Matrix Blog

English 11-12

How To Effectively Study for the English HSC Trial Exams

Have the HSC Trials got you panicking? To make sure you’re panic free when it comes to your studying for English Advanced, the Matrix English team have compiled a list of five top study tips.

For many Year 12 students, the HSC Trial Exam period is fast approaching (if it hasn’t already begun!). Consistent and targeted preparation is the key to conquering two of the most daunting trial exams, English Advanced Paper 1 and Paper 2. 


1. Know Exactly What is Being Tested in Your Trial Exam

Will it be Discovery? Module A? Module B? Module C? Everything?!

Schools can choose the stage to hold their HSC Trial exams, and many schools hold them before all the content has been covered in class. As a result, you may find that your English Advanced Trial exams are not in the exact same format as your HSC exams. Make sure you know well ahead of time what modules will be tested and if there are any limits on what you have to learn. For example, are you only required to know one related text for Discovery or Module C, rather than two?

Even if your Trial exam will be slightly different, have a look on the BOSTES website for past exams. These will help you develop a sense of the timing and structure for both papers, and create a study schedule that allocates sufficient study time to each section of your trial exam.


2. Make Concise Study Notes

Before you start completing practice essays ad infinitum, it’s important to make sure you have comprehensive, but concise, study notes prepared for each section of the trials.

Make sure you understand the focus of each module before you write endless pages of notes. For example, while context is integral to understanding any text and should be incorporated in each module, it is particularly important in Module A. Therefore, in your notes for Module A, group your analysis with relevant contextual information, so that when it comes time to write practice essays, you already have a clear sense of what context is linked to what analysis. Note that your discussion of context should strengthen your analysis and be well integrated, not merely be inserted somewhere into your essay where it feels out of place and disrupts the flow of your argument.

One way you might choose to organise your English summary within each essay module is to structure your analysis (including quotes, images, techniques and effect) by key themes. For certain modules, such as Module B, you may also like to include some analysis on key characters.

When you come to memorise your study notes, you may find it helpful to try to cut your notes down into an even shorter summary, made up of key ‘trigger’ words, to help you remember the content of your longer summary.


3. Practise Adapting Your Material

By the time you approach the trials, for each module (and for Discovery Section 3), there is likely to be one essay that you feel represents your best material. While you should definitely use that analysis to answer a broad question or a question that fits your favoured essay, it is more likely that you will need to adapt your material to answer the exam question.

The best way to practise adapting your material is by completing as many practice exams as possible. If you find you don’t have the time to complete them all under exam conditions, make sure you at least write an introduction and bullet point paragraphs for each of them. When you come across an essay question that you have no idea how to answer, do this under exam conditions, giving yourself 40 minutes to attempt the question. It is vital that you time yourself as this will not only give you an indication of how much you can write in the exam, but will also force you to deal with working under pressure and thinking on your feet in the face of an unexpected or difficult question. This activity will expose how well you can really adapt the material you have to the question.

If you find that for several questions your material does not seem to fit, it’s a sign that you need to return to your text and class notes and include some extra analysis in your summary.


Want to boost your English marks?

Start HSC English confidently

Expert teachers, detailed feedback, one-to-one help! Learn from home with Matrix+ Online English courses.

4. Learn From Your Practice Papers

Sometimes students are very diligent about completing practice papers, but then forget or lose the motivation to check through them afterwards. While in an ideal world, you should try to have teachers or tutors mark your essays, for many students (particularly those studying in the holidays) this isn’t a realistic option.

However, there is still value in reading over your own practice paper responses, as it can help diagnose areas of improvement. You might check through your practice exams to see whether you remembered quotes correctly, whether you forgot a piece of analysis you intended to include or an important piece of context, and whether there are any areas where the logic or force of your argument weakens. It can be worthwhile typing previous written assessments: this will alert you to grammatical and syntactical errors, errors in argumentation, and also give you an indication of word count. Self-assessment is a valuable way of learning, so make sure if you’ve gone to the effort of completing past papers, that you reap the rewards by checking over them. In addition, you could swap practice essays with a friend to get feedback – you may both learn something new.


5. Tips for Paper 1: Sections 1 & 2

While you might have one story really well-prepared, part of what you will be examined on will be how effectively you use the stimulus provided. Your story should not just refer to the stimulus once and move on – if possible, refer to the stimulus at least three times throughout your story, and even better, see if you can integrate it in a symbolic or figurative way. If your story uses the stimulus image as a metaphor, then you’ve demonstrated that you can write well on the spot, and shown you haven’t just copied out a pre-memorised story. The best way to get comfortable integrating a visual or written stimulus into your story ideas is through practice. The BOSTES website contains past Paper 1 Advanced English exams, which you can use for practice with integrating stimuli into a story.

As for the comprehension section of Paper 1, it might sound obvious, but (literary and visual) techniques are the key to strong responses.  If you find in the exam that you have written more than 2 or 3 sentences without explicitly naming a technique, you are at the risk of waffling. It’s a good idea to look at the answers to past HSC Paper 1 exams to get a sense of what techniques you might commonly find in HSC exams.  While you might recognise the techniques in the answers, picking them up without being prompted is a whole other skill. Also, note the marks allocated to each short answer question and make sure this guides your response. In this regard, as with other sections of the exam, practice makes perfect.

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.


© 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.

Get free study tips and resources delivered to your inbox.

Join 75,893 students who already have a head start.

Our website uses cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you continue to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies. Read our cookies statement.

OK, I understand