Part 4: How to Prepare for English Assessments

In this part of the Guide, we give you tips for how to prepare for oral tasks like Viva Voces, speeches, interviews and panel discussions; as well as creatives, visual tasks, listening tasks, and exams in general.
how to study for english hsc

In this article, we look at the processes successful students follow to do well in their English assessments.

Introduction to preparing for English assessments

Do you know how to prepare for English assessments? Students often ask us how to study for English for the HSC and Year 11. Different assessment tasks require different study approaches, and this can be stressful if you don’t know how.

In Part 5 of our Beginner’s Guide to Acing HSC English, we’ll give you an overview of useful study practices for a complete range of assessment tasks you’ll face throughout Years 11 and 12.

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In this article we discuss:


Preparing for school assessments

School assessments are very important as they have a cumulative effect on your mark. If you aim to score Band 6 for English, you need to be scoring 90% or above from the first assessment task you complete.

To achieve this, you need to prepare appropriately for each type of task. If you want an overview of what tasks you might be asked to do or how assessment notifications work, read Part 4 of this guide, notifications and assessment tasks.

It pays to be thorough when preparing for English assessments, and this means studying specifically for the task you have at hand!

Before you begin preparing for a specific task, you need to have detailed textual analysis and study notes. If you need help with analysing your text, be sure to read Part 2 of this Guide: Textual Analysis – How to Analyse Your English Texts for Evidence.

Let’s have a look at appropriate study methods for the different tasks you may encounter in Year 11 and 12.


How to prepare for oral assessment tasks

Oral tasks come in the following forms:

  1. Viva Voce
  2. Speeches
  3. Interviews
  4. Panel Discussions

Panel discussions and interviews are becoming increasingly popular with some schools. Remember, in Year 11 and 12, you will now have to give a multimodal presentation. Let’s look at some broad preparation strategies.

Viva Voce

Viva Voce exams are oral exams. An examiner will pose a series of questions. This is like a thesis defence at university. You must demonstrate thorough knowledge and mastery of your subject. Preparing for these is made easier as, unlike at university, your teacher will provide you with a list of questions that they may ask you. They will usually ask three or four questions.

When preparing for these tasks you should:

  1. First, assemble detailed notes for each question.
  2. Plan out several different responses for each question, but do not script an answer. You don’t want to be held down by a script as your teacher will ask additional questions to clarify points or seek more detail.
  3. Sit with a friend or family member and practise responding to each question.
  4. Approach this task as a teacher, you are trying to teach somebody about the subject matter you have mastered!


A common mistake students make when preparing speeches is to draft, and then redraft, a speech but not practise it.

When preparing for speeches you should:

  1. Remember that humans can only digest about 130 per minute. This means that a four-minute speech should only be 520 words long. This isn’t much. So, you should focus in detail on one or two points and examples rather than many.
  2. Be concise in your response.
  3. Utilise repetition! Speeches are effective because they continually reassert a singular thesis. Every example needs to connect back to a central idea.
  4. Practise! Practise! Practise! You must practise your speech. Rehearse it enough that you can recite it without using the palm cards or notes you are allowed to use. This will demonstrate a thorough understanding of your content and help with your confidence and nerves. The secret to confident public speaking is a thorough understanding of your subject matter. If you are the subject expert, there is no reason to be nervous!
  5. Perform your speech for others first. This could be in front of your parents, friends, or a Matrix teacher or tutor. Ask them to give detailed criticism. If a layperson cannot understand your argument, then you are not explaining things clearly!
  6. Record yourself! Practise your speech by recording yourself and replaying to see how you look and sound.


Interviews are group work. This means that you must not fall into the trap of having the interview subject do all the work. Interviews are also performance pieces, you need to rehearse them as you would a speech. It is important that both the interviewer and the interviewee contribute to the performance.


  • Rely on a simple question-answer format.
  • Expect the interview subject to demonstrate the subject knowledge.
  • Have a significantly imbalanced performance.


  • Script a performance where both characters contribute to the discussion.
  • Aim for a discussion where two characters discuss a subject in a manner that demonstrates different perspectives of insight. The interview subject should demonstrate an insider’s knowledge of the subject, but the interviewer should be a subject area expert too.
  • Watch interviews on Youtube to get an idea of how an interview should work. Current affair journalists have excellent interview technique. Leigh Sales, Marc Fernell, and Virginia Trioli are famous Australian journalists who have excellent interview technique and can draw responses from recalcitrant politicians, but also develop engaging discussions with their subjects regardless of the content they are discussing. Here are some clips worth studying for inspiration:

Panel discussions

Panel discussions combine the principles of speeches, interviews, and viva voce examinations. Each panel member needs to prepare a speech. But as a whole, they should practise their individual roles. When they are asked questions, they need to function as a group. A good panel will help each other out when one member is stuck or being grilled. Some things to do are:

  • Work together when preparing your individual presentations.
  • Perform your own sections in front of each other and work together to perfect them.
  • Aim to be educational. As a group, you should be teaching those you present for!
  • Practise the panel in front of peers or family. Make sure that your audience asks you questions. You need to be comfortable responding to unseen questions and working together to address them.
  • Make sure you all understand your specific topic thoroughly but take the time to learn your colleagues’ areas too. Remember, you are all in it together!

In Part 10 of this Guide, we will discuss Multimodal Presentations in detail and give you a step-by-step process for preparing for them. This part of the guide will give you practical tips that will help you with all of the assessment types above!


How to prepare for listening tasks

Listening tasks are difficult to prepare for. They can come in a variety of forms: short answer questions, essay responses, or creative response. Preparing for these can be difficult, too. Some rules of thumb to follow are:

  • Practise listening to clips and podcasts on Youtube or SoundCloud. Listen to a clip twice and try to summarise the key points.
  • Practise your note-taking. You need to learn how to take down key points in a short space of time. Rather than writing longhand, it is worth learning your own abbreviations and short notes.
  • Practise listening to clips for a theme. A listening task may include lots of information, you need to practise pulling out key information on a topic and learning how to omit what is unnecessary.
  • Listen to the performance, too! You can discuss the emotion of the performance of the clip. Ask yourself, what are the speakers emphasising or reacting emotionally towards?


How to prepare for visual tasks

Not everyone is visually minded, so visual tasks can be very intimidating. But visual representations of ideas are good ways to train your mind to conceptualise themes or ideas. Students are often asked to produce a collage or visual representation of the ideas they have encountered in a Module or text. Students are often unsure of how to approach these tasks. Let’s look at some handy guidelines:

  • Before you begin trying to create anything decide on what your core ideas are. A good representation will focus on a single concern, or at most two, and represent it in detail.
  • When trying to compose a visual image, think about what you can use to symbolise the concepts you are demonstrating. You don’t need an image of a family to convey family, you could substitute other symbolic images like a pram or cot or house with a picket fence.
  • Aim to use a combination of hand-drawn art and found images. Too often students rely on photoshopping things together rather than attempting to draw them themselves. Students don’t need to be Rembrandt or Frida Kahlo to convey an idea. They can rough out the images they need in pencil or paint and then top that with found images.
  • “Less is more means” to use less representation to convey things with more clarity. Rather than using a series of symbols to convey an idea in a jumble, focus on a couple of images to convey one thing in detail or as a process.
  • Draft and get feedback. Don’t just bash out a finished product. Plan things thoroughly. Take the time to draft out your image and hunt down feedback on it. Ask your friends and family what they think. if they don’t understand it or have questions, use those questions to refine your design.
  • Get plenty of feedback. Feedback helps you refine the things that you are trying to produce. Don’t be afraid of negative criticism, use it to improve the things that you are producing!


How to prepare for creatives

Creatives are tasks that students must produce in Year 11 and Year 12. It is important that students should practise producing creatives. In addition, rather than producing one perfect creative in their HSC year, you should aim to produce at least two if not three so you have several options for the stimulus you are presented with.

You can find detailed advice on writing creatives for Year 11 and Year 12 in Part 8 of this Guide. Additionally, you should read these blog posts we’ve put together for you on creative writing:


Essays and exam preparation

Essays are a large part of Stage 6 assessments. You will have to write four essays during the HSC exams for Advanced English, and at least three (if not four) for your HSC Trial exams. In addition, you will likely have at least one other essay task throughout the year. Similarly, in Year 11, you will have to produce at least one written essay during the three terms.

Revising for essays is difficult. it is tempting to memorise a single essay, but this is a bad idea as essay questions in the HSC, Trials, and school assessments are often written in such a way as to preclude prewritten responses. It is far easier than you would expect to spot a prewritten essay. Matrix students learn how to respond adaptively to each individual question they face, rather than relying on prewritten responses. The techniques they are taught include:

  • Using tables to compile study notes.
  • Getting plenty of practice at writing thesis statements, topic sentences, and practise essays.
  • Regular feedback on their writing so they understand their weaknesses and improve on them.

If you need more practical advice on essay writing you should read Part 6 of this guide, How to Write an Essay. In addition, you should read our blog posts on Essay writing:

  1. Essay Writing Part 1: How to Write a Thesis Statement
  2. Essay Writing Part 2: How to Structure Your Essay Introduction.
  3. Essay Writing Part 3: How to Write a Topic Sentence
  4. Essay Writing Part 4: How to Write A Body Paragraph
  5. Essay Writing Part 5: How to Write a Conclusion

Reflection tasks

Reflection tasks are popular tasks that can take many forms. Reflection statements and reflection tasks are auxiliary tasks to other assessments. You need to produce one to accompany another assessment – for example, a speech or creative. You might be asked to produce a reflection statement as a hand-in to support and explain your creative choices in a short story, or you may be asked to produce a reflection as a speech or presentation. Some assessments will require you to produce your reflection statement as a written response under exam conditions. If you want to know more about reflection statements and read a detailed step-by-step process for acing them, read this blog post.

Feeling unprepared for the HSC?

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