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Hari’s Hacks: How I Aced English By Embracing My Struggles With It

Hari leaned into his struggles and aced English. In this article, he shares how you can, too!

Struggling to achieve high marks for English? Well, in this article, Sydney Grammar and Matrix graduate shares how he aced English despite his struggles. Hari explains how you can apply his skills and mindset to your study practice so you, too, can ace English.


Me, Myself, and I

My name is Hari Sureshkumar and I recently graduated from Sydney Grammar School.

Some of my personal interests were basketball and cricket (which is mandatory for all Sri Lankans to love), and I’ve recently got into coding which is quite enjoyable.

My ATAR goal throughout high school was to attain a 99+ figure.

My future aspirations lie within pursuing a health-based or engineering course: I would love to work in a field where I must solve problems and create new innovations with human interactions and high contact hours.

This would help me to attain my dream job of either working in the medical field, or with electrical and telecommunications developments.



My HSC subjects

The subjects which I studied during Year 12 were

  • English Advanced
  • Maths Extension 1
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Latin Extension

This reflects my main interests throughout school, which were the dynamic nature of science and the qualitative nature of writing and languages.


My best performing subject was English

Yes – you may think I’m weird. I’ve always been a more qualitative thinker.

I enjoy the freedom to express unique ideas and delving into the intricacies of texts.

The art of writing is something you’ll need after school, and if you can embrace it early on, then you’re doing yourself a favour.


My least performing subject was Chemistry

It’s not that I didn’t like it, but I can be careless at times and struggled to include the nuances which attains top marks.

NB: I do think that your teacher greatly influences your enjoyment and attention to the course. I strongly urge you to keep this in mind and try to approach each lesson with a positive mindset – this will make you engage more in class and be willing to put more effort into a subject.



My #1 problem in Year 12 English Advanced

One thing to note is that most subjects will take a step up during your final year of schooling, and this can challenge students to adapt to new styles and forms of the course.

This was definitely the case for me.

For years I would comfortably get through each year with English, but I quickly began to panic and question my capabilities when my marks dropped.

However, by actively taking action I was able to dramatically switch up my strategies for essay and creative writing.

I was never one who got full marks in every assignment, but that’s what I hope to show you today – my success didn’t come from the smoothest of roads.


1. Don’t get discouraged; Use the feedback

It’s so important that during your HSC year you don’t get discouraged.

Failure and harder tasks are common, and it’s important that you consider this an opportunity to get better.

I had to translate my dropping marks and extensive feedback into a way that I can improve myself.

When this happens consistently it becomes easier to say than do, but I strongly encourage all to look at the future outcome (which is your Band 6 mark).

For example, my Module A text was the most difficult unit I’ve had to learn, and after getting a solid 14/20 thrice consecutively it was easy for me to forget about the course.

But there was a reason why I got that mark, and I had to maintain discipline by addressing it.

Hari's Hacks How I Aced English By Embracing My Struggles With It teacher feedback

This piece of feedback stresses the importance of having a clear argument that sticks with the question, which is an important factor in scoring high marks. 19/20.

2. Use your teachers

If there’s anything that you should take away from this blog, it’s that you should use your teachers.

In a classroom environment, one teacher cannot individually focus on one student every lesson. So, at times you won’t be able to receive all the help you need.

I never previously met teachers after school for help with what I was struggling.

But once I did this, my marks began to improve.

I was able to clear all my doubts and ask questions which I couldn’t in class (either because I didn’t have the time to, or because they were silly).

When I couldn’t understand context but my classmates could, I had the freedom to properly figure out why my interpretation or statements were wrong.


The English HSC Prep Course that you can take anywhere, anytime


How I aced English despite my struggles

When you build a car, there are certain parts which you must have (the chassis, engine, transmission), and then parts that you can interchange easily for your liking (seats, wheels, a wing).

This is how I categorised the information I had to learn for English Advanced.


1. Master your foundations: Be clear

The ‘foundational’ parts consist of context, introduction and conclusion, and topic sentences. It’s necessary to nail these parts in order to score high marks.

Unfortunately, most HSC markers scan the body of your paragraphs, and get a strong impression of your skill based on your introduction and topic sentences.

Clarity is key here – it’s not necessary to have complicated ideas.

Your goal is to communicate a well-thought-out idea to the marker with simplicity. Make sure you show your control and passion with each point you’re making.

I didn’t realise the importance of this until prior to my Trials and got sick of B-range marks because I didn’t answer the question.

But when I focused on mastering these parts, I was able to score higher because my marker could follow and understand my points more easily (and this is essential, when your HSC marker wants to open the nearest bottle of wine after reading very similar writing for hours).

You can stand out with your straightforward signposting, and make sure you show your marker you really know what you’re saying – this will impress the marker above most things.


2. Embrace experimentation

Additionally, I embraced experimentation with my overall points and quotations, which is the ‘interchangeable’ part of your writing.

A typical way for a student to feel security and confidence in their writing is to memorise essays and regurgitate them during the exam. However, this could be counter-intuitive for you!

Under the new syllabus, this is a much greater emphasis on answering the question.

As mentioned earlier, you must tailor the foundations of your writing as much as possible to the question.

So, instead of finding confidence in fixed chunks of text in your mind, you must embrace the ability to change and create new sentences and ideas based on the question.


How did I get my head around this?

I must say, it is very tricky to not relapse into spitting out previous sentences and being resistant to change.

I’ll put it like this: In cricket, the bowling team does not simply bowl for the sake of it. Instead, they’ve studied the intricate movements of each batsmen – they know their weaknesses and strengths.

Therefore, they deliberately bowl in certain ways to certain batsmen, which hopefully results in mistakes and then wickets.

A bowler can’t simply use the same tactics on different batsmen, but instead must change his play accordingly.

To be suited to the more impromptu style of writing, I had to:

  • Clearly know the foundations of my text
    • Knowing the purpose of the author through context
    • The key ideas within a play
    • The overall style of an author’s writing, etc.
  • Attack the question using a fluid bank of quotes
Hari's Hacks How I Aced English By Embracing My Struggles With It king henry IV pt 1 notes

This was one page of many quotes which I had prepared. Once I knew the play’s purpose, context and big ideas, I could summarise them simply and have an arsenal of quotes which can be used depending on the stimulus or question.


This was definitely a risky thing to do for my Trials – to see all my friends say ‘Oh, I’ve just got this 2000-word essay that I’m going to copy down’, whereas I merely held a sheet of quotes.

However, by not memorising previous introductions and introductory phrases, I was forced to work off the question which enabled me to directly answer the question throughout my essays.

Additionally, the endless quotes bank provided me with multiple options to support my text based on what the stimulus asked.

This is advantageous when compared to having prepared about 4 quotes per point.

Memorising is a skill for me, and was able to know about 40 quotes per text (I’m sure you can do this with effort!)

Furthermore, to show that you really do understand the texts well, ensure that you scour the rubric for keywords and important information. By using the trigger words which HSC markers love, it creates a positive impression of your writing.



My English exam tips

1. Use reading time effectively

One of the greatest pieces of English advice was about reading time from my Year 11 teacher.

During this period, you’re not allowed to write or make any notes.

However, reading time says you can’t use your pen… which gives you the opportunity to mark the page with…other things.

I recommend you all consult your teachers before you do this (I’m assuming no one reading this wants their paper cancelled), but I was able to make creases and folds in the question paper in place for my pen.

When I wanted to mark out a quote in a long text for the reading task, I could quickly make a small fold to know where it was.

I did this in both my school assessments and HCS exam, but I must stress that you consult more professional advice before doing this (as practices within schools may differ).


2. Plan your essay before you write

Additionally, when writing time begins, I recommend spending a few minutes planning your essays and creative piece.

It’s very easy to get lost during your writing and stray away from addressing the keywords of the question – planning helps you stay on track.

I understand that the notion of writing something new under pressure, along with memorising a multitude of quotes is challenging.

However, in a syllabus where you’re being tested to see how well you can think on the spot, the studying tips which I mentioned above were successful methods for me.

I was able to completely turn around previous assessment marks back to my usual level.

Furthermore, I used the same approach for my HSC examination, which also proved to work. If there’s one thing you could take away from this article, is that you must embrace the need to adapt your writing constantly.


Written by Guest Author

We have regular contributions to our blog from our Tutor Team and high performing Matrix Students. Come back regularly for these guest posts to learn their study hacks and insights!


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