HSC English: Cheat Sheet

A cheat sheet for HSC English by First in State for Advanced and Extension 2.

Table of Contents

  • Hi guys! I’m Jesse, and I was First in State for Advanced and Extension 2 English, and Third in State for Extension 1 English in 2019.
  • This is my cheat sheet and study guide (kind of?) for HSC English, which (apparently) I was quite good at.
  • These strategies will allow you to unfairly dominate your cohort and crush your HSC English Exams while enjoying your senior years in high school.
  • They can be used for studies, standard and advanced, and also help for extension 1 and 2.

I’ll be making more posts (mostly essay writing guides and stuff like that) over the next few weeks/months.

If you have any questions, leave a comment at the bottom of the page, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

  - Jesse Caminer


  1. You shouldn’t memorise as an easy way out of having to think, but rather so that you have a basic essay structure, an array of quotes and a malleable thesis, which can then be tailored with specificity to any given question.
  2. You should tailor your study and note-taking towards the final goal of essay composition, regardless of your internal assessments. The HSC (which is the end goal) will ask you to write an essay, even if your internal tasks are something else.

Analysing Texts

  1. BEFORE you read a text, find a summary of the plot and outline of the themes online (Pranav Sharma and Jackson Taylor have done some pretty good ones on this site) so that you have an idea of what the text will contain before you read it
  2. As you read the text, jot down any and all quotes you think may be useful.
    • It’s best to do this in a digital form (e.g. Google Docs), because a) you can search for it if you lose it, and b) you can annotate using comments and not have to worry about the space on the page
    • Once you’ve read through the text and made your list, sort it into a table by theme/concept and annotate each quote
    • Make sure your annotations include enough context that someone who has never read the text would be able to understand it. In 12 months time when you’re studying for the HSC, you won’t remember anything about your Common Module texts.
  3. Once you have a full bank of quotes, and fully fleshed out analysis, you can start drafting paragraphs (and eventually essays/extended responses)
  4. Once you receive marks from internal assessments, seek out feedback to apply to your notes and essay while it’s still fresh in your head. Don’t leave it until just before the final exam.

Essay Writing

  2. Quality beats quantity, but you have to have quantity in order to have quality
    • Basically, both are important
  3. Don’t feel obliged to agree with a stimulus statement — you are free to disagree and explain why you disagree if you can back up your argument with sufficient evidence, reasoning and logic.
  4. Learn to signpost
  • Make it explicit to the marker that you are engaging and answering the question
  • The easiest technique for this is to include words from the question and stimulus in the thesis, and wherever possible in throughout your essay
  1. In an introduction, you must: set down a thesis in response to the question, introduce the texts (with dates) as well as their contexts and show how they are relevant to the question, extrapolate the terms of the question in terms of your text and its ideas and comment on the function of the text in terms of the question.
  2. Be as specific as possible. Avoid broad, sweeping statements - this screams pre-rehearsed response.
  3. Master the 5-step formula to analysis: Content of evidence, evidence, technique, effect of technique, link
  • This is called CETAL, PETAL, STEAL, etc. depending on your school and teacher.
  1. Use words of the question in the thesis statement of each body paragraph (signposting)
  2. A body paragraph should be a progression, where each sentence both relies upon and builds on the sentence that came before it.
  • This won’t happen overnight. You need to do dozens of practice responses in order to get good at this
  1. When discussing the composer constructing the text, use active voice rather than passive voice (for example: “Shakespeare portrays Lear as…” rather than “Lear is portrayed as…”)
  2. In your conclusion, do not introduce any new evidence or points but rather restate your thesis
  3. Add a comment about the value and pertinence (importance) of the module/text(s)/question on contemporary society (without being too controversial or inflammatory)
  4. Avoid excessive jargon (technical terms), and don’t be afraid to split up sentences. The goal is to get as much relevant information across in 40-ish minutes. Aim for clarity and succinctness.
  5. Keep in mind the underlying purpose of each module (the first paragraph of the module description usually gives this away, as well as the module title).
  6. Consider the function of the text - What is its purpose? A discussion of a text’s function in society as a piece of literature designed to illuminate the human experience should be discussed throughout your essay.
  7. Make sure to highlight your own reading and interpretation of the text(s) in order to demonstrate that you have made your own links between the text and contemporary society.

Reading Task

  1. In the short answer section, pay attention to the marks allocation to get an idea of the expected length. Take the number of marks, add 1, and then multiply by 3, to get the approximate expected length (excluding quotes) for short responses.
  2. For this section, the clearer you are, the better. Don’t be afraid to be simple or obvious. This section is more about ticking boxes than actual writing skill.
  3. As a general rule, have one piece of evidence per mark, with analysis.
  4. It’s usually a good idea to discuss the form of the text as a piece of evidence.
  5. Do not start writing until you have finished reading all the texts. Once you finish reading, complete the questions in REVERSE ORDER, so that a) the text you respond to first is fresh in your mind and b) you knock out the highest weighted one first.
  6. For paper 2, stick to 40 minutes MAX per section.

Other Stuff for English

  1. For module C, I recommend having at least one story or discursive composition that is long enough to pass for a 20 mark question — roughly 800-900 words — which can be easily cut down to suit either a 10- or 12-mark Part A response, as well as a Part B response to go with it (roughly 350-450 words).
  2. Be inspired by your module C prescribed texts - borrow ideas, then challenge them. Markers like to see subtle engagement with the texts, and how they have shaped your writing.
  3. Play with the form. Texts don’t have to fit into boxes (imaginative, discursive, persuasive, etc.). Consider what is called ‘hybridity,’ where imaginative and discursive are combined.
  • Any text that your teachers refer to as “social commentary” uses hybridity. It’s also a FANTASTIC word to use in justifications, and you can talk about societal norms and all that other fun stuff.
  1. Help others.


Jesse Caminer
Jesse Caminer
Post Writer

First in NSW English Advanced and English Extension 2, studying Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge University