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English 11-12

7 Ultimate Study Tips For Acing Your English Trial Exams

In this article, we share the tips from the English Team that will help you ace your HSC Trial exams!

Your English Trial Exams are around the corner! Are you ready for them? In this post, we’ll give you some awesome tips for acing your English Trial exams.

It’s essential that you do well in your English HSC Trials as they make up a significant chunk of your internal assessment mark. You really need to nail each section to get the ATAR that you want.

Many students don’t know how to study effectively. Don’t worry, though, the Matrix English Team has got your back. Here are the 7 ultimate study tips we’ve put together to help you maximise your marks!


1. Set a Study Plan and Timetable

If you want to ace any exam, let alone exams as important as the Trials or the HSC, you need to be organised. You won’t be organised without an effective study plan and timetable.

What’s a study plan?

A study plan is where you break down the areas of the subject you need to revise into smaller chunks. You need to be tactical when you think about how to do this.

So, how do you design an effective study plan?



Think about where your weaknesses lie.

Do you kick arse in Module B, but struggle with Craft of Writing (don’t worry, you’re not alone)? If so, you should focus on Paper 1 revision over Mod B. Go over each Module and think about where your strengths and weaknesses lie and list them in order of weakness (1 is the weakest and biggest priority and 10 is the strongest and lowest priority).

Your list may end up looking a little bit like this:

  1. Short answer questions
  2. Bright Star textual analysis
  3. Mod A essay structure
  4. Discursive essay- Mod C
  5. Common Module Essay
  6. Emma analysis
  7. All the light we cannot see analysis
  8. Craft of writing- creative
  9. Mod B Essay
  10. Looking for Richard analysis

This student would need to spend more time prepping for Paper 2 than Paper 1. They would need to produce a plan where they sit a few mock short answer sections (if you’re unsure of how to answer a short answer section, read this guide!), practice analysing unseen texts, and rewatch Bright Star documentary. Of less importance is writing multiple practice essays for Hamlet (but they should try to do a couple to be safe).

You may want to use a Priority Matrix to decide what things are most urgent when organising yourself.



Once you’ve split up your English study into bite-sized chunks, you need to plot out a timetable so you can get through everything.

  1. First, you’ll want to decide how much time each week you can set aside for English revision.
  2. Then, you need to divide it up between each day of the week.
  3. You may find it useful to create study blocks for each day and subject. Then you can allocate specific English study items to your English blocks.
  4. Finally, you’ll need to allocate a chunk of that time to the various areas you need to revise based on their urgency and importance.

For example, our student’s English study timetable may look like this:

Once you have your priorities and timetable, you’re ready to start working on acing English.

If you need more help setting up your study plan and timetable read our blog post, How to Create a Study Plan That Works!


2. Study Consistently, Don’t Cram!

Study habits can be developed at any time, you just need to be consistent with your practice to make the habit permanent. You need a good study practice to improve your English marks during Trials.

English is a subject that requires you to develop skills. You can’t cram for English, there’s simply too much content to cover.

The last thing you want to do is try to memorise essays that won’t answer the questions you’ll be set.

Instead, you need to work consistently over a month, or ideally a couple of months. You need to develop your analytical skills, your confidence and talent as a writer, and your knowledge of the texts you are studying.

Writing is very much a craft, rather than an innate skill. By that, we mean that writing is something learned through constant practice and revision. It’s not something you can develop overnight!

If you want to see gains in English, you need to invest the time into your study. As English is a compulsory subject, it is very important that you don’t skimp on it.


What are the benefits of studying consistently?

If you stick to a consistent study plan you will:

  • Have a thorough knowledge of your texts;
  • Help you learn the quotations you need to utilise to write excellent essays;
  • Write plenty of practice essays;
  • Refine your creatives;
  • Practice short answer questions;
  • Allow you to stay calm during your trial exam.

If you study consistently in the months leading into your HSC Trials, your English marks will definitely improve. In addition, you’ll have developed a good study practice that will live with you through the HSC and beyond.


3. Reread Your Texts

How many times have you read the texts that you are writing about, really? Reading a text once or twice isn’t going to give you the insight and understanding you need to write a deep and powerful essay response. It’s never too late to pick up your text and reread it.

Our Head of English, Dr Peta Greenfield, says that,

It’s important to read slowly. Don’t read to tick a box. You must aim for understanding when you read!

Reading slowly and taking the time to reflect on your text will ensure that you have a comprehensive understanding of the text and how it connects to the Module. Rereading a text after you’ve been studying the Module for a while will give you better insights into how the text reflects the Module rubric.


How do I read my text effectively?

You must take notes while you’re reading. If you have an insight, WRITE IT DOWN! NOW! Don’t risk forgetting it. Take the time to summarise your understanding after you’ve finished. You can then compare your new ideas to your old and see how your interpretation of the text has developed.

Looking back at how your ideas have developed is called “reflective practice.” It is a proven way to help you deepen your understanding of texts. Reflecting on your learning allows you to compare old ideas and new ones and learn from any mistakes or misreadings you may have had.

Don’t just read on your own, read with your mates. Reading with friends and forming a reading group will give you the chance to discuss the things that you have read and argue about the insights you have developed. You want to be able to debate ideas. This means discussing your interpretation of the text with your peers.

Ultimately, reading is the most time-consuming aspect of English study. But it is essential to doing well. Your best approach is to be organised and begin rereading your texts well in advance of your Trial Exams. If you need more help with this, read Part 2 of Beginner’s Guide to Acing HSC English: How to Analyse Your Texts.


4. Rewrite Your Notes and Make Tables

Making tables will help you organise your study notes.

Transcribing your ideas into table form means that you can break down lengthy pieces of information into quickly accessible chunks. This is particularly useful for when you’re writing practice essays.  You can stick your tables above your desk and refer to them as you write. This process will aid with the rote learning of quotations and techniques.

Dr Greenfield also recommends hand-writing your notes rather than typing them.


Why hand-write your notes?

Writing things out by hand is a proven method to increase information retention. Our brains are malleable (this is called plasticity) we can reshape their neural pathways by doing things repetitively.

For example, this is how violinists can improve their skills by playing over and over again. When you write your notes out by hand, the manual action helps to embed the information you’re transcribing. You’re not just reorganising your notes you’re remembering and analysing information. Pretty neat, huh?!


• Nowadays, many students don’t spend a great deal of time writing things out by hand, but then they arrive at Year 12 and the Trials and HSC exams require you to write volumes of information down in short periods.

Handwriting your notes will help you develop the hand muscles and endurance you need for a two-hour exam where you need to produce three lengthy pieces of work. Hand-written notes are like cross-fit for your hands.


Handwritten notes give you the opportunity to be creative.


Don’t forget, detailed and accessible notes are essential for effective study. It is very important to invest the time in them if you want to ace your English Trials.


5. Write Practice Essays and do Past Papers

In drama, you have dress rehearsals before a performance. In sport, you’ll often finish training by having a mock match or race.

“Doing a dry-run or rehearsal of something is an excellent way to develop your skills and confidence.”

When you are studying, you should definitely take the time to write practice essays and creatives. But you should also do them under exam conditions.


Why write under exam conditions?

Let’s have a look at a couple of different reasons:

  1. You need to practice writing against the clock – Writing to a time-limit will give you an accurate sense of how much you can produce in a set amount of time. A good practice is to set a 35-minute timer for each response. This way you are used to writing in less than the allocated time so you can go back and proof and edit your response!
  2. Improve your abilities – Sitting practice papers under exam conditions regularly will help you improve how much you can write. While quality will always trump quantity, being able to write more will give you more time to explore complex ideas in detail!
  3. Expose yourself to a variety of questions – Sitting past HSC and Trial English papers in preparation for your exams will expose you to a wide array of questions. The more experience you have with different questions, the more confidence you will gain for answering unseen questions.
  4. Courage under fire – Let’s be honest, exams are nerve-wracking and stressful. The HSC Trials have a significant impact on your ATAR, so you’re bound to be nervous and anxious about them. Sitting practice papers under exam conditions will help alleviate that anxiety because you’ll have done it before, many times. Staying calm under pressure is an essential part of acing your English Trial exams.

Where can I find good practice questions?

Good question, here are some links:

    • NESA – Past English HSC Papers
    • THSC – A non-profit organisation that curates a collection of online resources and past papers
    • Charles Sturt University HSC Guide – HSC resources with links to a wide selection of past Trial papers.
    • Matrix Education LMS – Band 6 Exemplar Responses and Practice Questions (Accessible to enrolled Matrix Students)


Don’t just write them and forget them, though. It’s imperative that you go back and mark them.

Why mark my own essays?

When you reread your essays you can see their strengths and weaknesses. You want to make sure you mark them against a rubric or marking criteria so you have an objective measure (use the ones that NESA provides or one from one of your school assessments). Marking your work forces you to take a critical and objective perspective on your work. After all, you need to learn to assess the strength and logical coherence of your ideas.

Some good questions to ask yourself when marking your essays are:

  • “Have I answered the question?”
  • “Is my thesis consistent throughout my essay?”
  • “Do I have consistent structure?”
  • “Have I supported each point with an example?”
  • “Do I explain things clearly?”
  • “Does the order of my argument make sense?”

Remember, asking yourself questions like these will help you pinpoint the strengths and weakness of what you have written. For this reason, this is a really important part of developing as a writer: as you can clearly see where you need to improve!


Got 40 minutes to kill?

Go do a practice essay question! You’ve no excuse now!


6. Write Your Own Questions (What Would YOU Ask?!)

Dr Greenfield recommends writing your own questions. This is because it builds on your experience of other questions you’ve encountered AND it requires you to think about your knowledge of the text. Past HSC and Trial exam papers aren’t the only way to practice unpacking an essay question. In fact, you can turn this process on its head by writing your own questions (wait..what?!?!).


What are the benefits of writing your own questions?

  1. You draw on your experience of doing practice papers – doing practice questions gives you an insight into the types of questions you can be asked for a text. Writing your own questions forces you to put this into practice by thinking about what you could be asked.
  2. Develop your understanding of the Module – You can’t write a good question without understanding the module requirements. Writing your own practice questions forces you to think about what the Module requires you to know about a text and how to discuss it.
  3. Explore your knowledge of your texts – Essay questions require you to demonstrate your detailed knowledge and understanding of a text. Writing your own question does, too! Composing questions requires you to think about how themes and ideas are present and structured in a text.

Once you’ve composed your question, answer it. Remember, writing responses to a broad array of questions will ensure you’re ready to ace your English Trial exams.


A study group can make even the toughest text enjoyable

7. Make a Study Group

Okay, so maybe studying isn’t cool (although it should be!). But it doesn’t mean you need to do it alone. All of your high school friends are in the same boat, especially those in Year 12: you all have to study!

Working together as a group has many advantages and is a very effective way to study. If you haven’t already, you should organise a few of your friends to get together a couple of times a week and put your heads together.

Sharing ideas and discussing them allows you to develop your thinking. An important part of learning is thinking about how to support your positions and to argue for your points. Working on your English texts with your mates will give you an excellent opportunity to test your interpretation of a text and see how sound your argument is.

Above all, study groups are excellent ways to get feedback on your work. You can have your peers read your assignments, practice essays, and creatives and give you constructive feedback on them.


English study group activities

Let’s look at the things you should work together on in a study group.


Book Club

Use your English study group as a way to discuss your core texts. Set a timeframe to reread your texts and then have meetings to discuss your understanding of them. Be prepared to argue. You want to test your ideas and arguments out, so make sure you think about how to support your arguments with logic and evidence.


Discuss Supplementary Texts

Trying to find supplementary material for Common Module, Module B, and English extension can be hard. So, where do you start? Well, asking your friends about their supplementary texts and what other texts they think will work well with your core text is a good place to start. It’s even more useful if they’ve already read the text, too. That way you have somebody to discuss the ideas with!


Practice Your Speeches And Presentations

Alright, this isn’t something for your Trials. But it is an excellent way to improve your public speaking skills. Whenever you have a presentation assessment coming up you should get together and rehearse your speeches together. Present your speech to your mates and get feedback from them on what works and what doesn’t. This will develop your public speaking skills, give you confidence in your material, and be a useful opportunity to test your arguments and ideas before you have to craft them into essays!


Mark Each Others’ Work

Getting feedback on your work is hard. Matrix students get regular feedback on their writing in the one-to-one tutorial sessions that supplement their classes, but not everyone comes to Matrix. Having somebody mark your work is the best way to get feedback on what you’re doing well or doing poorly. In addition, returning the favour and marking your friends’ writing will help you see how others construct and support arguments. This is invaluable and can be a good confidence booster as it will show you where you stand amongst your peers.


Peer Support

Let’s face it, the HSC year is incredibly stressful. It can also be quite lonely as you spend long hours studying alone. Having a study group you can talk to is an excellent way of maintaining good mental health. You should make sure that you set aside time each weak when you meet to talk about the things stressing you all out and come up with ways to help and support each other. Sometimes it is useful just to listen or have others listen to you.

In addition, an English study group is a great way to develop friendships or make new friends that will extend beyond High School. After all, there’s nothing quite like the bonds forged in the fire during an HSC year.


Final Thoughts

Acing your Trials is important, but not getting the marks you wanted isn’t the end of the world. You must try your best, but you should also remember that you aren’t your marks. Many schools mark Trials against a very strict rubric, with many students getting lower results than they expected or hoped for.

If this happens to you, don’t beat yourself up over it. Use it as a learning experience!

Instead of mourning your marks, go through your responses and see where you went wrong. Then, discuss your responses and marks constructively with your teacher. With this in mind, don’t seek extra marks or a remark, but ask, “How could I do better? and, also, “What do I need to work on for the HSC?”

After all, you want to take this information as a starting block for getting things right for the HSC. At the end of the day, kicking arse in the HSC can help correct a weak trial result.


Need to Level-Up your English Marks for the HSC Exams?

The HSC Exams are around the corner! If you’re struggling with your English marks now, you’d better get on top of it before you run out of time. But don’t worry, Matrix is here to help!

Our HSC Exam Prep Courses cover all the Modules in detail to help you boost your results. Learn how to maximise your HSC marks.

Written by Patrick Condliffe

Patrick has a Bachelor of Arts (Hons. 1st Class - Australian Literature) from USYD. His poetry, short stories, and essays have been published online and in print and he regularly reviews film and other media. Patrick is the editor of the popular Matrix blog and has been an English teacher at Matrix since 2012.


© 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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