For a lot of people, HSC English is probably one of the most complicated subjects in the HSC.

The focus on deep textual analysis and inter-textual synthesis makes it both an extensive, time-consuming and, at times, difficult experience for many students not well-versed in this sort of learning.

One of the things you’ll need to do with HSC English is analyse various texts in a ‘thoughtful’ manner in order to draw meaning and understanding from core themes and commentaries… But what exactly does this mean?

When it boils down to it, that’s pretty much the question you should be asking of your texts: what does it mean? 

You see, analysing and understanding a text is very much a three step process:

Step 1: Understanding the Topic
Step 2: Focusing your Analysis
Step 3: Engaging with the Text

It’s a pretty ‘DUH’ formula, isn’t it? Well, it is. The problem is that if you’re getting anything less than a Band 6, you’re probably not doing these three steps correctly in analysing your English texts.

So, let’s start off at the top.

Step 1: Understand the Topic and the Question.

Believe it or not, when most HSC students get a text, the first thing they do is analyse. The problem is, what exactly are you looking for when you’re analysing?

Depending on your Area of Study, or what Module you’re doing, you need to understand the syllabus. If you don’t know what that is, there’s your first problem.

You can find the HSC English Syllabus here! If you haven’t got a copy of the syllabus handy, you need to click that link.

The Syllabus usually contains key ideas and themes which are being dealt with in the overall topic. Understanding these will help you understand and analyse your text.

Now your first step is to rewrite key ideas and themes in your own language.

For example, if you were studying Science Fiction, you would need to first understand the sorts of ideas and themes that the genre explores – in this case things like ‘the negatives of scientific advancement’, ‘the detriments of utopian societies’, ‘man’s usurpation of god’. You can find many of these themes in your Syllabus.

If that’s a bit difficult to get your head around, try rewriting each of the key themes and ideas in your own words! For example:

The negatives of scientific advancement ⟶ Why scientific progress is bad

The detriments of utopian societies ⟶ The con’s of a perfect world

Man’s usurpation of god ⟶ Man playing God

It makes it a little bit easier to understand, and as your understanding of these concepts develops, you can start to evolve your vocab with it to reflect exactly what the syllabus says.

Thus, when it comes down to analysing your own texts, you’ll know exactly what to look for.

Step 2: Focus Your Analysis

Once you’ve understood the topic and the question, you can start to analyse.

It’s all about cause and effect: how does this technique give this meaning? The problem with HSC students is that we spend so much time pouring over techniques that we forget why we’re doing it. Which leads us back to our first point: answer the question.

Similarly, if the question on Science Fiction asks you, ‘Explore the ways in which (text) promotes a discussion on man’s usurpation of God’, you probably wouldn’t be answering why scientific advancements are bad.

It’s simple. If you’re not answering the question… you’re not answering the question. 

Thus, when looking for things to analyse in your text, it should be for a reason.

Find a key idea or theme and identify how it’s been communicated in the text through relevant techniques.

If we’re looking at the theme of ‘man playing god’, it would be easier to look at the dude trying to take charge of his own fate through undertaking scientific experiments, because that how ‘man playing god’ has been communicated.

This is much easier than trying to squeeze blood out of a stone with the colour of the drapes being pathetic fallacy, and because of reasons, man thus plays god. Because that’s exactly what HSC students do.

So don’t do that.

The key to it is finding quotes which are relevant to the idea or theme.

Step 3: Engage with the Text

Did you notice that I put an asterisk in the title? Well, this is where it comes into play:

* Do not be lame and look for answers on SparkNotes.

SparkNotes is not only lazy, but uncreative; if you’re doing it, so can 50,000 other HSC students, and if 50,000 other HSC students are writing about the exact same thing you’re writing about, how exactly are you going to stand out?

Protip: You won’t.

When you’ve got your texts, prescribed or related, engaging with it is how you will shine.

Markers can tell if you’ve simply read a summary.

The way you engage with a text changes your writing, as reading a summary will only give a very limited understanding of the text. You see things very uniquely to everyone else – why not communicate that so you can stand out?

By you organically making the correlations between cause and effect, your analysis of the text will be superior to simply reading someone else’s notes.

Whilst this may seem like a general overview, it’s really not. If at any point you waver from this, you will notice that your marks will probably wane.

You don’t need to slog it out for English: what you do need is a framework.

Make yourself a checklist of things to do when analysing a text:

Step 1: Identify a theme/idea
Step 2: Find the evidence
Step 3: Confirm the correlations

And that’s it! Three simple steps to analysing any HSC English text with relative efficiency and efficacy.

I will reiterate: resist the temptation to read a cheap online analysis.

Conducting your own analyses is vastly more beneficial for your short-term understanding of the text as well as your long-term understanding of English as a HSC subject.

Looking for extra help with HSC English?

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When he’s not devouring every book, film and television show he can get his hands on, Jack Theodoulou studies a double degree of Education/Arts majoring in English at the University of Sydney. Previously an instructor of classical guitar, Jack began coaching at Art of Smart in 2015. In his spare time, Jack often finds himself entangled in a love-hate relationship with fiction-writing and a (possibly) unhealthy obsession with video games.