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  • Writer's pictureAnqi Teng

4 Things you Need to Do to Study for your HSC English Common Module Prescribed Text

The cover stock image is called: Sad tired frustrated boy sitting at the table with many books and holding paper with word Help. To make sure you don't feel that way about your Common Module Assessment, read on!

1. Key words, but not how your teacher taught you

You read through the syllabus at school, highlighted some words and defined them. That basically ends your relationship with the syllabus at school. After that it's day after day of analysing the text's different sections and listening to the opinions your teacher has to offer you.

That's no where near enough.

Your entire Paper 1 is based on the Common Module Syllabus, every single question arises from one of those key terms that you have highlighted. It's not enough just to sprinkle "collective", "individual", "anomalies", "paradoxes" into your responses. A good response goes deeper.

Pick a key word and write a paragraph of a specific experience which engages with it. Take 10 minutes to really sit down and write out an experience you have had yourself, saw in television, heard from someone else or even just daydreamed about. Detail is the key here. Personal investment is crucial. Make the story speak to you Instead of highlighting "collective and individual experiences", write down an experience you have had with rejection, bullying and ostracism. Write down how peer pressure has affected your life. It is through truly understanding what these abstract words look like in real life that your ideas will deepen and stand out from the 70,000 other students who highlighted the same words on the same syllabus.

2. Identify Key Ideas in Prescribed Text - Specific to the Syllabus Key Words

The internet is amazing. If you google your prescribed text, you will find a lot of resources. There are websites which presents you with stacks of themes on a silver platter and you may become quite excited and confused in the face of information overload. It is important to keep a cool head and remember that you are doing a thematic study on Human Experiences.

Yes that theme @1984fan4eva mentioned on Reddit sounds super cool and really unique. But how does it fit into your point about human experiences? Finding a place to mention it in your essay just because it exists is not a good idea. Your ideas need to be syllabus relevant.

Using the syllabus key words as your home base, do the following:

  1. identify key themes in your text and jot down in dot-points which characters and story arcs relate directly to it

  2. identify which syllabus key word the theme relates to and write a short paragraph on the relationship between the theme and the keywords.


For example:

1984: Theme of Identity and Independence

  • Winston is a normal character with no discerning qualities

  • life in 1984 world is about being the same as everyone else, being the same is they key

  • independent thought is criminal - Newspeak restricts capability to conceive ideas

  • linked to surveillance, people have no freedom to do want they want and if they do the government knows immediately

  • Winston's diary - symbol of identity and free thought, Winston's inciting incident

  • as Winston thinks more, he likes thinking more and he gains more confidence and craves identity more

  • Winston rebels against government and questions O'Brien about what place the government had to deny him his personal opinions

Syllabus Key Word Links: collective vs individual, emotion and qualities

Oceania's collectivist ideology discourages personal identity and independence of thought. The government wants collective experience to be the only experience. The value of individual experiences is not only denied but also criminalised. However Orwell gives Winston the key to independent thought which makes Winston happier. This was to show that independent thought was something humans craved instinctively. Winston's previous existence was unhappy in contrast to the confidence (quality) he gains once he gains a footing on his personal identity.


Try out this method with your own text!

3. Analyse Main Characters - Specific to the Syllabus Key Words

One of the most effective things to do for each character in this module is to draw an experience table.

Construct a table which shows each important experience the character has had in their story-arc. Then identify what arose out of that experience. Specifically, what emotions and qualities arose after the experience. List out their motivations and where they had inconsistent behaviours.


For example:

Here is one line in a character table for Shylock from the Merchant of Venice.


4. Write assertions and your opinions on each of the keywords - these will be your future topic sentences

Once you understand which elements of your prescribed text relates to which specific syllabus keyword, you are ready to start writing assertions.

Assertions (aka argument) are opinions. It is a declaration that a particular thing is the case. It is not a fact and can be disagreed with. When deciding whether or not something is an assertion, ask yourself if someone else might disagree with what you said.


For example:

Fries are yellow. (not an assertion)

Fries are the key to a delicious takeaway meal. (assertion)

After you have your character tables and understand how each character has evolved, think about what the bigger idea behind their character arc was.


For example:

Working once again on our character table on Shylock (Merchant of Venice) for the keywords emotions & qualities.

The assertions that can be derive from this could be:

Social ostracism can give rise to resentment and eventually cruelty.


Repeat this process and come up with as many assertions as you can find in your character tables. These will form the basis of your topic sentences. Preparing like this will help you understand exactly how your text relates to the syllabus and help you adapt your ideas to any HSC question!


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