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English 11-12

8 Common Mistakes HSC English Students Make in Exams

Don't throw away marks. Here are 8 needless mistakes you shouldn't make in your HSC English exams.


Everyone makes mistakes. So, what are the 8 common mistakes HSC English students make in exams that you don’t want to? Read on and find out!

1. Skimming over the question

You need to read every question carefully! Essay questions often contain a number of components that need to be addressed in your response.

For example:

“How do authors utilise anomalies and inconsistencies in human behaviour to provide unparalleled insight into collective human experiences?

In your response, refer to your prescribed text and ONE other related text of your own choosing.”

This question requires the student to address a number of components in their response.

  • ‘How’ – Illustrate the methodology through which authors utilise literary techniques and structural elements to convey a specific message.
  • ‘Utilise’ – This asking you to discuss what specific features are used in the the texts to demonstrate ideas.
  • ‘Anomalies and inconsistencies in human behaviour’ – This instructs you to focus on particular parts of the syllabus outline. They are:
    • “Students explore how texts may give insight into the anomalies, paradoxes and inconsistencies in human behaviour and motivations, inviting the responder to see the world differently, to challenge assumptions, ignite new ideas or reflect personally.”
    • “In addition, students select one related text and draw from personal experience to make connections between themselves, the world of the text and their wider world.”
  • ‘Collective human experience’ – general themes and ideas of the module.

If you are unsure of how to approach essay questions, you should read this part of the Beginner’s Guide To Acing HSC English.


2. Failing to write a rough essay plan


Jotting down a brief essay plan will give your essay focus and make it clear where each paragraph is going. This is the key to achieving high marks and will prevent you from wasting time by writing paragraphs that don’t contribute to your argument.

During the reading time, figure out your essay plan in your mind and then at the start of the exam, quickly write a few notes on the question paper. It will help you to sketch out the rough structure of your argument, this way you have something to refer back to as you work. This will also stop you from rambling on!


3. Forgetting about the time limits

This is an important one. During the two exams, you have 2 hours to answer three sections. this works out to 40 minutes per section with some extra reading time. Students should allow themselves 35 minutes per section. This will allow you 5 minutes up your sleeve per section.

You need to stick to this 35-minute time limit in order to sufficiently answer every question. Check the clock after you finish writing each paragraph if you have to. Use the spare 5 minutes for each section to revisit a question that you didn’t finish, or reread and edit your responses.


4. Rewriting an essay from memory

Students writing from memory usually fail to adequately address the question. This relates back to the first point. A pre-written essay will never directly address a question for an exam. You must Instead, focus on memorising quotations, techniques, and their effects to craft them into a sustained argument!

The new syllabus reduces scope for students to memorise responses as it wants students to understand what they have been taught and apply their knowledge rather than show their rote learning skills.

Remember- essays which answer the question WILL always score higher than beautifully crafted essays which have been rote learn!


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5. Providing more content than analysis

The marks are in the details! Don’t spend more than one sentence per paragraph providing an overview of your text and never use examples from the plot to support your argument unless they are connected to quotations or techniques. Remember, your focus should be on techniques and how these represent the ideas in your texts!

In an exam, every minute counts! You do not want to waste precious time writing about the plot of the text when you could be writing analysis to help answer the question.

Students will start writing about the content of the text and go on a tangent- this wastes time and distracts them from the question.

To maximise marks, write succinctly and clearly!


6. Being messy

Your markers need to read your essays to give you marks! Try to be as neat as possible under the pressure of the exam. Illegible paragraphs will not give you any marks. It is also better to start a new page rather than drawing confusing arrows all over your paper.

Parts  of your HSC English paper will be scanned and marked on a digital screen. In this process, the clarity of your work will decrease. If your response is already messy, it will only deteriorate in quality. You want to ensure that the marker is able to easily and clearly decipher what you have written otherwise you will lose on marks!

You do not want to lose marks which you could have so easily gained because of a messy paper. The clarity of your paper can sometimes be the difference between a 17/20 and a 19/20!

Here is an example of a messy answer which is extremely hard to read! You do not want to write something like this in your exam.


7. Don’t get a full night’s sleep


Don’t stay up all night cramming! You’ve made it this far. Have faith that all the knowledge you’ve absorbed over the past year will serve you well and allow yourself to rest up the night before the exam. This will help you think clearly and not crack under the pressure.

It’s really tempting to have a red bull and pull an all-nighter the night before an exam. DON’T! As tempting as it is to stay up and try to get that last ounce of study in- don’t do it. It’s not worth it!

Staying up all night, or late the night before an exam will only:

  1. Stress you out.
  2. Make you lose faith in what you know.
  3. Agitate your brain which will reduce your ability to think clearly during the exam.
  4. Make you forget what you already know.
  5. Lose focus in the exam.

Instead, you should relax and be well rested before the exam.

Tip: Stop finishing your study by about 4pm the day before the exam and spend the rest of the evening relaxing. Go on a run, take a nice shower, and feel relaxed before the exam. This will only boost your marks!


8. Forgetting to write their student number on the booklet

Markers must know who the marks belong to! It may sound obvious, but this is a common mistake. Make sure you write your student number on the front before you start writing inside each booklet.

As soon as reading time is finished, write your student number down. Don’t tell yourself that you will do it later because the chances of that happening are very low. Your brain is in the mode to write and answer questions, remembering to write the student number is something it will very easily forget.


Avoid these mistakes in your HSC English exam to boost your marks and write without stress!


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Written by Matrix Education

Matrix is Sydney's No.1 High School Tuition provider. Come read our blog regularly for study hacks, subject breakdowns, and all the other academic insights you need.


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