In HSC English Module A: Textual Conversations and Module B: Close Study of Literature, there are a number of different questions you can be asked to respond to within your exams, with a particularly tricky one being the HSC English stimulus question. 

Students can often feel confused when it comes to stimulus questions.

Do you include the stimulus in your essay as a piece of evidence? Are you supposed to craft an argument around the stimulus question? Do you just refer to the stimulus once and then move on?

Luckily with this guide, we’ll give you an overview of all the different types of questions you may be asked in HSC English Module A and Module B, with a particular focus on HSC English stimulus questions.

So, what are you waiting for? Let’s dive in!

What Will the HSC English Questions Look Like?
How to Break Down Your HSC English Stimulus Question
What Does a Good Thesis Statement Look Like?

What Will the HSC English Questions Look Like?

To answer this question, we can take a look at the three sample questions given in NESA’s sample papers for Module A.

Example A 

You have studied a pair of prescribed texts in Textual Conversations.

 

How has the context of each text influenced your understanding of the intentional connections between them? (20 marks)

Example A is a general question which asks you to put forth your own ideas about what kind of connections are between your texts. 

Example B

 “Never again will a single story be told as though it is the only one.” John Berger

 

To what extent is this statement true in the light of your exploration of Textual Conversations? In your response, make close reference to the pair of prescribed texts that you have studied in Module A. (20 marks)

Example B is called a stimulus questions as it includes a stimulus and asks you to respond to the quote which suggests a theme for your easy.

Example C

 “The house lights dim. The audience quiets. ON THE BIG FLATSCREEN: Jagged yellow lettering on black: THE TEMPEST By William Shakespeare” Margaret Atwood, Hag-Seed.

 

Explain the centrality of the motif of performance in the textual conversation between Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed. In your response, refer to the quotation and your understanding of the prescribed texts.

(20 marks)

Example C asks that you discuss an explicit central theme in both texts, whilst also incorporating a stimulus.

These three questions ultimately show the three different kinds of questions you may be asked in HSC English. 

While there is a range between the different kinds, each of them calls for a response with a clear and original position, an engagement with the question, and a specific response.

Both Examples B and C are forms of stimulus questions you may be asked in HSC English.

How to Break Down Your HSC English Stimulus Question

Step #1: What is it asking you to do?

In order to best tackle the question, look carefully at the keywords, as your response will have to address each of them. 

In particular, look closely at the verbs (explain, analyse, discuss) in the question and if any themes are brought up you must discuss.

If you have a stimulus quote, try and figure out what themes it is touching on, and where these might be reflected in your text.

Step #2: What is my argument?

The best response is the one that will allow you to best meet the demands of the questions. 

In your thesis statement, you should incorporate the languages of the question, while also actually engaging with the keywords in the question.

If you have a stimulus quote, make sure you pay attention to what you are supposed to do with it, e.g. you may be asked to judge the extent to which it is reflected in your text, which is what you will form your argument out of.

For instance, if your question was to judge to what extent the quote ‘Never again will a single story be told as though it is the only one’ is true in light of your texts in Textual Conversations, you may wish to write something like:

‘Margaret Atwood’s novel Hag-Seed demonstrates how ‘Never again will a single story be told as though it is the only one’ through its adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest,’ through the way that it recontextualises a Jacobean tragicomedy into a modern psychological novel.’ 

Keep in mind that whoever marks your work will be reading many responses to the same question, so you want to write something that’s specific and memorable. The above does so, by responding to the question in a way that allows for an investigation into the form of both texts. 

Even if the question itself seems to have a straightforward answer, think about how you might want to give it a fresh perspective. 

This can take the form of discussing a character or portion of the novel which may not immediately come to mind on first reading an answer, or even playing devil’s advocate, and taking a contradicting stance to the one suggested by the question.

Step #3: What evidence is needed to support my argument?

While you may be tempted to throw out everything you know, high-achieving students prepare for a wide amount of different questions by knowing a range of evidence, which they can then select and use for a given question.

It’s good to always have pieces of evidence from the most important scenes or chapters from your text – however, you want to stand out, so don’t choose a piece of evidence that every other person studying your text will have.

Secondly, always choose evidence that actually supports your argument! There’s nothing worse than using quotes or scenes that don’t align with your argument or further it in any way.

You want to always be building your argument, so find pieces of evidence that encapsulate your argument or complement it!

Also, remember if you are told to use a particular quote, you must use it in your response as evidence.

Step #4: How will I structure it?

Additionally, you need to consider how you will ‘break up’ your argument into three different paragraphs.

This will need to be considered depending on the type of question you have been given.

While a question which asks ‘to what extent’ might have three paragraphs of evidence furthering a particular position, with a ‘discuss’ question you might need to consider how to show a range of perspectives on a single issue, within three paragraphs. 

Using these four steps will assist you in knowing how to best respond to a stimulus question!

While it’s obviously impractical to try and break them out mid-exam, try using them for take-home assessments or the questions above. This will prepare you for being able to break down questions within assessments!

What Does a Good Thesis Statement Look Like?

A strong thesis statement should deliver a great first impression to the reader of your essay, and deliver the argument of your essay.

With thesis statements, markers get a sense of whether a student is effectively making a considered argument about their text, or simply describing its aspects.

They’re also useful for you – one way to develop an essay plan is to start with the thesis statement, because it gives your essay its scope and focus. 

A good thesis statement is succinct enough to capture the rest of the essay’s ideas in a single statement, but short enough that it isn’t too complicated to read.

As well as making the markers’ lives easier, it should also be something you can look to if you get stuck elsewhere in your essay.

 A strong thesis statement engages with the question so that it is clear that the thesis is original and hasn’t been prepared earlier and then slightly modified for the purposes of an exam.

It is evidence that the student understands the texts to an extent they can create a convincing argument about them.

Here’s a checklist of things to make sure your thesis statement does:
Does Your Thesis Statement...Yes/No

Show an engagement with the question?

Provide an original statement about the texts?

Deliver an argument, rather than a summary?

Show your understanding of the texts through its specificity?

Lead well into the listing of your arguments?

Below are two potential thesis statements written in response to the stimulus question, Example C. Thesis A shows engagement with the question, but Thesis B does not. 

Example C (20 marks). “The house lights dim. The audience quiets. ON THE BIG FLATSCREEN: Jagged yellow lettering on black: THE TEMPEST By William Shakespeare” Margaret Atwood, Hag-Seed

Explain the centrality of the motif of performance in the textual conversation between Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed. In your response, refer to the quotation and your understanding of the prescribed texts

Thesis A: Within both William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed, while both authors centre the motif of performance, Shakespeare uses it to elevate the conflict of his play while Atwood uses it to explore the inner lives of her characters. 

Thesis B: Authors can use similar concepts for different reasons by writing texts about the same things in different times. 

Thesis B is a weak thesis because it doesn’t say anything particularly analytical about either text, and does not engage with the question in any meaningful way. Instead, it makes a general statement, which might be able to be argued for, but is useless on its own.

While both theses have similar ideas to one another, the Thesis A is specific, engages with the question, and makes an original argument. 

If you’re still struggling with writing a thesis, you can read more about how to write a strong thesis in our article here!

And that wraps up our ultimate guide to responding to HSC English stimulus questions. Good luck!

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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.