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English 11-12

HSC English Area Of Study: Discovery

In this post, we give you a detailed breakdown of the Area of Study rubric for Discovery.

Welcome to the first post in our Area of Study: Discovery series. In this post, we will outline what the AOS Discovery Module requires you to do and how best to approach it. 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 produce a Band 6 Discovery Essay. If you are struggling for related texts for AOS: Discovery, we have suggestions that you can read in this post,  this post, and this post that will help you out.

Students struggle to understand what the HSC English Area of Study: Discovery asks of them. Students must come to terms with the concept of discovery and then apply this to their study of the HSC English Area of Study prescribed texts and their supplementary texts. In this post, we will discuss what HSC English Area of Study: Discovery requires you to do, and how to analyse your texts for the various forms of discovery.

What is Discovery?

Discovery is something that we have all participated in. It is important, however, for students to recognise that Discovery is also a concept. The purpose of the HSC Area of Study is to analyse how themes and notions of discovery have been represented through texts. When thinking about the HSC English Area of Study: Discovery –

  • Discovery is treated as an abstract and dynamic idea;
  • There is no one type of discovery, nor are discoveries represented in one particular way;
  • Depending on a number of factors (such as context, culture, values and attitudes), notions of discovery can vary greatly;

In the past, HSC English Area of Study concepts have included ‘change’, ‘journeys’ and ‘belonging’. These are all abstract concepts, and can be represented in a variety of ways. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of representing ‘change’, nor is there a shortage of texts which explore a sense of ‘belonging’. Just as Harry Potter struggles to find a sense of belonging with his classmates as a group, Darth Vader finds a sense of familial belonging with his son before his death.

Notions of ‘discovery’ are similarly complex and abstract – it is therefore important to read through the expectations of the Board of Studies, which are detailed below:

Source: English Stage 6 Prescriptions, Higher School Certificate, 2015-2020
This Area of Study requires students to explore the ways in which the concept of discovery is represented in and through texts.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.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. Through composing and responding to a wide range of texts, students may make discoveries about people, relationships, societies, places and events and generate new ideas.By synthesising perspectives, students may deepen their understanding of the concept of discovery.Students consider the ways composers may invite them to experience discovery through their texts and explore how the process of discovering is represented using a variety of language modes, forms and features.In their responses and compositions, students examine, question, and reflect and speculate on:

  • their own experiences of discovery
  • the experience of discovery in and through their engagement with texts
  • assumptions underlying various representations of the concept of discovery
  • how the concept of discovery is conveyed through the representations of people, relationships, societies, places, events and ideas that they encounter in the prescribed text and other related texts of their own choosing
  • how the composer’s choice of language modes, forms, features and structure shapes representations of discovery and discovering
  • the ways in which exploring the concept of discovery may broaden and deepen their understanding of themselves and their world.

When analysing a text for HSC English Area of Study: Discovery, and when preparing for your HSC Exam, it is vital that time is spent reviewing this document and the types of discovery that may form the basis of the HSC paper.

Remember that the focus of the HSC English Area of Study: Discovery is on representation – this is best illustrated by the line,

Students consider the ways composers may invite them to experience discovery through their texts and explore how the process of discovering is represented using a variety of language modes, forms and features.

You should be focusing on discovery as a topic or theme, and perhaps more importantly on how a text represents discovery, the beliefs about discovery and the human values implied in the concept of discovery.

The Board of Studies divides the concept of discovery, generally, into two spheres – discovery and rediscovery. These forms of discovery can be internal and external; that is, an individual can discover something within themselves, or something about the world around them. This is a great way of beginning your analysis of a text for the Area of Study – ascertain what type of discovery is being explored or represented, and make a judgement on the ramifications of this discovery.

Some questions to ask could include:

  • What ideas about discovery exist within my text? What different types of discovery can be seen?
  • What perspectives about discovery exist within my text?
  • How has the concept of discovery been represented in my text through language modes, forms and features?

2. The HSC English Area of Study: Discovery Exam

Paper 1 of your final exams is focused purely on the Area of Study: Discovery, and is sat by all students studying English Standard and Advanced. The paper is designed to test you on your analysis of unseen material – that means that there is only so much planning that you can do for the paper. The paper is marked out of 45 – fifteen marks per section – and is a total of two hours long.

Section 1 of the HSC English Area of Study: Discovery paper will present you with a number of unseen texts (these can include story extracts, articles, poems, visual images, letters to the editor and speeches) that are usually related to each other by theme (for example, confronting or provocative discoveries). Students are required to answer a number of short answer questions on the texts – these can include one mark questions such as:

Text one – Visual text 

a)    Select ONE aspect of the visual text and explore how it reflects notions of spiritual discovery.

Furthermore, they can combine a number of texts and expect a 5-mark extended response:

Texts one, two, three and four – Visual text, Poem, Transcript and Nonfiction extract 

e)    Analyse the relationship between spirituality and discovery in TWO of these texts.

Generally, questions will range between one and five marks – the total mark value of Section 1 is fifteen marks.

Section 2 of the HSC English Area of Study: Discovery paper requires you to complete a writing task in response to a given stimulus (which is usually a visual or a quote). Generally speaking, this section normally requires you to compose a creative piece of writing that explores notions of discovery. Section 2 might look something like this:

Question 2 (15 marks)Select ONE of the quotations as the introduction for a piece of imaginative writing that explores a revised perception of discovery.

“It was not an everyday occurrence.”


“I feel like I cannot try anything new.”

Finally, Section 3 of the HSC English Area of Study: Discovery paper is designed to test your understanding of how notions of discovery can be represented and explored through an extended response essay. You are required to write about a Prescribed Text, which your school will choose, and usually one or two related texts of your own choosing. It is advised that you plan to write about two related texts so that you are prepared for any situation. An essay question for Section 3 of the HSC English Area of Study: Discovery paper could look like this:

Question 3 (15 marks)

‘The ramifications of an individual’s discovery can change their perspective of themselves and the world.’

Discuss this statement with detailed reference to your prescribed text and TWO related texts of your own choosing.

If you want guidance on how to approach the HSC, you should read our Beginner’s Guide to Acing HSC English.


If you are currently unsure what your prescribed text for HSC English Area of Study: Discovery is, consult your teacher as soon as possible so you can begin to read your prescribed text and consider relevant related texts.

Below is the list of prescribed texts for HSC English Area of Study: Discovery.

Area of Study 2015–18: Standard and Advanced

Students explore the concept of discovery through at least one of the following:

Prose fiction (pf) or nonfiction (nf)

  • Bradley, James, Wrack (pf)
  • Chopin, Kate, The Awakening (pf)
  • Winch, Tara June, Swallow the Air (pf)
  • Bryson, Bill, A Short History of Nearly Everything (nf)
  • Guevara, Ernesto ‘Che’, The Motorcycle Diaries (nf)


Drama (d) or film (f) or Shakespearean drama (S)

  • Gow, Michael, Away (d)
  • Harrison, Jane, Rainbow’s End from Cleven, Vivienne et al, Contemporary Indigenous Plays (d)
  • Lee, Ang, Life of Pi (f)
  • Shakespeare, William, The Tempest (d/S*) * In order to satisfy the text requirements of the different English courses, The Tempest is classified as a drama text for the Standard course and as a Shakespearean drama text for the Advanced course.



  • Dobson, Rosemary ‘Young Girl at a Window’, ‘Wonder’, ‘Painter of Antwerp’, ‘Traveller’s Tale’, ‘The Tiger’, ‘Cock Crow’, ‘Ghost Town: New England’
  • Frost, Robert ‘The Tuft of Flowers’, ‘Mending Wall’, ‘Home Burial’, ‘After Apple-Picking’, ‘Fire and Ice’, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’
  • Gray, Robert ‘Journey: the North Coast’, ‘The Meatworks’, ‘North Coast Town’, ‘Late Ferry’, ‘Flames and Dangling Wire’, ‘Diptych’



  • Nasht, Simon, Frank Hurley – The Man Who Made History
  • O’Mahoney, Ivan, Go Back to Where You Came From – Series 1, Episodes 1, 2 and 3 and The Response


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