Posts Tagged ‘study’

Getting back into it

Hopefully you’ve spent the summer break productively, reading ahead in your texts and related material, and completing a veritable feast of practice exams with which to feed your English teacher. (Sorry teachers, I hope you’ve had a good break too). If, however, the thought of a book or any kind of writing failed to enter your relaxed holiday brain, don’t despair, it’s not too late.

Step One

Make a study plan and stick to it. The best way to make a workable plan is to be realistic. Don’t say that you’re going to study for four hours every evening when, in the past, you’ve spent most of that time with friends or on xbox live. Do mix things up. Studies have shown that students retain more information if they regularly switch between subjects. So rather than working on English for two hours at a time, cut it down to twenty minutes and intercut it with Maths or PDHPE.

Step Two

Summarise, refine, rewrite. The first part of each study session should consist of revising what you have done in class that day. Take a highlighter and annotate significant points from the lesson. Copy these points out and expand on them: how will they be useful to you? Make connections between what you have learned and knowledge you already possessed. This might mean annotating or making new copies of previous notes or reorganising ideas into visual formats, such as mindmaps or flow charts.

Step Three

Practice exam responses. This breaks the twenty minute rule above if you’re undertaking a section (forty minutes) or a whole exam (two hours); however, you can improve your exam technique by tackling questions as five minute essay plans, five minute paragraphs, or ten minute pages. Change it up by using an essay question as stimulus for a creative response or by experimenting with writing from different perspectives. One way to really test your interpretation of a text is to write a response arguing the opposite, or an alternate viewpoint.

Step Four

Revise consistently. If you completed the Area of Study in Term 4, 2012 and you’re now into Module A, ensure that a significant portion of your study time is spent revising and practising Area of Study. Once you move into Module B, keep practising both AoS and Module A. This might sound like an exponential increase in work but once you’ve refined your ideas sufficiently and completed each module, the only addition will be practice responses.

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Trial Feedback

It’s important to use the feedback you received on your Trial HSC responses to improve your HSC results. Here are some tips from a workshop I ran last week for Year 12s.

And the video…

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Everything is a test

So says Tiffany Aching of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and it’s certainly true of the HSC. Most students, while realising this, fail to wonder what exactly it is they’re being tested on.

The main skill you’re asked to demonstrate in HSC English is your ability to argue a thesis, using evidence, in a logical and structured manner. Let’s break that down a little:

ARGUE means to give reasons in favour of an idea, particularly for the purpose of persuading someone to agree with you.

THESIS is the core of your argument, your main point, your one sentence answer to the question.

EVIDENCE is your proof from the texts: quotes, descriptions, techniques.

LOGICAL is based on your links, your explanations that make the connection between your evidence and your thesis.

STRUCTURED refers to not only your essay structure (sentences, paragraphs etc) but also the framework within which you’re writing: the module.

If you can get on top of these elements, you are on your way to success in the HSC.


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Study Smart

Now that we’re back into the swing of the HSC, it’s time to take a look at how you study. I’m not saying you need to study more (although that’s probably true for some of you), just that you need to use whatever study time you do have as efficiently as possible. I’m going to start with some of the time management mistakes I’ve seen students make and explain what you should be doing instead.

Reading the text before reading the rubric

Getting a head start on your reading over the summer break is a great idea; however, it is important to keep in mind that, with the exception of Module B, HSC English (both Advanced and Standard) isn’t about the text. Module A is about comparing contexts, Module C is about either Conflicting Perspectives or History and Memory (depending on your elective) and the Area of Study is, of course, all about belonging. It’s the same story in Standard, where Module A is Distinctively Visual or Distinctive Voices and Module C focuses either on the idea of the Global Village or Into the World. The point is that approaching a text without understanding the framework within which you’ll be studying it is a waste of time. The module rubric is the most important piece of reading for each module. Study it first and return to it often.

Doing work at home that you should have/could have done in class

I have seen this many times: students who faff around in class and then end up with too much homework and find it difficult to catch up. This is also the kind of student that a teacher can wind up resenting if they also ask for extra help outside of class time. Treat the HSC like a job. When you’re in class, you’re at work, so work. The pay is improved results. Really smart students can sometimes do a little extra. If you finish early, rather than distracting your friends, add to your notes, ask a question, read, or write in your journal.

Failing to ask for clarification

This is a classic, particularly when it comes to assessment tasks. Student glances at task information sheet, gets a general idea of what it’s about, goes home all enthusiastic, completes task (doesn’t hand in draft) and gets a terrible mark because they’ve done the wrong thing or not met the requirments of the task. Before you get started, make sure you understand what’s required and why. This goes for class tasks, homework, and assessment tasks. Getting to know the module rubric and the outcomes for your course will also help you to clarify and understand what is required for each task.

Focusing on the core text instead of the concept

This is related to the first point and it’s mostly a problem in the Area of Study. Think about it and do the maths. Belonging is the key idea in all three sections of Paper One. Doing well in this paper is dependent on developing clear definitions and useful ideas about this concept. Your core text is one half (assuming you’re using one related text) of one section of Paper One. You should spend the same amount of time on your related text(s) as you do on the core text – when you’re reading, taking notes, making connections etc – and less time on the core text than on creative writing or short answers. It’s pretty simple, work out the marks its worth and spend your time accordingly.

Making irrelevant notes

This tends to be a consequence of the first mistake. If you don’t know the framework within which you’re studying, you’re liable to make a lot of notes that are not relevant to HSC English. If a point that you’re making or a paragraph that you’re writing, doesn’t contain a key word from the module rubric (or a synonym/antonym for a key word) then you shouldn’t be writing it. Use the key words you’ve identified from the rubric as organisers or subheadings and you can pretty easily avoid this one.

Making notes when you should be doing practice responses

There comes a point in each module when the time for making notes is over. This point is usually just after you submit your internal assessment for it. Once that’s done you should pare back your notes, file them away and get started on practice responses. The only reason to add to your notes after this is in response to specific feedback on your practice responses from a teacher or tutor, to fill in gaps, add quotes or delete unconvincing points. If you’re still making notes rather than doing practice responses by the time Trials arrive, you’re in trouble.

Failing to seek feedback on practice responses

Writing practice responses is great and it has inherent value: doing anything will generally make you better at doing that thing; however, if you’re not submitting your responses to a teacher, a tutor, an online marking service, or even just a friend or family member, you’re wasting your time. Get feedback, think about it and respond to it in a positive way.

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How Much Should I Study?

This is a tough question and it depends a lot on the individual student. I did nothing but study in Year 12, while my husband (who, to be fair, completed his studies in a different system) cruised through on the minimum and we ended up with roughly similar results.

I should add that studying that much did not make me very happy and that you need to acknowledge that you have other priorities in life. I’ve known senior students who had responsibilities outside of the classroom ranging from part time jobs and romantic relationships to working almost full time in a family business or being the primary carer for a sick parent.

The following is a rough guide. You need to work out how much time you have to spend and what kind of result you want. You should also look at my upcoming post on how to study smarter.

The indicative number of hours for English (Advanced or Standard) is 120. That means that over the four terms of the HSC, you should spend roughly 120 hours sitting in English class.

My advice is try for one hour of work outside of class for every hour that you’re in it. That sounds like a lot, I know; but if you’re smart about it, it means treating the HSC like a full time job and it can prevent assessment-hopping and the night-before panic that is endemic in HSC students. Yes, there will still be assessment pile-ups at certain times of each term, so make sure you give yourself a break afterwards. Making the time and using it well right from the beginning of the year will mean less stress around exam time.

Suggestions to find more time:

  • use free periods for studying, not socialising (or form a study group and do a little of both)
  • work in the library after school, even if it’s just for an hour
  • if you can, quit your after school job, or cut back your hourse (I recognise this isn’t possible for all students)
  • if you can, cut back time spent on time-consuming co-curricular sports (unless this is your downtime)
  • if you can, limit the number of subjects you’re doing (YOU SHOULD CONSULT WITH PARENTS/TEACHERS/ADVISORS ABOUT THIS ONE) I think it’s better to do a few things really well rather than overloading yourself with the promise of a “safety net” (AGAIN, THIS IS JUST MY OPINION)
  • ration time consuming recreational activities like video games – set an alarm to tell you when it’s time to turn off the xbox or log out of WoW
  • use those in-between moments in a smart way: catch the bus to school? crank up some educational podcasts on your iPod (list forthcoming in future post); always waiting for friends or parents? carry one text book with you and give it a quick reread rather than playing Angry Birds on your phone

The most important thing is to be realistic. You’re old enough and have been a student long enough to have at least some sense of what kind of student you are. If you know you need a break after twenty minutes, program one in; if you know you’re not going to study on Saturday because of sporting commitments, find the time on Sunday. Don’t be too hard on yourself either. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t.

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So you’ve done the Trial HSC, your papers have been marked and returned to you. You have moved up or down in the rankings (or you’ve remained static). You’re either joyous or in despair.

What do you do now?

Hold onto those trial papers. Grab a sheet or two of paper and rule up four columns. The first two columns should be skinny, 2-3 cm wide, and the second two should be wide. Title the columns as follows:

  1. Section
  2. Mark
  3. Things I did well
  4. Things to improve

Start with Paper 1 Section 1. Write P1S1 in the first column and your mark out of 15 in the second column. Then read over the mark sheet and your paper for comments. List the positives in dot point form in the third column and the negatives in the fourth. It should end up looking something like this:

Section Mark Things I did well Things to improve
P1S1 11
  • Identifying poetic techniques
  • Answering the question
  • Using quotes
  • Identifying visual techniques

Rule off that row when you’re done and do the same things for Sections 2 and 3; then start on Paper 2.

When you’ve got comments down for each section, read over your table. Grab a highlighter and highlight any comment that appears more than once. For example, you may not have quoted enough in Section 1, Section 3 and Module C. It can be trickier for Section 2; however, if a Section 1 comment was that you didn’t identify sufficient literary techniques and a Section 2 comment was that you didn’t use enough literary techniques, count that as a double comment because identifying and employing are two sides of the one skill.

Once you’ve finished analysing and highlighting, make a to-do list. This list may include filling in gaps in your summaries and notes, practising a particular skill, or memorising quotes. Example:

To Do

  • Memorise more quotes from Hamlet
  • Add film techniques to summary of Blade Runner
  • Learn more visual techniques
  • Practise writing integrated paragraphs

Turn this list into an action plan and plug it into your study schedule.


  • watch youtube clips of Hamlet’s soliloquies, read along
  • re-read Mrs Langford’s Blade Runner viewing log and add film techniques to notes


  • write 3X ten-minute paragraphs for Belonging, submit to English teacher for feedback
  • review list of visual techniques from glossary


Note: If your Trial HSC papers don’t have much in the way of comments on them, give them to your English teacher or tutor and ask for more detailed feedback.


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The HSC is an endurance event and the Trials are the last corner before the finish line. Most students probably have at least one internal assessment (my guess is for Module C) remaining but, for the other modules and the AoS, all that’s left is two exam responses: the Trials and the HSC. Studying at this stage should consist firstly, of making summaries and, secondly, of writing practice responses.

The first part of any summary should be an annotated copy of the module rubric. You can use key words from the rubric or the ETA’s aspects of belonging as subheadings. Choose the ones that are relevant to your texts, but make sure that you have a good range to work with. Under the subheadings, list quotes from your texts (both prescribed and related) with an analysis of the techniques and an explanation of how the quote/technique relate to the aspect of belonging.

For example:

belonging in historical contexts

“beauty” and “truth” in ‘I died for beauty’ by Emily Dickinson are literary allusions to the Romantic poet, John Keats. This connects the persona, who feels isolated from her own context, to a tradition of poets.

“the night of Europe” is Primo Levi’s metaphor for the spread of fascism in his own historical context. He feels isolated because he is Jewish but finds a sense of belonging through his “comradeship” with Sandro. This term is used specifically for its political connotations, as the communist Sandro is an antidote to the otherwise pervasive fascism.

A simpler way to approach this would be:

belonging in historical contexts

‘I died for beauty’ – ED. “beauty” “truth” – literary allusion to Keats. Belonging to poetic tradition.

‘Iron’ – Primo Levi. “night of Europe” – metaphor for fascism. “comradeship” – political connotations. Belonging through friendship.


belonging to place

‘I had been hungry all the years’ – ED. “Nature’s dining room” – personifiction – persona feels more at home with nature than in human society.

‘Iron’ – PL.  “a new communion with the earth and sky” – biblical allusion – similar to but also contrasting with ED. Primo and Sandro belong in the mountains, away from the politics.

Even thought the BOS seems to be moving towards specifying ONE related text in the Area of Study response, it is worthwhile having at least TWO thoroughly prepared. Your summary should be around three pages long. The real value of a summary lies in the making of it but it can also be a kind of security blanket, something for you to clutch onto the night before an exam.

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