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English 11-12

How To Prepare For HSC English Advanced Paper 1: Discovery Essay

In this post, we explain what you need to do to nail the AOS: Discovery essay!

Welcome to the fourth post in our Area of Study: Discovery series. In this post, we will show you how to prepare for the Discovery Essay and tell you the best strategies for producing a Band 6 response. The other posts in this series will show you how to prepare for the short answer questions, how to write a Discovery creative, and how to understand what AOS: Discovery is about. If you are struggling for related texts for AOS: Discovery, we have suggestions that you can read in this post,  this posts, and this post that will help you out.

First, let’s look at the structure of Paper 1:

English Advanced Paper 1 has three sections:

  • short response questions,
  • creative response, and
  • long response or essay section.

The Discovery essay or long response should be the most straightforward aspect of Paper 1 for HSC students. NESA (formerly BOSTES) puts all the opportunities to excel in the students’ hands. Students are given plenty of time to read and analyse their core text, they can select their own supplementary material, and they are given detailed instructions on how to analyse and respond to the texts by NESA. However, many students still feel lost or overwhelmed by this part of the exam. In this post, we will look at a few effective study strategies to overcome these worries.

Know the Syllabus Outline for Discovery

This cannot be stressed enough. The Board of Studies Syllabus document for AOS is the key to achieving a Band 6 result in Paper 1, and especially the long response. The syllabus document defines the concept of “discovery,” and describes it as a process with a variety of outcomes. This provides you with a comprehensive blueprint of how to analyse the text core text you have been set and the supplementary texts you have chosen.

Let’s have a look at the key parts of the Discovery syllabus document to see what this means.


NESA 2014 – Syllabus Document

Discovery can encompass the experience of discovering something for the first time or rediscovering something that has been lost, forgotten or concealed. Discoveries can be sudden and unexpected, or they can emerge from a process of deliberate and careful planning evoked by curiosity, necessity or wonder. Discoveries can be fresh and intensely meaningful in ways that may be emotional, creative, intellectual, physical and spiritual. They can also be confronting and provocative. They can lead us to new worlds and values, stimulate new ideas, and enable us to speculate about future possibilities. Discoveries and discovering can offer new understandings and renewed perceptions of ourselves and others.

This paragraph lists various forms of discovery to look for in the texts – those that are “lost, forgotten, or concealed.” It outlines methods for discovery: unplanned discoveries that are “sudden and unexpected” or discoveries stemming from “deliberate and careful planning.” It explains the motivations that can lead to discovery, and outlines personal responses to discovery for students to analyse in the texts and in the texts’ characters.

An individual’s discoveries and their process of discovering can vary according to personal, cultural, historical and social contexts and values. The impact of these discoveries can be far-reaching and transformative for the individual and for broader society. Discoveries may be questioned or challenged when viewed from different perspectives and their worth may be reassessed over time. The ramifications of particular discoveries may differ for individuals and their worlds. By exploring the concept of discovery, students can understand how texts have the potential to affirm or challenge individuals’ or more widely-held assumptions and beliefs about aspects of human experience and the world.

This paragraph considers the role context plays in discovery. It describes some lasting implications of discovery. It asks if discoveries remain the same over time. Finally, the syllabus document asks for your response to the module – has the study of discovery affirmed or challenged your understanding of “human experience and the world?”

This document is the source for the Paper One essay questions. Here are the previous HSC Discovery questions so you can see how they are derived from it:


“The process of discovery involves uncovering what is hidden and reconsidering what is known.”

How is this perspective on discovery explored in your prescribed text and ONE other related text of your own choosing?


“To what extent do the texts you have studied reveal both the emotional and intellectual responses provoked by the experience of discovering?”

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

The key terms that have been taken from the Syllabus document have been underlined for you. You should apply this knowledge to make tables for your notes. Use tables to compile notes, like this one on Shakespeare’s The Tempest:

Aspect of Discovery Example Technique Effect
Transformative for the individual You taught me language; and my profit on’t/Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you/For learning me your language!(Act 1, Scene 1, lns) Irony The arrival of Prospero and Miranda brought language and education with them. In enslaving Caliban and teaching him, they gave him the tools to rebel against them.
Discoveries may be questioned What a thrice-double ass/Was I, to take this drunkard for a god/And worship this dull fool!(Act 5, Scene 1) Metaphor, repentant tone Caliban realises the error of his ways and comes to understand that Trinculo, Stephano, and Prospero are men, and not gods.

Compiling your notes like this allows you to select the most effective examples from your text and break them down in a practical way. This makes writing practice essays easier, as your quotations are ready to use. Develop this study practice and you will be less reliant on memorised essays and more flexible in addressing the unseen questions that you are presented in the exam.


Discovery Essay structure

Good structure is essential for a good mark. You will not be able to achieve a Band 6 mark with poor essay structure. You must decide whether to use an integrated or divided approach in your response. The exemplar responses to the 2015 HSC that NESA have made available make it clear that both approaches can achieve high marks.

A divided response is when you discuss one text in a body paragraph, alternating between the core text and your supplementary text. An integrated response is when you discuss the two texts, or more, in the same paragraph. There are pros and cons to each. For example, divided responses guarantee more clarity about the texts and their relation to the question while integrated responses allow for a more nuanced and implicit comparison of texts and their ideas. It is important for you to experiment with these approaches well before your exams and practice using the one that works best for you!

Good essay structure requires you to present a clear thesis, an outline of your thematic approach, and to sustain this throughout the response with consistent topic sentences, a detailed discussion of evidence, and a conclusion.

  • Your thesis must be a clear and direct answer to the question. If the question asks you to discuss “the ramifications of discovery for people and their worlds” don’t write a thesis about how “challenged when viewed from different perspectives and their worth may be reassessed over time.” If you don’t answer the question, then markers are instructed to start at Band four and mark down from there.
  • Ensure that your topic sentences connect to your introduction and thesis. Your markers are looking for a sustained argument. This means they want you to demonstrate the connections between the ideas in your body paragraphs and the question. Clear links between a thesis and the topic sentences develop these links. You must also develop comparisons between the texts that examines the differing, or similar, representations of discovery their composers have conveyed in the texts. Your topic sentences will be crucial for this, especially in divided essays where the topic sentence is the connective tissue that binds the response together.
  • Discuss evidence in detail. Markers want quality over quantity. Don’t list examples, techniques, and effects. Instead develop evidence into arguments. You will benefit more from three examples that you discuss in detail rather than five that you gloss over. You must present an example and the technique it uses and then explain how this represents the aspect of discovery you are discussing. You need to ensure that you establish a clear connection between the example and the question. Utilising the terms and expressions from the syllabus document is the most effective way to do this.
  • Write full conclusions. Conclusions summarise your arguments. Don’t skimp on them. You want to leave your markers with a strong impression of your writing. A good rule is to present a sentence for each step: 1) restate your thesis; 2) summarise your themes and approaches to the texts; 3) make a statement about what you have learned from studying AOS discovery. This approach will demonstrate that you have engaged with all aspects of the module and have a strong understanding of the importance of structure.

If you want detailed help on how to write a Band 6 Discovery essay, read our Beginner’s Guide to Acing HSC English!


We all read about the students who tell reporters that they got a Band 6 result by memorising an essay. We don’t hear about the many students who tried this approach and failed. The best practice for the long response question is to write practice essays. Lots of them. You want to be able to respond to a variety of different questions. Rather than attempting to perfect an essay for the one question that you may or may not get asked, write practice essays that address the various concerns outlined in the syllabus document.

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Written by June Heo

June launched the popular Matrix Blog in 2011 to make high-quality resources accessible to all students. Before working at Matrix she was a news producer at Sky News.


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