One of the great sadistic joys that a teacher can feel each year is watching students dodge, dip, dive, duck, and dodge away from their responsibilities as the exam period looms closer and closer. Where I see most students falter is in their dismal lack of planning for the HSC English trials. The Higher School Certificate is a fairly simplistic system if you know what you are trying to do. Essentially, you will study a text from the area of study and three different modules. There will be an essay in the trials and HSC for each one. That’s a total of four essays, got it? On top of this, you will be writing a creative story based on stimulus and answering comprehension questions that demonstrate that you understand how to analyse texts.
Each module is asking you to write around 1000 words in six 40 minute blocks. This is a rough guideline as your comprehension section will most likely be shorter in length but will make up for this in the time that you will spend thinking about how to answer each question.
The following guide is a simple method for gathering notes in order to easily remember quotes and your analysis of texts for when you sit the trials and HSC.
Be Familiar With Your Text
Regardless of which module you are studying, there is no shortcut for getting to know your text. Read it or watch it at least once and before you look for analysis online, try to figure out what the composer is saying by yourself. It is okay if you miss things and feel like your understanding is not as deep as you feel like markers would like it to be. Quite often, texts will have an introduction that explains the intention of the author. This is where you can get the wording of your themes if you are not confident coming up with them by yourself. Reading and research does feel slow but it is also the most rewarding part of learning. When you are initially going through your text try not to think too much about the modules, let the art speak for itself. Slowing your research process down is very good for memory.
If you find yourself in a position where you still have not read a text and the exam block is looming, set aside a big block of time away from phones and Facebook and punch your way through the story. If you have less than 48 hours before the exam, you’ve screwed up and it is time to look online for some help with your analysis.
Read and Analyse the Prescription List
The best place to figure out what examiners expect from you is in the HSC English prescribed text list. In this parched oasis of witless knowledge, you will find some key information about what your teacher has been trying to ram down your throat for the better part of your final year in high school. If you feel confident in English, focus on the implications of the module and think about ways to bolster your argument based on the expected outcomes. If you struggle a little bit with English, you should focus on ensuring that you understand all the words that are being used in the module as well as getting familiar with synonyms and thinking about how they relate to your text.
Notes and Quotes
The part where most people get lost is in how they translate what they have learned into manageable, quotable pieces of knowledge. It should come as no surprise that taking good notes is going to correlate with getting good marks. There are a range of methods that students use to keep notes, a few are detailed below:
- Post-It notes on specific pages with your analysis
- Notes in the margins of the pages
- Folders broken up into specific modules and texts
- Tables broken up into 3 parts – Quote | Page No. | Analysis
What I have found is that the students who stick to one method consistently have an easier time relaying their content in exams. Personally, I prefer using the table method along with having individual folders to keep things organised. This does not mean that you should only use this method for keeping notes but it is helpful to have the analysis of your module near your quotes. To improve memory, the students who use colour coding seem to perform quite well. Something to avoid is having a single complete essay pre-prepared going into the exam. You should write quite a few as you study but don’t just have one sitting there because it will not help you answer a question that you do not comprehend. The only way that you can ensure that you will answer questions well is by using past papers.
Answers Lie in the Past… Papers
No, I am not asking you to find paperwork from kindergarten. What is going to be helpful however, is going to the board of studies website and digging up as many past papers as you can get your hands on. You will notice that in some years your text is not covered or the module is different. That’s okay, it is not a dead end. It just means that you need to get a little bit creative in how you work on the papers. Open the HSC English prescription document and find the module that you are working on. This is where the fun starts… If you have read a few trial papers by now you may notice that the wording in your module is eerily similar to the questions in the exams. All that you need to do is adjust the questions that already exist in the exam so that they fit in with your current module and text. You will need to know all of the themes in your text and you will need to know exactly what the module means when you are constructing questions but if you stick with this process you will be pleasantly surprised by the result that you get. This is the key to developing deep learning and retaining what you are studying.