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How to Ace your English Exams

If you’re anything like me, the HSC English exams are enough to get you a little worried. There’s so much to write, so much to remember – it’s hard to know where to start and exactly what to do. So here are my best tips for you on how to do well in your English exams, from someone who managed to survive the HSC, and now has the experience of three years of uni behind them as well!

Don’t Memorise Essays

The best tip I can give you is, don’t go down the road of so many others and memorise whole essays. Over the two exams you’ll have four essays and one short story to write, and it’s just too much to try and remember. For those with a fantastic ability to memorise, maybe that’s a good plan, but the majority of us can’t retain that much information word-for-word.

Do Memorise Quotes

What you can try and learn is everything you’ll need for your essays. You need to have a library of handy quotes on hand, preferably things that will work with any question they can throw at you. The best thing to do is to learn these, and any other information you might need.

Make a Plan

When you get into the exams, the first thing you should do is write down all of your quotes. Then you can look at the question, and start to plan out how you will structure your essay. Remember, a detailed plan is important – don’t just launch straight in. You need to structure your argument and know what you’re going to say. And if worst comes to worst, if you run out of time, submitting the dot points of your plan will score you more marks than submitting nothing at all.

Pick Texts you Like

Paper 1 should be all of the texts you’re most familiar with – the ones you started earliest, and your related texts. Pick texts that you can discuss in detail and are really familiar with – it often helps if you really like them as well. Don’t worry that you’ll start to dislike them if you have to write too much about them. If you like them enough, it shouldn’t matter!

Creative Writing – Embrace the Freedom!

A lot of my friends stressed out about the short story in Paper 1. The problem with writing a story and memorising it is that sometimes, the stimulus they give you for creative writing just will not fit with the story you’d already written. My best advice for this is to write quite an open-ended story, with room for movement in the plot. The stimulus is always something different, so leave room for objects, images, and ideas. And stay away from cliches!

Keep Track of Time

Paper 2 is just about managing your time. Make sure you divide it equally and don’t go over time. If you can’t finish something, come back to it later. If you get stuck, start on the next essay. Paper 2 is where you really need to spend a few minutes at the start of the exam preparing all of your essays, and writing your quotes down before you forget them, as well as your main points.

Stay Cool

Hopefully this has been at least a little helpful! Remember, the best way to deal with the HSC is just to not freak out. If you get a question you weren’t expecting or if your short story just wont fit, don’t stress. Stay calm. You can find a way to make it work. Be positive. Some day this will all just be a distant memory. To be honest, I cant even remember what I wrote for my creative piece. Not a clue. Ah, forgetting the details. You have that to look forward to!

Good luck!

- Liz

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