Hsc English Essay Length Words

Choosing HSC subjects can be difficult, and knowing what you’re getting into before you get into it is the best defence against stress and disappointment.

That’s why we asked some of our students some of the big questions they’ve got about Extension 1 English!

1. How important is creative writing?

It’s worth 50% of your HSC exam mark, so it’s pretty important. Unlike Advanced English, Extension does have a fairly proportional focus on analytical and creative writing, and you’ll definitely be developing your creative skills in class. That said though, you really need to focus on building your creative abilities because you’ll have had much ore feedback and practice with your analytical work over the years.

The important thing to remember is that you really can’t just make up a story on the spot with extension English, so you’ll be needing to put lots of effort into planning and developing ideas for your creative. This means rough drafts, editing, getting feedback from your teacher, etc. throughout the year so that by the time you reach exams you’ll be properly prepared, just like you will be for analytical!


2. How many prescribed/related texts will the exam ask for?

It depends on the exam. There have been a few that have asked for specific texts, or a specific number of texts, and these often freak people out because they’re not what you planned for. Truthfully it’s unlikely that your exam will ask for more than 2 prescribed and 2 related texts, but it has been known to happen, so it’s good to be prepared.

The two best things to do in order to make sure you’re safe for your exams is;

  1. Read, analyse and understand all of your prescribed texts.
  2. Learn 2 related texts, but have a backup just in case.

I only followed one of these rules when I did the HSC, and though I didn’t have to use my backup text, having it made me feel a lot safer. What didn’t make me feel safe was going into the exam knowing I was totally blank for one of my prescribed texts because I didn’t actually finish reading it (to this day I never got past page 60 of The Skull Beneath The Skin). So do yourself a favour and don’t be me – read all your texts and have a backup, just in case!


3. How should I be choosing my related texts?

We have an article all about that over here!


4. How long should my essays be?

Short answer? 1200 – 1400 words.

Long answer? As long as you need them to be (within reason). I know that having a set word limit can be useful when it comes to figuring out how much you should or shouldn’t be writing, but a lot of the time that limit doesn’t work for everyone. While 1300 words is about the average, I know some people who could write very concisely and say everything they needed to in a sophisticated 1100 words. I’ve also known people who could write 1500 words without repeating themselves or going off-topic even once! It all depends on the person, how they write and what they’re writing about. Think more about your 1 hour time limit and how much you can write in that time rather than focussing on word limits, but do consider them if you’re going way over or way under.


5. Where can I find past essays and/or creative pieces?

As always BOSTES has your back with this sample answers pack full of past essays and creative pieces! It’s a little older, so not all of the questions/electives will still be in use, but the quality of the writing and they style of answers is still awesome. Plus they also have examples of lower marking answers, so you can see exactly what to avoid in your own writing if you want to be making those top bands.


6. Should my essays be integrated?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! The quickest way to knock marks off your essays is by writing them as if each idea or paragraph exists totally separately to the last. You want your essay to read as a cohesive piece with one central idea that is being argued through different themes, using the texts as examples to prove your point. If you don’t constantly link the stuff you’re talking about, there’s no way your essay is going to read as a smooth, cohesive piece!

Make sure you start trying to integrate your essays from the get-go, and if you’re finding it a little tricky actually sit down with your teacher and talk about how to go about it effectively. It’s also good to hand in any and all practice essays you write to your teacher or classmates for feedback – that way you’ll know if your integration is working and how effectively!


7. How should I structure my essays?

As with any writing there’s always going to be people who like writing essays a certain way, and that’s going to differ from the next person, so there’s no ‘set’ structure that is perfect. The things you waint to aim for however are balance, integration and sophistication, and to do this you need to format your essays well. I’ve found the best way to structure them is as follows;

  • Introduction
  • Context – introduce your texts + their contexts
  • Theme A – discuss the theme in reference to both prescribed texts
  • Theme B – discuss with reference to one prescribed and one related
  • Theme C – discuss with reference to the other prescribed and related
  • Conclusion

This way you’re dealing with 3 long themes paragraphs rather than 6 shorter text paragraphs, plus you’re comparing and contrasting the texts as you talk about them because they’re both in the same paragraph. It’s also good to note the distribution of related and prescribed texts – you can mix this up, but it’s always best to start focused on prescribed and then branch out to related texts. That said, this is based on using two prescribed texts, however you may choose to use three and mix up the distribution a different way.

8. Should I drop Extension 1?

We have an article about that over here!


9. What should I do if I bomb one of my assignments/exams?

Learn from it. It seems obvious, but the best thing to do when you get poor marks is to get a lot of feedback on exactly what you did wrong and then work to improve. One bad mark isn’t the end of the world, and it’s definitely not a reason to give up or drop the unit. Think of it as a learning experience!

The first assignment I ever did for Extension 1 English I barely passed, and it was the worst mark I’d ever received on any English work – safe to say I was devastated. But after I spent a few days feeling sorry for myself I sat down with my teacher and had him walk me through exactly where I went wrong so I could avoid making the same mistakes. I worked on improving the things I had to, and after that I never marked lower than 85% on an Extension exam or assignment. I’m not saying a bad mark will instantly make you improve, but it can be learned from and used as a way of finding out where you need to work harder.


10. Is it much harder than advanced or is it just more work?

Extension 1 is kind of like an Advanced English area of study on steroids. It’s the same kind of content, but you’re learning it at a much faster pace and for a whole year, plus there’s a lot more content and detail to look at. You also need to be doing more advanced and sophisticated analysis, doing work outside of class time and taking a lot of initiative if you want to be achieving awesome marks. So it’s actually a little harder and a fair bit more work (outside of class). That’s not to say that Extension is crazy hard or an unreasonable amount of work, but it is a whole extra unit and it’s seen as an extension subject for a reason. It’s a really rewarding subject though, and if you love English it’s well worth the effort.


Maddison Leach completed her HSC in 2014, achieving an ATAR of 98.00 and Band 6 in all her subjects. Having tutored privately for two years before joining Art of Smart, she enjoys helping students through the academic and other aspects of school life, even though it sometimes makes her feel old. Maddison has had a passion for writing since her early teens, having had several short stories published before joining the world of blogging. She’s currently studying a Bachelor of Design at the University of Technology Sydney and spends most of her time trying not to get caught sketching people on trains.



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Tuesday, 24 Mar 2009

Quality not quantity is the key to 2010 HSC

First published on this site on 23 February 2009 Related entry: 2010 HSC exam and assessment changes Quality rather than quantity is the key message for changes announced today to the 2010 NSW Higher School Certificate. Minister for Education and Training, Ms Verity Firth said HSC students will now be provided with the approximate length expected for their exam essays. "The aim is to encourage students to answer the question in a relevant, organised way, rather than simply write everything they know on a topic," said Ms Firth. "The new recommended lengths will vary depending on the course and the question. "For example, in the HSC Business Studies exam, there are two 20-mark essays. For the 2010 exam, students will be advised that the expected length of each essay is around six writing booklet pages, or approximately 800 words. "In the past, HSC markers have reported that students were writing 20 pages or more per essay - apart from sometimes producing irrelevant answers, this can leave students short of time to complete the whole paper adequately. "However, the suggested length will be advice only and students will not be penalised for answers longer or shorter - all essays will still be marked on their merits. Ms Firth said guidelines are being developed to help students avoid spending unnecessary amounts of time and money on their HSC major works, often to the detriment of their other HSC courses. "For example, there are cases of Design and Technology students providing 20,000 to 40,000 word portfolios for marking in addition to the major design project," she said. "Of course we won't stop passionate young artists and designers from focusing on the work they enjoy the most - the aim here is to let them know they can get high marks without spending a fortune or neglecting their other studies. Ms Firth said multiple choice questions were being introduced in four subjects - Ancient and Modern History (value between 5 to 10 marks), Industrial Technology (10 marks) and Society and Culture (value 8 marks). The value of multiple choice questions will also be increased in eight subjects including Geography, Physics, Chemistry and Biology (up from 15 marks to 20 marks), and Food Technology (up from 10 marks to 20 marks). "Multiple choice questions provide consistency across similar natured exams and give greater ability to test a student's knowledge," said Ms Firth. The other change to the 2010 HSC is increase of the value of the externally marked Society and Culture Personal Interest Project from 30 per cent to 40 per cent, consistent with marks for other subjects' major works. There are no changes to exam lengths, allotted reading times or recommended number of school assessment tasks. Ms Firth said the changes were the result of consultation last year by the Board of Studies. More than 900 submissions were received from individuals and groups representing students, teachers and parents. "The changes can be seen as further improvement to an extremely successful Higher School Certificate, rightly recognised as a leading international secondary school credential. "None of the changes apply to the 2009 Year 11 or Year 12 students. "Further consultation will be undertaken on English, the only mandatory course in the HSC. "As a result, there will be no changes to 2-unit English until 2011 HSC at the earliest. Sample multiple choice questions, school assessment programs and other support materials will be developed and progressively added to the Board of Studies' website this year. The Board will work closely with professional teacher associations to generate these materials for teachers and students.

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