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Year 11

7 Most Common English Standard Myths Debunked

Standard doesn't scale as well as Advanced? You don't need to read your texts? We are here to debunk 7 most common HSC English Standard myths!

We’re sure you’ve heard of these 7 common English Standard Myths before… We’re here to debunk them for you so you can achieve your best English marks!


The 7 Most Common English Myths

  1. English Standard doesn’t scale well
  2. You don’t need to read your text
  3. Memorising essays is a good study solution
  4. You’re either naturally ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at English
  5. The first draft is good enough
  6. You can get exam ready for English the night before
  7. You need to give up your free time to do well in English



1. English Standard doesn’t scale well

The biggest HSC misconception is that you can’t get a good ATAR if you’re doing a lower scaling subject like English Standard.


But what is scaling and why does it exist?

Scaling refers to the standardisation of raw HSC marks. This means that raw marks are often converted to a UAC score based on the difficulty of the subject and the student’s performance.

If you want to learn more about HSC scaling, take a read of our Beginner’s Guide to ATAR and Scaling.


Scaling exists because it is unfair to say that achieving an 80 in English Advanced is the same as achieving an 80 in English Standard when English Advanced is much more difficult than Standard.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should choose your subjects based on scaling.

Instead, you should study the English level that is most suitable to your skills, performance and interest.

It is better to consistently achieve 80% in English Standard than it is to consistently achieve 50% in English Advanced. Scaling will not save your marks if you aren’t doing well.

If you ask any previous student who did well in their HSC, you will find that they didn’t achieve a high ATAR because of their subject scalings, but because of their performance.

This is a combination of skills, interest and dedication for the subject.


So, how do I know which English level is right for me?

English is a time-intensive subject. So, you need to ensure that you are willing to put in the time and effort to study English.

Here are some things that you should consider when choosing your English level:

  1. How are your previous English marks? Are they strong, average or weak?
  2. How much time and effort are you willing to exert to improve/maintain your marks?
  3. Do you enjoy studying English? Do you have an interest in English?
  4. Do you want to study a higher level of English (eg. English Extension or English in University)?
  5. Does your desired University course require a specific English subject/grade?

Our ‘Should I Study HSC English Standard or Advanced?’ article breaks down the differences between English Standard and Advanced to help you decide which subject is better for you.



Need help analysing your English Standard texts?



2. You don’t need to read your text

Many students think that they can get away with finding textual analysis online instead of reading the text themselves.

However, this is a big rookie error!


Firstly, you will have a very superficial understanding of the text. You won’t be able to break down the text and understand it in depth.

Secondly, you aren’t able to cultivate your own perspectives and judgement about the text. This means that your arguments will be generic and weak.

Thirdly, you won’t be able to remember details about the text. When you engage with the text, you are committing details like textual evidence, character traits and contextual points in your mind. This will help you answer a variety of different questions.


How do I read my text?

Not only do you have to read your English texts, but you must also read them at least 2 or, ideally, 3 times to get a good grasp of it.

It is crucial that you are engaging with your text, and not simply skimming it.

So, let’s see how we can effectively read your prescribed and related texts for English. At Matrix, we teach our students the Matrix Method for studying English:


Matrix-Method-For-English-STEP-1-3 (1)

These are the first 3 steps of the Matrix Method to studying English.


1. First reading: Comprehension

The first reading refers to the first time you read or watch your text.

It is all about enjoying the text and understanding it as a whole.

After your first reading, you should:

  • Understand the plot
  • Identify the characters and their key traits
  • Figure out the main message and themes
  • Jot down your opinion about the text – Did you like or dislike it? Why?


2. Second reading: Meaning

Your second reading is about finding meaning in the text. This is where you start jotting down notes as you read.

You should:

  • Underline and highlight important sentences and phrases
  • Write notes about key scenes and events


3. Third reading: Analysis

Now, you are breaking the text down to its nitty-gritty details.

This means that you need to return to your identified key scenes or highlighted areas and analyse those passages or parts of the text.

Your aim is to find examples from the text that best reflect the ideas you are interested in.

Identify the techniques present and figure out how it creates meaning.


4. Write notes

It is crucial that you are documenting your reading process in your notes. So, how do you write notes for each reading?

  1. First reading: Don’t write any notes during your first reading because your aim is to understand the text. Only after you’re done, jot down your opinions and thoughts
  2. Second reading: Highlight or underline and annotate as you read. Take notes of key scenes and events.
  3. Third reading: Identify examples and techniques and jot down a quick analysis in your notes.



3. Memorising essays is a good study solution

The most common issue with studying English is that students memorise a “master essay or creative” for their exams.

However, this is ineffective because:

  1. Your responses will not answer the question
  2. You are wasting valuable time that could be spent on memorising a wide range of techniques for different themes and ideas
  3. It limits your understanding of the text and the module as a whole
  4. You aren’t stimulating your brain to think creatively

Remember, teachers aren’t assessing your ability to memorise an essay, they are testing your knowledge and understanding of a text.

Take a read of our ‘5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Memorise Your Essay’ article to learn more about why memorising essays is a big no-no.


So, what should I do instead?

Here are a few steps you should take to prepare yourself for your English exams:


1. Read

You need to read your text at least 3 times to fully understand it. We already went through these steps in detail in the previous myth.

So, let’s quickly summarise it:

  1. First reading: Understand the text holistically – plot, characters, themes, ideas
  2. Second reading: Break down the text for meaning and make notes – key scenes and events
  3. Third reading: Make detailed analysis – Find evidence and techniques


2. Prepare notes

You should aim to have one set of master study notes that you are constantly updating throughout the year and a set of exam notes to help you prepare for your exams.

Your master study notes are there to help you find information about your text. It is detailed and good for revision because everything is summarised in there.

On the other hand, your English exam notes are much more concise and only contains the most important information.


So, how do you write English master study notes:

This is a sure way of ensuring that you create strong English study notes:

  1. Read/watch source
  2. Highlight key information
  3. Note key information
  4. Add further detail
  5. Develop throughout the year

To learn more about how to write study notes, take a read of our Ultimate Guide to Writing Perfect Study Notes.


How do you write English exam notes? 

  1. List the 3 most important pieces of evidence for each theme for each text
  2. Create a mind-map, flow chart or tables to help you identify relationships between different themes and ideas
  3. Write scaffolds for different themes and questions

We discuss these 3 exam note-taking methods in detail in our How to Write English Exam Notes article.


3. Memorise key techniques and themes

It’s important that you spend time memorising the key techniques for each theme in the text.

Aim to memorise 3 main sets of evidence for each theme first. Then, once they’re committed to your memory, try to memorise more.

This will help you prepare for a wide range of questions in the exam as you are able to recall techniques for any theme.

If you need help memorising key techniques and themes, take a read of our 7 Tips to Improve Memory article.


4. Practise

Too often students overlook the importance of writing practise essays and scaffolding because it’s “too stressful” or it “takes too much time”.

However, it is crucial that you are always practising, practising, practising!

You want to develop your ability to respond to a wide range of questions so that you are prepared to tackle any question that’s thrown at you in the exam.

Practising essay writing also sharpens your creative thinking skills and tests your recall of different techniques.

If you are crunched for time, write up some scaffolds for the practice questions instead.

You can find questions from past papers, question banks or by asking your teacher for questions.

Here are some of our question banks:




4. You’re either naturally ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at English

You aren’t born ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at English.

It is a skill that you learn and cultivate with time and practice.

So, don’t lose hope when you’re unhappy with your English marks. Instead, put in the effort to improve.


How do I improve my English skills?

Here are some tips to help you improve your English skills.


1. Familiarise yourself with the syllabus

Each English Module has a different focus and tests different skills.

For example, English Adv Module A requires you to compare a pair of texts, whereas Mod B requires you to judge a text’s value.

If you write a whole Mod B essay without critically analysing the text’s values and textual integrity, you cannot achieve a Band 6!

This is why it’s crucial that you know exactly what the syllabus rubric is requiring you to do.

So, when you are reading through the syllabus, get out different coloured highlighters to identify:

  1. Module Content: Content that you need to find and analyse in texts
    1. eg. “They examine how texts represent human qualities and emotions associated with, or arising from, these experiences.”
  2. Skills: Ability to do something
    1. eg. “They make increasingly informed judgements about how aspects of these texts”

Examples are drawn from NESA Year 12 English Advances Common Module Rubric.


2. Familiarise yourself with the exam

It’s vital that you know exactly what to expect when you are sitting your English exams. You need to know its structure in order to be comfortable with the structure of the exams, the questions types and the time limit

The biggest issue with sitting English exams is that students can’t manage their time properly!

You only have 40- 45 minutes for each essay in the HSC. There is no extra time to figure out what the structure of the exam or what types of questions you may be asked in the exam.

So, it is crucial that you familiarise yourself with the exam before you sit it!

To do this, you need to:

  1. Read through past HSC and school trial papers
  2. Understand the structure of the exam
  3. Familiarise yourself with the different variety of question types
  4. Read sample answers and essays


3. Expose yourself to a variety of techniques

You need to know a vast variety of techniques in order to easily analyse texts. This is not only useful for your assigned texts, but also your unseen texts in Paper 1.

So, familiarise yourself with a variety of different literary, film and visual techniques by:

  1. Exposing yourself to a variety of techniques
  2. Memorise them and their general effect
  3. Practise identifying them in quizzes and past papers

We have a plethora of different techniques, their definitions and examples:


4. Target weaknesses

Don’t leave your weaknesses until the night before your exam! Tackle them early so you can continue to advance through your English studies.

To do this, you need to:

  • Seek help from your school or Matrix teachers immediately
  • Work together with friends to solve an issue
  • Research
  • Look at sample past paper answers and essays
  • Continue to practise with past papers




5. The first draft is good enough

So many students fall into the trap of doing their assessments the night before it’s due because they “work better under pressure”.

However, your first draft will have grammatical and spelling errors, verbose and wordy sentences, unclear structures, and unrefined ideas.

That’s why you always need to plan, draft, redraft, edit, get feedback and polish your work.

This means that you have to begin your assessment tasks early: ideally, 3-4 weeks before it’s due (oras soon as you are given a notification)!


How do I write polished responses?

At Matrix, we teach students the foolproof Matrix Method for Studying English to produce polished work:

We already went through the first three steps in Myth #2. Now, it’s time to break down the last 4 steps to writing a polished English response.


1. Plan and scaffold

Planning and scaffolding is a vital step to producing high-quality English responses. It helps you formulate a strong thesis and arguments because you have time to think through the question carefully.

Not only that, it will save you time as well!

Think about it. If you plan properly, you won’t need to waste time looking for evidence or thinking about your next idea to write about.

So, to do plan and scaffold, you need to:

  • Break down the question
  • Jot down ideas that relate to the question
  • Formulate a rough thesis and ideas that support the thesis
  • Find evidence that supports the ideas
  • Select the strongest 3 or 4 evidence for each idea

Here is an example of a scaffold:


Notice how the student formulated their thesis and ideas, and even found techniques to support them. This means that once they start writing, they don’t need to stop and think!


2. First draft

Your first draft is supposed to be a draft. This means that you shouldn’t be editing as you write your response.

Instead, aim to get all your ideas and thoughts out on paper.

So, don’t worry about grammar, spelling or sentence structure! Just get everything out, because you can always go back and edit after.


3. Re-draft

Yes. There will be many mistakes in your first draft (because, surprise, it’s your first draft). But don’t worry. This is what this step is all about.

Take your time to rewrite your draft.

It is a good idea to give yourself a day or two before you go back and re-write your response. This will give you a fresh mind to see areas where you can improve.

So, to re-write your draft, you should:

  • Re-write your sentences to make it clear and concise
  • Re-write your paragraphs so that they’re coherent and succinct
  • Revise and re-arrange the structure of your response
  • Revise the content of your essay
  • Look for stronger evidence


4. Edit

Now, it’s time to go back and proofread your work. This means that you need to:

  • Fix grammatical and spelling errors
  • Re-structure sentences
  • Fix punctuation errors

You should proofread your work a couple of times to ensure that you picked up all your minor mistakes.


5. Feedback

Just because you redrafted your work and edited it, doesn’t mean that it’s ready to be submitted.

Instead, get a few pairs of extra eyes to read over your work and get a second opinion.

Criticism isn’t a bad thing! It’s there to help you improve. So, don’t take it personally.

Now, how do you get feedback?

  • Ask your teachers, peers, parents or someone who you think will give constructive feedback
  • Ask them to pay attention to your argument, use of evidence, structure and spelling and grammar
  • If you’re asking a friend to proofread your work, then return the favour!
  • When you receive feedback, carefully go through them
  • Ask them questions if you are confused
  • Now, make necessary corrections (Remember, you don’t need to follow every feedback. Just the ones you think are relevant!)


6. Polished work

You’re nearly at the finish line! Now, it’s time for you to read over your work once more and edit any other errors.

Once you’re happy with your response, submit it!





6. You can get exam ready the night before

Just because you shouldn’t memorise essays for your exams does not mean that you don’t have preparation work to do!

The English exam question can ask you anything! The possibilities are so broad.

So, you need to be prepared to tackle any question.

This includes ensuring that you know the text extremely well, memorise importance evidence for different themes and practised writing a response in 45 minutes.


So, how do I prepare for my English exams?

Let’s break down the steps for successful English exam preparation.


1. Start early

Ideally, you should be starting 3-4 weeks before your exam. This will give you enough time to refresh your memory about your texts, refine your notes, memorise them and practise exam-taking skills!


2. Re-read your texts

It is crucial that you re-read or re-watch your texts before the exam.

There is no way that you can possibly remember everything about a text that you’ve read a few terms ago.

So, re-reading your texts help you refresh your memory. You might even discover new eye-opening findings or change your perspective. This is all part of the process of developing a strong understanding of your text.


3. Revise your notes

Take some time to go through your notes again. To do this, you should:

  • Go through a digestible amount chunk of information each time
  • Do the ‘look, cover, test’ method (i.e read your content, cover your work and attempt to recall it)
  • Highlight important information
  • Asterisks any confusing areas


4. Write exam notes

Your study notes that you’ve been accumulating throughout the year is too dense to memorise!

So, you need to write exam notes to extract the most important information to remember for your exams.

We already went through these above in Myth #3. So, let’s quickly summarise it:

  1. Write a list of the most important techniques for each theme
  2. Draw a flow chart, table or mind-map to link ideas
  3. Scaffold plans


5. Memorise exam notes

Take your time to memorise your exam notes.

It is crucial that you memorise at least 3 evidence for each main idea of each text because you don’t know what the question will ask you.

So, it’s time to prepare yourself for any possibility!


6. Complete past papers

It is crucial that you are working on past papers to prepare yourself for your English studies.

Aim to complete past papers:

  • Un-timed and open book: This will help you construct strong and refined responses
  • Under exam conditions: This will help you refine your exam-taking skills (eg. time management, dealing with stress, thinking on the spot, memory of techniques)
  • By writing scaffolds: This will expose you to a variety of different question types and help you refine the way you think and respond to questions. Scaffolds can be done quickly, so it won’t take up as much time as the others

Ensure that you do all three methods of completing past papers to ensure that you are building all the necessary skills to prepare you for your exams.

Note: If you want to learn how to study for English 28 days before your exams, take a look at our 28 Day HSC English Study Plan.




7. You need to give up your free time to do well in English

We know that studying for English requires lots of time and effort. However, this doesn’t mean that it will take up all your time.

It’s all about creating a well balanced study time table and using your time efficiently!

Many past high achieving students will tell you that they spend less than 4-5 hours studying for all of their subjects every day.

This is because they study smart, not study hard.


So, how do I study smart?

Studying smart happens in the classroom and at home!


1. Pay attention in class

So many students overlook the importance of paying attention during class. They think that class time is an opportunity to catch up with their friends and that they can always catch up on the work at home.

However, this is a big waste of time!

Instead of revising at home, you’re starting at square one! You don’t have the luxury of listening to your teacher’s explanations or asking them questions. Instead, you are fumbling through new content by yourself.

This means that your understanding of the content is not only weaker, but you don’t give yourself time to revise and store it in your memory!


2. Schedule your study sessions and create goals

Balance your subjects and your life events by creating a schedule!

Ensure that your timetable isn’t too strict to make time for life’s suprises.

You should have a:

  • Weekly timetable: Slot in your rough study sessions, rest periods and personal life events
  • Daily to-do list: Break down your study sessions into small, manageable goals.


3. Review your notes immediately and consistently

It is vital that you are consistently reviewing your notes and practising it.

This will help move it from your short term memory to your long term memory!

So, to do this, you need to:

  • Immediately review your class notes when you get home
  • Consistently update your notes
  • Read over your notes every week
  • Do practice papers to test your memory and skills


4. Find a comfortable study spot

It is impossible to stay focused if your brother is screaming in the background or if your mum is cooking right in front of you.

So, you need to ensure that you have a dedicated study area.

This means that you shouldn’t be doing anything else apart from studying in this area, so your brain can associate it with focus and study.

This is why it’s not a good idea to study on your bed because the area is associated with sleep!

Sometimes a change in environment can improve your focus and motivation. So, don’t be afraid to move around your house, visit a library or study at a cafe!

As long as you can focus and study in the area, that is good.


5. Remove distractions

If you want to have more efficient study sessions, then remove your distractions!

These include phones, social media, the TV, friends and family.

Install a website blocker and lock your phone away if you cannot control yourself.

After your study session, you can reward yourself.


6. Eat healthily. Drink water. Exercise. Sleep

Many students ignore the importance of eating healthy, hydrating yourself, exercise and sleep.

Just imagine it. You can’t possibly stay focused if you’re feeling bloated or drowsy.

Eating a nutritious meal helps your body restore used energy. This will help you stay focused and have more efficient study sessions.

Drinking water hydrates your cells… including your brain cells! This will help you stay alert and concentrate better.

Exercise increases oxygen flow to your brain, which means that they can function better. Studies show that 20 minutes of exercise a day is enough to improve your memory and concentration.

Getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep a day helps you relieve stress and improve your memory. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases stress hormone… which is something you don’t want to deal with on your exam day! Furthermore, when you sleep, your brain goes through a memory consolidation process which helps you retain what you’ve learned!

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Written by Tammy Dang

Tammy is a former student of Matrix and is now studying Law / Media (Screen and Sound Production) at UNSW. She is a Digital Content Writer for the Matrix Education blog. Tammy aspires to become a Young Offenders Lawyer in the future while continuing to create art.


© Matrix Education and, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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