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Jonathan’s Hacks: How to Save Your HSC English Mark

Are you struggling with a particular subject significantly more than your other subjects? Well, you came to the right place! Jonathan shares his top tips to improve his weaker subjects.

Struggling with English. Feel you are doomed by your English Advanced Rank? Don’t worry! In this article, Baulkham Hills student and Matrix alumni, Jonathan, explains how he turned things around and how to save your HSC English mark.


Me, Myself and I


Jonathan Teng



Baulkham Hills High School


University Course Goal:

B Vision Science/M Clinical Optometry (UNSW)


ATAR Goal:

99+ ATAR


Dream Career:

I want to be an optometrist.

I would like to do missionary work in Third World Countries with organisations such as Compassion.


My HSC Subjects:

  • English Advanced
  • Mathematics Extension 1
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Music 2


I performed the best in Mathematics Extension 1

I performed the best in Maths Ext 1 because I spent the most time on it.

I drilled through many past papers from my school and other schools such as Sydney Grammar, James Ruse and Sydney Boys.


I performed the worst in English Advanced

I performed the worst in English Advanced, especially in Preliminary because I neglected it.

I only turned up the momentum in my HSC year by dedicating more time to English. This significantly improved my marks.


screenshot of airlane safety manual to illustrate the concept of how to save your HSC english mark

My English Journey – How to save your HSC English Mark

My performance in English in Year 11:

In Year 11, my English marks were straight-up terrible.

For the first two assessments, I was averaging ~62%. I knew something had to change.

After allocating more time to it, I achieved a 19/20 for my final assessment in Preliminary.


My performance in English in Year 12:

The first assessment at my school was a reading task… which I scored poorly on.

This highlighted the need for me to spend more time on unseen texts and short answer questions.


The other assessments were essays for Module A and B and a hand-in discursive and reflection piece for Module C.

These marks also pushed me to further improve my Module A essay and Module C reflection.


After improving all these little parts in English I have achieved these marks for my Trial:

Module Marks
Common Module Reading Task 15/20
Common Module Essay 17/20
Module A 14/20
Module B  17/20
Module C was not assessable for the Trial  –

This improved my rank significantly. After the first semester, I was ranking 133/202. After the Trial, my rank was 97/202.


English Courses that helped me:

I attended the Module C workshop during the holiday of Term 2 which I found very helpful in improving my creative and reflective writing.

We did writing tasks every day that got marked by my teacher (Mr Pat Condliffe). He read it overnight and gave feedback the next day.


This significantly improved my creative writing skills and this, in turn, boosted my confidence in my own writing.


Want to improve English like Jonathan did?

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Key areas I focused on to save my HSC English mark

These were the main points that I needed to work on in my weaker Modules.

In my study and review, I would concentrate on these points and keep them in mind when writing practice essays.

Module Points to improve
Reading Task 
  • For 3-4 marks, one human experience and 3-4 ITEE sentences
  • 5-6 marks, 2 human experiences and 4-5 ITEE sentences
  • 7-8 marks, 2 human experiences, mini-essay structure with an introduction, two body paragraphs (6 ITEE sentences in total) and a conclusion
Module A 
  • Include more contextual statements and comparisons between both composers
  • Compare the form of each piece and how that affects the way the audience can interpret the piece
    • Remember: the newer text is the one that sparks the conversation with the older text
Module C Reflection  Paragraph 1:

  • What is it about?
  • Who is it for?
  • Why did I write it?
  • What aspects of society does it reflect?
  • Do you want to change these aspects?

Paragraph 2:

  • Where did my themes come from?
  • Books that have inspired me
  • Aspects of society that have inspired me

Paragraph 3:

Narrator’s voice

  • Reliable
  • Unreliable
  • Retrospective

Plot structures

  • Linear
  • Cyclical
  • Fragmented


  • Restate purpose
  • Say, “I hope to either resonate amongst responders” or “enact meaningful change through my written medium”


Other useful tips

1. Adapt your paragraph to wide variety of questions 

When preparing for an in-class essay, practise adapting each paragraph to a wide variety of questions for that particular module.

Give yourself a time limit for each i.e. 5 min for introduction and conclusion and 8 min for body paragraphs


2. Give your drafts to your teachers

Never be shy to give your essays to your teachers to mark! (both at Matrix and at school)

Feedback from your teachers will be especially valuable as they mark your school assessments!


3. Ask older students for tips

Ask the students in grades above you for help and tips, especially those who did very well!

I did this the night before the actual HSC and it really helped (though, you should probably do it earlier than when I did it!)


4. Do practice questions

Do plenty of practice questions leading up to each exam.

This will equip you with a wide range of ideas on how to structure your response to fully answer the question.


How I unwind and cope with stress

To be completely honest, I wasn’t as stressed for the Trials and HSC as I thought I would be.

I think this is because I found the balance between ‘stress’ and ‘relaxing’ which allowed me to optimise my performance while also not becoming too anxious and panicked.


1. Regular breaks

I gave myself regular breaks of around 15-20 min between each study session (2-3 hrs).

In these breaks I would grab some food, maybe go for a run/walk or shoot some hoops on my basketball ring.

I definitely do not recommend staying in the same seat for your break. You really need to change your environment around you to freshen your brain before you return to the grind.


2. Review early

My stress levels were not very high at all through my senior years as I had always started reviewing for tests quite early quite early. For example, for Maths, it was a consistent review throughout the year, for Science subjects it was about 4 to 6 weeks prior to the exam with a combination of review and note-making based on the syllabus. For English, it should ideally be 4 weeks prior.

This allowed me to feel well prepared before the exam, instead of cramming the night before.


My regrets

My biggest regret would probably be neglecting English until the week before Paper 1 for the HSC.

My initial mindset was to focus on all the things that I enjoyed first: Maths and the Sciences.

So, in that final week, I would feel the pressure and would completely focus on English.

This poor choice led me to be a little more stressed than usual.

I frantically edited essays and memorised quotes and techniques while balancing speed and legibility in my writing.

To avoid this stress, I could definitely have started earlier, this would have allowed me to try a wider variety of questions, especially extract questions in Module B.


My Advice to Future Students

You must do these things:

  • Take feedback constructively and incorporate them into your essays ike what I did with English for the HSC
  • Practise adapting your response to a variety of questions
  • Never be afraid to ask for help from peers and teachers

You must never do these things:

    • Neglect subjects just to ‘feel the pressure’ like what I did
    • Think that a certain dot point in the syllabus won’t come up in the test. Study the whole syllabus IN DETAIL
    • Procrastinate which leads to becoming overly stressed


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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