Save My HSC Show – Area of Study Discovery – Episode 1


In this episode of the Save My HSC Show we explore the Area of Study Discovery and examine how exactly you should approach Paper One. You will learn the secret to getting high marks in comprehension and are given a simple strategy for analysing the area of study.



This podcast will talk about the area study ‘discovery’. The area of study really is the broadest section of the HSC. The way that it works is you have a specialized theme that works for each particular section.

So if you’ve done Module A, you might be doing Distinctively Visual. Distinctively Visual specifically asks you to focus on the visual aspects of a text.

The area of study asks you to look at this broad idea of discovery. So it’s like, “Whoa! I discover things in the world. And it leads to new understanding of things and new perceptions.” It is so broad and fluffy and is meant to be interpreted that way. I think that when you approach it, you really should look at it in that type of fashion.

A lot of students in previous years have really whinged about belonging. They’re like, “Argh! I’ve got to think about this bloody belonging as being this concept. How do you quantify it?” But if you want to approach this effectively, you really just need to break down the key ideas and think, “What does it mean to discover something?”

area of study discoveryWhat does it mean to you? Think about your personal experiences here because you have definitely discovered things at this point in your life. You’re pushing 18. There are many things you have learned up to this point that you connect with, I think, focus more on the things that you connect with as opposed to just overarching, trying to be, “This is discovery.”

So take out your robot voice. It doesn’t need to be boring and painful. It upsets me when I see students go down that path because if you’re not inspired to learn about something, you’re not going to care enough to write well about it. You can copy things as much as you like, but that won’t give you the grade that you want because it’s not coming from a place of authenticity.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be preparing before you start learning because you should. A lot of times, I talk to some of our better tutors and they will come to me and say, “Look, a lot of this process, it was me just spitting out that essay that I prepared.”

However, a student spitting out an essay that they prepared or largely things that were pre-prepared can do this because they understood that particular topic to the degree that they could just go, “Okay, I get this. I know how to put this out there into the world,” whereas if you say, “I’m not going to focus on learning about discovery. I’m just going to write an essay and I’ll be cool. I’ll just remember it,” you are not going to say things that demonstrate that you understand that particular area, which is why the comprehension section is so important.

This brings me to Paper 1. You are really just looking at three different sections. You have got a comprehension section that wants to know, “Did any of this stuff stick?” You’ve been stuck in school for 12 odd years. Do you know anything now? Or has it all been for naught?

How devastating would this be for a teacher to know that they have spent a year or more with you just to come out the other end and you didn’t actually pick anything up? That says more about that teacher than it does about you because a persistent problem is generally on the other side of that divide, which is really, really sad because you can have teachers who try very hard and do beautiful work to engage you.

I’ve seen teachers who have been in schools where they have just the most difficult boys – generally, I think boys can be pains because they are in most cases more immature and will yell and scream. I don’t like to make sweeping generalisations and gender things, but I know because I’m a boy myself and I like to yell and scream and do things like that. So I get that. But I’ll have you know, these teachers still manage to get content out there that these boys engage with.

So having a wonderful teacher can make a huge difference to how you actually comprehend and care about something.

The one takeaway from this podcast is driving in the notion that when you look at something, you really do need to care about it.

For example, if you are thinking about comprehension, you are probably thinking “What does that even mean?” Your teachers get you to study poetry. You might do Wilfred Owen. You might do Yeats. You could do Robert Frost. There’s a whole range of poets who you would study. Why would you study that poetry other than the teachers just wanting to traumatize you?

What I think is that people study these things, or at least the English department makes you study this because they want you to engage with ideas and what it means to not only you, but broader society as well.

Someone like, say, Shakespeare, he was writing in the 1600s. He was in the Renaissance Period. What does that really mean to people today? We go, “I don’t know. It’s this stupid stuff from back in the past.”

But if you actually read into it and look at his work, and then look at the time period where he’s living, you find there are correlations. There are things, some ideas that he put forward that are still relevant today, particularly, if you’re looking at someone like Julius Caesar.

caesar hsc english

“Oh great, now I have to render unto Caesar, too.”

If you’re looking at it like timeless ideas, something that happened 2000 odd years ago was still relevant in Julius Caesar’s time and it’s still relevant today like ideas of power structures and how power and people worked together, the power of the mob. Look at Greece currently.

Putting those ideas in your head together, that’s comprehension. And it doesn’t have to be boring poetry. It doesn’t have to be things that are uninspiring and just makes you go, “Argh! I don’t care.” It can be things like, “What songs do you listen to? Do they speak to you?”

I’m a big fan of punk rock because it always is politically motivated. My brain is just wired to be this renegade who wants to be against the system.

Now, I’m not in a situation where I live in a place where I need to outwardly say I disagree with certain things. But it’s still embodied in how I think and behave, which means, if I want to learn poetry or the techniques very well, I would just analyze songs that I like. I would sit there going, “This is what this means. This is what this means. This is what this means.” And because I engage with these topics, I’m always reading things that are going on in the political spectrum across the world. And it makes sense to me.

In the same way, if you identify with a particular topic, it will make sense to you if you give it context, if you are reading things that you enjoy and make sense to you.

That’s my advice for how to approach comprehension because it is really not that complicated. It is just that we get into these thought processes where we go, “I’ve got to do my essay. I’ve got to do all this stuff. I can’t handle this.” It all falls apart when you do that.

A lot of what I do is de-program that from people and just say, “Look, step by step, this is what you’ve got to do.” You don’t have to worry about this massive, giant ball of fury and death that’s coming that is the HSC because it’s not that.

In English, if you’re doing standard or advanced, you have got six things that you need to complete. You have your Comprehension section for Paper 1. You then get to do creative writing section for Paper 1, which focuses on the area of study ‘discovery’. And then you’ve got to do your essay for that same paper. Next you have Paper 2 which will be essays for modules A, B and C.

So essentially, you have got yourselves four essays that you are writing. So four essays, one creative, and then you have just got to be able to comprehend what’s going on around you and not just be a complete consumer who is living their lives as a passive person in the world. The Board of Studies wants you to think about this stuff.

Unfortunately, the way that the Board of Studies has approached it is it does not show that. You see the syllabus and are like, “It’s the syllabus. I must follow the syllabus,” which, yes, you do have to do that, but you have got to think about what the idea is behind the syllabus. Why are they making us do this? That’s what matters. That’s what’s going to give you the grading that you want.

I often think it is really a simple process that is over-complicated because no one has done it in an inspiring and enjoyable fashion. I love these topics. But when I was in school, I was terrified because we just had to finish the job.

And as far as approaching, say, the creative writing or the essay writing section is concerned, for both of these sections, all you have to do is go to the HSC English prescriptions. If you google that and you just look for 2015 to 2018-20, you will find exactly what you need to actually approach these topics.

What I would do is create a table of all the key words and phrases that come out of the discovery section. I would then go ahead and start writing. If I am going to do my creative, I would write creative stories. I would probably recommend doing three stories at least. You can probably get away with one, but I would recommend doing at least three stories in case you get variations in how the questions are structured.

So having three stories and then peppering in – you know, as if you’re peppering a steak. But instead, peppering in your phrases and words because that’s what a marker is going to be looking at when they’re actually marking it.

So if you’re doing creative, and you’re writing it, and you’re going, “Where’s the discovery? Hold on! Here’s all the phrasing from the actual syllabus. It’s the prescription. It’s the rubrics that they want. That’s the meat and the potatoes.” When a marker is reading it, they don’t have the time or the interest to read any further into it. They want to know right there and then, “Does this answer the question? What number am I going to correlate this to?” It does not say whether you’re smart or you’re stupid or whatever. None of that matters in that marker’s mind right then. He or she needs to just allocate a number based on the content and how closely it relates to those rubrics. So I hope that makes sense.

Similarly, in your essay, it’s the same process. Of course, you do need to understand what it is, but think about key term and ideas that are related to that.

So when you’re writing about your topics and thinking “how can I relate this to discovery?” Use your personal experience to understand it because there’s no point doing this stuff if you don’t understand it or care about it. Relate it to songs that you like or movies and think about the ideas in these things and why you engage with it or why you don’t care about it because that’s what’s going to dictate how well you can engage with this particular module because all of it comes down to these different modules.

So for this particular section, that’s all it comes down to.

Anyway, I don’t want to peddle on anymore. I hope that’s been helpful. I additionally would like to keep doing this for quite some time. I have quite a lot of fun talking about this stuff.

If you do have questions or if you’re panicking, really do e-mail and send us things. I get a lot of joy in engaging and talking to you guys because at the end of the day, I get the most value in knowing that you’re okay.

Your mark at the end of the day is going to be important to get you into a university institution. But beyond that, it has very little impact on your life. So it’s only if you need to get into a particular course and a particular university do I want you to be stressing yourself out a little bit to get there. And even if you don’t get there, there are lots of backdoors into universities. So it’s not even the end if you’re dead in the water.

I think that mentality of being able to approach this stuff for now and continue fighting on in spite of whatever gets tossed at you—that is much more valuable in the real world. And if I was hiring staff, that’s what I’d be looking for in their personalities. If someone comes to me and says, “I’ve got the perfect ATAR.” Big deal! Can you actually handle a life experience? If I give you some adversity, will you be able to handle that without crumbling? That’s what I would be looking for as an employer.

So remember that when you’re approaching your studies. Learn how to deal with adversity. Be a fighter, but don’t do it because you’re just chasing this extra mark because that’s just going to put you into a mindset that is not going to inspire or strengthen you.

Thank you. Till next time my friends.

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