As the only compulsory subject in the HSC, English is pretty darn important. Writing essays seems like all you do throughout the senior years, so by the time HSC rolls around you should be able to smash out an awesome HSC English Essay!
Of course, sometimes things don’t go exactly the way we plan.
Maybe you started studying late, or you never quite understood STEEL, or maybe your teacher’s style of teaching doesn’t quite suit you. Or perhaps you just want some revision!
Whatever it is that’s holding you back from that perfect HSC English Essay – this article is here to fix it in 5 simple steps!
Step 1: Understanding what makes a Band 6 HSC English Essay
Bands are how your HSC exams will be graded – instead of receiving a B+ or a mark out of 100, your exam results will be placed in a specific band. Essentially bands are categories used to identify how well a HSC English Essay fulfils specific criteria. There’s Band 1 through to Band 6, with Band 6 being the highest and most sophisticated band to achieve.
- Band 6 – 90-100 marks
- Band 5 – 80-89 marks
- Band 4 – 70-79 marks
- Band 3 – 60-69 marks
- Band 2 – 50-59 marks
- Band 1 – 0-49 marks
Obviously we’re aiming for a Band 6 here, so the first thing we need to do is check out what’s actually required of us to achieve that mark. The best place to get that kind of info is NESA!
NESA describes the HSC English Essay Band 6 criteria as follows;
“Demonstrates extensive, detailed knowledge, insightful understanding and sophisticated evaluation of the ways meanings are shaped and changed by context, medium of production and the influences that produce different responses to texts. Displays a highly developed ability to describe and analyse a broad range of language forms, features and structures of texts and explain the ways these shape meaning and influence responses in a variety of texts and contexts.
Presents a critical, refined personal response showing highly developed skills in interpretation, analysis, synthesis and evaluation of texts and textual detail. Composes imaginatively, interpretively and critically with sustained precision, flair, originality and sophistication for a variety of audiences, purposes and contexts in order to explore and communicate ideas, information and values.”
Now that is a lot to take in, so let’s break it down into some terms and phrases that actually make sense.
|“Demonstrates extensive, detailed knowledge, insightful understanding and sophisticated evaluation of the ways meanings are shaped and changed by context, medium of production and the influences that produce different responses to texts.”||You show that you have a strong, very detailed understanding of exactly how time and place (context), text types (medium of production) and other influences can shape meaning in a text. You can also evaluate these things (analyse them) in a sophisticated way.|
|“Displays a highly developed ability to describe and analyse a broad range of language forms, features and structures of texts and explain the ways these shape meaning and influence responses in a variety of texts and contexts.“||You show that you are very skilled and practiced at describing and analysing in detail many different text types, literary and visual techniques. You can then explain how they create meanings or ideas in different texts and contexts (time and place).|
|“Presents a critical, refined personal response showing highly developed skills in interpretation, analysis, synthesis and evaluation of texts and textual detail.”||You show that you can write a detailed, sophisticated analytical response with your own, developed ideas. You can effectively analyse and evaluate different texts and literary themes/techniques.|
|“ Composes imaginatively, interpretively and critically with sustained precision, flair, originality and sophistication for a variety of audiences, purposes and contexts in order to explore and communicate ideas, information and values..”||You write sophisticated analytical responses (ignore the imaginatively part for this section) confidently, using your own, detailed original ideas and with strong structure. You’re detailed in answering different questions about different texts, while looking at many different ideas.|
As you can see, the Band 6 is all about sophistication and refinement. Sophistication isn’t only about using fancy words, however, as the criteria points out that your actual ideas and analysis must be detailed and sophisticated as well. Therefore you want to look at different, original ideas, comparing and contrasting your texts in an effective way and structuring your response so that it all flows smoothly.
This basically means that if your HSC English Essay can answer with question with detail and highly sophisticated language and structure, you’ll be able to get a Band 6!
Of course, this only tells you what your finished product needs to be, not how to get there. Luckily, the rest of this article will have you on your way to smashing this criteria out in no time!
Step 2: Use TEE Tables
TEE Tables are based on the middle 3 letters of the STEEL acronym, standing for Technique, Example and Effect. These are essentially the ‘filling’ of your essay body paragraphs, including the evidence that proves your point (your examples and techniques) as well as the points themselves (your analysis).
By creating a TEE Table you pretty much break this section down into an easily filled out set of columns that will build up to a super extensive collection of evidence for your essays.
TEE Tables are mainly useful for preparing for essay writing, as they allow you to get all your info, evidence and analysis down simply in one place. Plus they make it way easier to figure out which quotes or examples are the strongest, or best suited to your essay. That said, they’re also useful for once you’ve finished preparing your essay, as studying off TEE Tables makes it super easy to remember just your key points and quotes (rather than memorising an entire essay!).
So what first? Well, you’ll want to start by downloading our TEE Table Template here, or making your own.
Once you’re ready to start writing you need to focus on the first two columns. Our effect/analysis will come later based on our area of study, topic or question – what we really need to start with is our examples and techniques.
Now that we know the quote we want to use, we need to fill it into our Example column and pick out a technique or two for our Technique column. This is usually pretty simple, as most common techniques (similes, personification, etc.) are fairly easy to spot.
The purpose of your effect/analysis column is to very briefly and simply get down what point or idea you’re proving with the technique and example you’ve already listed. Maybe they give insight to the overall topic you’re studying, or perhaps they’re a bit more niche and highlight an idea that would suit a devil’s advocate answer? Just focus on linking everything back to the point your essay will be making.
Example TEE Table:
Within this TEE table on George Orwell’s 1984, I could make two paragraphs: the first for showing the power of the Party’s propaganda and how it is not total, before discussing in the next paragraph how the rebellion of Winston and Julia is eventually a failure against The Party, despite Winston’s belief.
Generally you’ll want to have around 6 techniques/examples/effects per text, giving you 3 for each paragraph for comparative essay. Of course, think quality over quantity: A great analysis of two examples is stronger than one that adds a third example with little connection to the argument of a paragraph. Still, as you don’t know what your essay question will be, definitely have more analyses than you will need.
Step 3: Playing Devil’s Advocate
This section is optional, because you can write a Band 6 essay using the question exactly as it is, or by simply agreeing with what it’s saying! If that’s what you prefer, then jump down to step 4 – but if you want to know how to give your thesis and essay a real edge, keep reading!
There are a whole bunch of reasons to play devil’s advocate when it comes to responding to an essay, most of which boil down to just not doing what’s expected! You need to remember everyone who does the HSC ends up with the same questions, so putting a twist on it or arguing against it completely can really help set you apart. That said, there are plenty of other reasons to play devil’s advocate too.
For each of the following reasons we’ve included an example statement that may be part of a whole question and how to play devil’s advocate and argue against it!
Reason 1: It sets your essay apart
Reason 2: Markers won’t expect it
Reason 3: You’re creating your own thesis
Reason 4: Your ideas will be more complex
Reason 5: You’re showing a greater understanding of the text
We’ve told you why devil’s advocate essays are great, but we haven’t quite explained how to do it yet. When it comes to developing your own devil’s advocate answer there are a few different ways to go about it based on what and how you like to write, but a few things stay the same as well.
Answer the Question!
The biggest mistake HSC students make when it comes to playing devil’s advocate is forgetting to actually answer the question. This happens in two ways;
- Your thesis becomes too complex and you lose the original point.
- You ignore the question and make a totally irrelevant thesis.
The biggest thing to remember when it comes to playing devil’s advocate is that you still have to answer the question – you’re not ignoring it, just twisting it. This means that no matter what you do the question should always be focussed on the same idea or concept, just looking at it in a different way.
Create a Response
When you’re coming up with your devil’s advocate response there are heaps of ways to go about it, and most of the time it’ll come to you naturally. That said, it’s still good to know the main two categories of devil’s advocate responses; arguing against, creating a new thesis or twisting the question.
Arguing against is simply refusing to agree with the question – this may involve arguing that the statement is wrong, or that’s it’s not always right, or even saying that the complete opposite is true. Twisting the question is more about giving it an edge or different spin by adding an idea, limitation or ‘twist’ to the original question and/or idea. These can take a little longer to think up but they’ll almost always be more complex and encourage you to tackle some tougher concepts as you write your response.
Develop a Thesis
When it comes to playing devil’s advocate you can’t just jump in and start arguing the question because your markers will have no idea what you’re on about. You want to surprise your markers, not confuse them.
The best way to make sure your devil’s advocate ideas get across flawlessly is to develop a really solid thesis for your response. This means coming up with a new statement based on the original question and arguing that statement throughout. Remember, your thesis doesn’t have to be long and complicated (in fact you want to avoid that) it just has to state exactly what point you’re planning to make.
The best way to do this is by following a checklist like the one below;
- What is the original idea/concept?
- How can I argue it differently? (argue against, put a twist on it, etc.)
- How can I turn that into a snappy, succinct thesis?
It’s then just a case of going through and answering each of the questions for yourself!
Example – Devil’s Advocate Theses
Question statement: Discovery is always shocking.
Devil’s advocate thesis: Whether or not a discovery is shocking depends entirely on what is discovered.
Question statement: Not all discoveries are made for the first time.
Devil’s advocate thesis:First discoveries are the most important, even when they aren’t recognised as discoveries.
Question statement: Discovery is a process of careful planning.
Devil’s advocate thesis: The only true discoveries are those that are unplanned.
Step 4: STEEL
STEEL seems to be the structure that can make or break an essay, as paragraphs that use it are always kickass, while those that don’t tend to flop. The thing about STEEL is that it’s so simple, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be using it!
We want to immediately take a stance on the question, so our statement has to show what position we’re taking and hint a bit at how we’re going to go about arguing it
Technique + Example
While this is where you’ll be bringing in your literary techniques, it’s not as simple as listing them off. Try to introduce your technique with the quote that acts as your example, as this makes your response smoother and more sophisticated.
Here’s where you’re going to start talking about just how the techniques and examples you’ve chosen actually reflect your argument. This is the ‘why’ – why you’ve included them, why they’re relevant and why they prove your point.
Now you need to link back to the question as well as the other text if you’re writing a comparative essay.
Of course, STEEL isn’t just about structure – it’s also about content! Without STEEL not only will your paragraphs have lame structure, they may not even have all the info you should be including. When you don’t created structured paragraphs it’s easy to end up with a recount rather than an analysis, where you tell the reader what’s happened in a text, but not why it’s important or what it means.
Check out these two example paragraphs. The first one used no structure, while the second one uses the STEEL structure – which sounds better to you?
“In The Hobbit by Peter Jackson shows that Bilbo feels a sense of belonging in the Shire, because he spends much of the film in his home. In the beginning Bilbo is seen in the Shire, where he appears happy and content, even though he knows a lot about the world outside the Shire. He doesn’t seem to need to leave the place he calls home, because he feels like he belongs there. He wears clothes that look like things in his house, with the same colours and materials, and he is shown doing things in his home, showing he belongs there. This just proves that Bilbo is happy where he is because he feels like he belongs there.”
[S] “The Hobbit looks at how one’s perspective of how they fit into the world can bring about a sense of belonging, as seen through Bilbo’s love of the Shire. [T] Props are used throughout the first few scenes of the film to establish that Bilbo has read widely of the world outside the Shire, [E] shown symbolically through his collection of maps and books on foreign places. [T] The fact that he is so interested in the outside world yet has no desire to leave the Shire clearly demonstrates that he feels he belongs there, and recognises that leaving his home would lead to severe alienation. This sense of connection to his home is cemented in Bilbo’s costuming, his clothes made of materials with the same worn textures and earthy colours that are seen throughout his home, Bag End. [L] Through this a visual link between him and his home is established and proves to the viewer just how connected to it he feels. These techniques are therefore used to demonstrate that while Bilbo is curious in his perspective of the world, he also recognises and is comfortable with where he belongs in it.”
As you can see, the STEEL paragraph has a much better structure, but it also has much better information because we know exactly what to include! Those techniques and examples that are missing from the first paragraph is what really fleshes out the STEEL paragraph, while the analysis is much more advanced because of following the structure!
Step 5: Draft, Rewrite, Polish
Editing is one of those things that literally everyone could benefit from but very few people actually do or do well. The process of actually going over your own work with a critical eye and figuring out how you can improve it helps you in lots of different ways.
For one, editing allows you to improve on the task at hand, be it a class essay, a practice response or just something you’ve written for fun. It also allows you to look at your work critically and identify any issues or weaknesses with your writing and work to fix them. This in turn makes you more aware of where your writing needs improvement and therefore allows you to be more aware of these things and hopefully improve on them in the future.
First Draft – Planning
The quickest route to a lame essay is to just write it off the bat without doing any planning or thinking ahead. While it’s true that some people can just come up with awesome ideas on the spot, you need to do at least a little bit of planning if you want them to come together neatly. Plus planning ahead makes it way easier to actually get started on your essay and can help kick procrastination’s butt!
You can start by reading over the question and creating an essay plan dot-pointing the key elements of what you’re planning to say if your response. You can include everything from what themes you plan to explore, what techniques you’ll analyse, author context, etc., if you think it’s important stick it in there! Because this is the first stage of the essay it doesn’t have to be anywhere near perfect, it’s just about getting your ideas down on the page.
Second Draft – Writing
Now it’s time to start doing the actual writing. You don’t have to worry about getting things perfect, this is all about taking your notes and putting them into an essay format!
That said, this definitely isn’t the time to slack off. You still want to be putting your best foot forward, so make sure to pay attention to things like spelling, grammar and sentence structure. That will just make it easier for you to edit and improve your writing later in the process.
For now you’re aiming to turn dot points into full paragraphs of around 250 words, which can seem like a task and a half. It doesn’t have to be though! By using the STEEL method to turn your notes into an essay you can quickly and easily develop some super awesome body paragraphs and just fit the introduction and conclusion around them.
Third Draft – Editing
It’s time for you to look over your essay with a critical eye and figure out what isn’t working. I’m not saying you need to tear your essay to shreds, but the most important part of editing your essay is being honest, so if something doesn’t sound quite right don’t let it slide.
Generally it’s best to go over and edit your essays in the morning, as your mind will be bright and awake and you’ll be way less likely to miss any silly things. Plus you will have had at least 8 hours away from your essay while you slept, so you’re looking at it with fresh eyes.
When it comes to the actual editing there are lots of ways to do it.
- Read your essay out loud and circle anything that doesn’t sound right
- Use the ‘Review’ feature in Microsoft word to track changes you make
- Go over it with a highlighter and pick out things that need improvement
It’s really up to you how you edit, but the main idea is that you’re picking up on things that need changing or want improvement. Things to pay particular mind of include spelling, grammar, sentence structure and the overall flow of the essay. You should also look out to make sure all your elements of STEEL are coming across, your themes make sense and you’re really answering the question.
Final Version – Polishing
When you’re writing an essay it’s easy to forget that the marker won’t always know everything you know, so you may be leaving out vital information because you already know it. At the same time, you always know exactly what you’re trying to say, but there’s no way of knowing if it’s actually coming across clearly unless you get someone else to read it. That’s why we get peer reviews.
Basically all you have to do if give your edited essay to someone else to read and have them give you feedback on it. Now, if you’re giving it to a tutor, teacher or even a classmate they probably know what they’re looking for, but sometimes the person you give your response to won’t be sure how to review it. For cases like that we’ve put together a handy checklist of things to look out for.
Things for a Peer Reviewer To Note:
- Sentences that are too long, too wordy or don’t flow well
- Overt repetition of words/phrases/ideas and rambling
- Poor spelling/grammar
- Text titles not underlined, quotes not in italics
- Lack of quotes/literary techniques
- A lack of coherence, which means your sentences don’t ‘flow’ well together.
- Paragraphs that seem much longer/shorter than 250 words
- Anything that doesn’t make sense (sentences, phrases, etc.)
- Doesn’t seem to answer the question
Once you’ve had your response peer reviewed it’s time to go back in one final time and make any last changes to your essay. You probably won’t have as many things to change, as you will have already done some awesome editing in the last section.
And there you have it! Our full-on, kick-ass guide to smashing out the Band 6 English Essay you know you can write! We have tons more articles on different English related topics, from our English FAQ’s (Standard, Advanced and Extension) to tackling HSC Unseen Texts, we cover just about everything. So there’s no excuse – get reading, get writing, and be the best HSC English student you can be!
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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.
Cameron Croese completed his HSC in 2013, earning first place in his cohort in Advanced English, Extension English 1, and Extension English 2. Privately tutoring throughout his university career as an English and Education student, he enjoys helping his students at Art of Smart understand, write well on, and enjoy their texts, as well as assisting with other aspects of school life. He is a contributing editor to his student magazine, in which he has had reviews, feature articles, and short stories published.