Part 13: Year 9 English Exam Skills

Do you get exam panic? You're not alone. In this post, we show you how to prepare so you can ace your next Year 9 English assessment.

Year 9 English Exam Skills

The perfect response.

Whether it be an essay, a short answer test, a creative piece, a viva voce, a reflection or a listening task, producing the perfect response is something you CAN do.

We want to help you create that perfect response, the one that gets the 20/20 and is spoken about as an example in class.

So, we’re giving you our best Year 9 English exam skills!


What’s in this article?

In this post we discuss:

Year 9 English exam skills student sitting test


What are English exam skills?

Exam skills are the combination of simple and effective techniques which help you achieve all the outcomes required to get an A, consistently, for all your English exams.



Why develop good English exam skills in Year 9?

Good exam skills, developed early, can form the foundation of good study practices for senior years. They provide you with a method for tackling exams, help you do better and score better marks and save you time during the exam.

year 9 english exam skills top down image of student studying on giant clock etched into ground
Time for studying and in exams is precious, don’t waste it!


Year 9 English Exam Skills

Exam skills can be broken down into four categories:

  1. Understanding
  2. Connecting
  3. Engaging Critically
  4. Engaging Personally.

If you are able to master these four categories of exam skills, you are sure to do well in your next test!


Skill 1: Understanding


Understanding is an extremely broad exam skill which can be broken down into three parts. Let us look at each part and how to master it.

The first two parts of this exam skill are done before the exam, with the third part occurring during the exam.


Step 1: Understanding the module

The first part of understanding is having a strong grasp of what the module is asking of you.

To do this, read the key outcomes you need to tick off to achieve an A for that module. After you have done that, highlight key things that are asked of you in the module outline.

Ask questions!

If a statement is unclear or you are unsure about the difference between a B and an A outcome- ask a tutor or teacher.

The questions you will be asked in the exam will come from the module. Start your study by going over the module and its key outcomes, so you know what to look out for whilst reading the text and subsequently answering the question.

year 9 English exam skills exam success begins with asking questions and participating in class discussions
Ask questions, lots of them, and participate in class discussions!!


Step 2: Understanding the text

A common mistake made by students is that they read the summary of the text online, or mindlessly write notes without understanding what is actually being taught. DON’T!


Well, when they sit down to revise and prepare for the exam, they spend 80% of the time trying to understand the text and not enough time practising different questions.

Thus, when studying the text with your tutor or teacher, follow the following steps:

  1. Read the text.
  2. Engage with the text.
  3. Make notes.
  4. Ask questions when something is unclear.
  5. Participate in class discussions.
  6. Challenge what is taught. This helps you broaden your understanding and pushes your brain to think outside the box.
  7. Start forming a personal opinion on the key concepts presented in the text.

Doing this will save you time and is a way of ensuring active learning.


Step 3: Understanding the question

Finally, you are in the exam, it is reading time and you need to tackle the question.

Don’t just read the question in the reading time- understand it.


  1. Read the question 3 times.
  2. Highlight keywords in your brain.
  3. Form one sentence which summarises what meaning you have deduced form the question.
  4. Think of synonyms for keywords.
  5. Think back to your notes, choose the main ideas/themes which fit with the question.

Following these steps in your reading time will allow you to prepare a starting point for the questions and answer it succinctly. It will avoid writing a generic answer and help you not run out of time.

Skill 2: Connecting


Reading time is over. It is time to start writing. Do not start writing your response straight away.


As a general rule, in a 40 minute exam, spend 3-4 minutes planning your answer by connecting ideas so they link directly to the question.


  1. Remember when you selected the main themes/ideas in your reading time. Write them down.
  2. Write trigger words for these ideas.
  3. Write quick bullet points on how the ideas are interlinked to each other and to the question.
  4. Write a plan of attack: what are the things you will mention first and what is okay to miss if you run out of time.


Skill 3: Engaging Critically


In Stage 4, we tackled topics at a very surface level and could get away with writing only about what we think. However, this doesn’t work anymore. You need to engage critically with the question and the text.



Engaging critically with the text: before the exam

Think about the following questions when reading the text and writing notes before the exam:

  1. When was the text written?
  2. What was happening during that decade?
  3. Was the author going through anything when he was writing the text?
  4. If yes, what was it? Could it have impacted his writing?
  5. Was there a problem that needed to be addressed in the time the text was composed?
  6. If yes, does the author try to tackle that problem? How?
  7. What message is the author trying to convey?
  8. Why is it written the way it is written? i.e What influenced the style?
  9. How is the style of text effective in conveying the meaning?
  10. What language techniques are used?

By answering these questions, you will be able to engage critically whilst reading and start analysing the construction of the text. This is really important to get you thinking analytically and can benefit you when trying to engage critically with the question.


Engaging critically with the question: during the exam

The first step to critically engage with the question is to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the question asking?
  2. How does the text relate to the question?
  3. What key concepts present in the text will help me answer the question?

Once you have completed the first step, begin writing.

Remember to write about language techniques, context and relate it back to why the themes are of value to you. The value will allow you to show your view and your personal engagement with the text.

Follow the plan you have made already and write directly. To save time do not repeat yourself, use a wide range of quotes and techniques and avoid retelling the plot unless asked.

Doing these simple but key things will allow you to engage critically with the text and question.

Ultimately, you will be able to ensure you can maximise your mark and tick all the sub-outcomes associated with critical engagement.


Skill 4: Engaging Personally


Analysing objectively is a major part of Stage 5 English, however, it cannot solely allow you to maximise marks. A strong answer illustrates that the writer is also personally engaging with the text and the question.

By engaging with the text and question, you can add a unique perspective that will be different from what is taught in class- allowing your writing to stand out.

Engaging personally is also a key outcome of a Grade A response by NESA. Thus, it is essential you do it in your exam.


  1. Think about the following questions when in the exam.
  2. What do I get out of this question?
  3. How do I think the text is able to answer this question?
  4. What is my view of the text, specifically in relation to the question?
  5. Once you have answered the previous three questions, incorporate the ideas you got from them into your answer. Do it succinctly; without jabbering on.
  6. Merge your unique view with the critical analysis. Ensure you have evidence to support your view.
  7. Write it succinctly using an authentic voice.

year 9 english exam skills image of two zippers symbolising combining skills.

Finally, Combining the skills

In this guide, we have gone through how to write different types of responses.

A strong exam skillset combines these four skills.


You should combine these skills by:

1. In a timed exam situation, spend a couple of minutes of your time understanding the question.
Remember to highlight keywords, write down four trigger words and write a quick plan on how to attack the question.

2. Spend the next couple of minutes to connect ideas.
Remember the key themes you have highlighted in your notes, or whilst reading time and form links between those themes- attributing them directly to the question.

3. Spend the majority of the time engaging critically with the question.
A key outcome of Year 9 English is constructively and critically analysing texts. Spend the majority of your time doing this by writing about language forms, themes, concepts, context and relationship between the two texts.

4. Spend a few minutes engaging personally with the question.
A strong response is able to have a personal engagement with the question and formulate a distinctive view, which is both original and unique. Doing this allows your answer to stand out from your peers and go above and beyond.


Most importantly; do your best, stay calm, study consistently and write succinctly!

You don’t need good luck, you’ve got this based on skill!


Develop your English writing skills

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