry questions in your head before writing time has even started!
5. When questions say hence or otherwise, almost always use hence. Unless you know of a particular technique to solve the problem using less time, which is more accurate, always refer to the previous parts of the question. The examiners structure the questions to test your ability to combine different elements of the mathematics course. Normally, you will have to substitute or rearrange a previous part in order to answer the next part of the question.
6. Bring the correct equipment. This includes at least 2 calculators and a ruler. Try to make graphs and diagrams one-third to half a page in size. Use pencil for graphing functions and drawing diagrams so you can easily change them if you incorrectly draw them. Pen should be used for the rest of the paper.
7. Flag questions which require a high amount of calculation and come back to them at the end. It is quite easy to make a mistake when substituting values into the calculator. In general maths, when asked to compute the median or standard deviation of a set of data, or when integrating to find area or volume in 2 unit or 3 unit, it is very easy to make a computational error. Re-do the question after you have finished answering the paper, comparing your answers to ensure the calculation is correct.
Lindsay Ingram- Capra Maths Tutor
Name: Harrison Nobis
Units studied: Ext 2 Maths, English Adv, Engineering Studies, Physics, Software Design and Development
Current Uni degree: B Engineering (Aeronautical) & Science (Adv Mathematics and Adv Statistics) at University of Sydney
1. How would you describe your HSC study routine?
During the HSC study period my little brother had just turned 2 years old, so studying at home was out of the question. Since most of my time was spent studying at local libraries, I learned early on that studying with friends is a stupid idea. There is nothing wrong with seeing friends and having fun during the HSC, but it is very important to keep your social life and study very separate. Spending 2 hours studying hard alone and then taking an hour break with friends is far more productive than spending 3 hours sort of studying but mostly chatting with friends.
Another important factor to my study routine was to close all social media. If you’re sitting a practice paper or revising your notes, there is no reason to have Facebook open in another tab. No matter how hard you try, if you hear the Facebook notification noise you’re going to stop what you’re doing and read the message, so just eliminate the temptation altogether.
Finally, align your study schedule with your exam schedule. If you’re used to studying all night and waking up at 11am, you’re going to have a tough time sitting an exam at 9am.
2. If you had to choose one factor that led to your success in the HSC what would it be and why?
When it comes to studying, always choose quality over quantity. Staying up all night fueled on coffee and energy drinks is always less productive than getting an early night and starting back up again early in the morning.
3. How do you best recommend dealing with the ‘stress’ of the HSC?
Just because you’re sitting your HSC doesn’t change the fact that year 12 is arguably one of the most enjoyable years. If you set yourself goals that allow you to have fun in your free time, you will remain sane for much longer. For example, if you’ve spent a solid 10 hours in the library, you definitely deserve to do something fun that night.
4. Do you have advice to parents whose children are studying for the HSC?
During the HSC my parents were incredibly supportive. They would help by proof reading English essays, packing me little study snacks and driving me to the library. After all the help they were giving me, I still acted like a drama queen throughout the entire HSC period. My advice to parents would be: no matter how much of a nightmare your child becomes, all the help and support you give them is VERY appreciated, even if they only realise it when all the exams are over.
5. What subject selection advice would you give to your fellow students?
All the subjects that were fun in year 7-10 like PDHPE, music and art become serious subjects in the HSC. PDHPE becomes biology, music is almost all theory and art becomes almost entirely about essay writing. So spend a lot of time reading course outlines and speaking to people from older years before you make your selection. The only subject that will always be fun is mathematics!
6. What is the best advice a teacher or mentor ever gave you?
“The moment you believe you know everything is the moment you’re unable to learn anything”
…I was a very arrogant student
These days it seems as though we live in a worried world, parents and children are bombarded with news, information and demands that make us feel stressed and anxious. Our children may feel overwhelmed and unable to cope at times and that’s when parents, schools and other professionals can help.
Some fears in childhood are absolutely normal and part of growing up; fear of the dark, fear of strangers or of certain kinds of animals and insects are all common at certain stages of development. When anxiety becomes a concern is when it is not age appropriate, it is out of proportion to the event and it causes serious disruption to your child’s activities.
How would you know if your child was feeling anxious? Some signs to look for are if your child finds it hard to separate from you, if they avoid school, or don’t like being left with a babysitter. Maybe they are reluctant to play at friend’s houses, do sleepovers or go on school camps. In teenagers you might also notice you are being asked a lot of questions that require reassurance from you. These are the ‘what if’ kind of questions that focus on what could go wrong. Children and teenagers become very nervous about speaking in class in case they get it wrong or find it difficult to participate in activities they used to enjoy.
Anxiety has a strong physical component, the activation the ‘fight or flight’ response releases chemicals in our system to prepare us for survival. This can be useful sometimes, and was certainly useful many thousands of years ago, but in the 21st century it creates uncomfortable sensations and the feeling of being unwell in anxious children and teenagers. If your child consistently complains of tummy aches, head aches, aching muscles or has regular problems with sleeping or crying a lot then it may be worth considering anxiety as part of the problem. Always check with your GP as the first port of call.
There is a big difference between temporary stress, like before a test or performance, and anxiety, which is chronic. Some stress can be a good thing, acting as a motivator and sharpening our focus and desire to do well. Anxiety has the opposite effect. Long term anxiety and exposure to stress chemicals has the effect of impairing thinking and learning processes – which prevents a child from performing at their best.
Anxiety in childhood and adolescence is becoming more and more common. Fortunately it can be treated, using evidence-based models, which provide children with life long skills to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of the modern world. If you are at all concerned about your child talk with their teacher and your GP first.
Sarah Hensley- Kids & Co Psychology
Kids and Co Clinical Psychology are specialists in childhood and adolescent anxiety and we are available at our Double Bay Clinic to meet with you and discuss your concerns. Call Kids and Co Clinical Psychology on 9555 1168.
Name: Steph Lowy
Units studied: Ext 2 English, Ext 1 Maths, Economics, Legal Studies
Current Uni degree: Arts/Law
1. How would you describe your HSC study routine?
I tried to find a nice middle ground between having a routine to follow, and allowing life to go on as normal! I focussed on keeping my study consistent – it wasn’t effective for me to study for hours on end every day, so I focussed on doing a little bit for every subject, every day (practice papers are definitely the best way to study, especially when you get closer to your final exams). I found it particularly effective to break down my days of studying – drawing up a quick schedule at the beginning of the day (with enough breaks included) really helped me to get through what I wanted to, without feeling overwhelmed.
2. If you had to choose one factor that led to your success in the HSC what would it be and why?
Balance! I found that studying for hours without taking breaks was completely counterproductive – not only would I not get any work done, but I’d feel completely defeated afterwards. I can’t stress the importance of being outside, spending time with family and friends, and most of all, getting enough sleep.
3. What co-curricular commitments did you have during your HSC?
I was a prefect during Year 12, so I spent quite a bit of time preparing initiatives or being in meetings. However, being on the leadership body was so much fun, and I think it’s really important to have something else to focus your attention on. Any co-curricular activities also give you some structured time to spend time with friends, which is great as well.
4. How do you best recommend dealing with the ‘stress’ of the HSC?
Take it one day (or one minute) at a time. It’s super important to have someone to chat to, or a way to blow off steam, if the anxiety/stress gets too much, so find out what works for you, and make time for it. Everyone goes through the stress, but make sure you make time for all of the other things that are important to you – life goes on.
5. Do you have advice to parents whose children are studying for the HSC?
HSC can be a stressful time, but it’s not the end of the world! It’s tricky to strike a balance between being sensitive, and keeping the whole thing in perspective – it was really nice to know my mum wouldn’t expect too much help around the house if I was totally exhausted, but at the same time, there’s no need to take the whole year off. At the end of the day, it does make a huge difference to have people in your family looking out for you and supporting you when you’re stressed out, so for me, that’s the most important thing.
6. What subject selection advice would you give to your fellow students?
There’s absolutely no point in choosing subjects just based on scaling. Play to your strengths – my strongest subject throughout my schooling was English, so I decided to take Extension 2 English. Had I decided to take, for instance, Extension 2 Maths (which has a reputation for scaling extremely well), I would probably have been failing exams and spending an inordinate amount of time trying to wrap my head around the material, and scaling wouldn’t have saved me! If you’re interested in a subject, and have a natural aptitude for it, you’ll get the best results.
7. What is the best advice a teacher or mentor ever gave you?
“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”