Thoughts on English Extension HSC Exam 2020
by Tegan Schetrumpf, publised 23 November 2020
Most Extension 1 students are criminally underprepared for the HSC Exam. Schools often show them few or no example papers, set very few in-class exams, and don’t set assessments that require students to write the full essay format the HSC will require—that is, an essay that juggles one theorist, two prescribed texts and one to two additional related texts.
It is little wonder that many Extension 1 students get all the way to the Trials without much sense of what NESA requires them to do.
Adding to this problem is the fact that exam structure for Extension 1 English is notoriously fluid—the paper is made up of Part 1: Literary Worlds, and Part 2: Elective, where the elective requires the more serious essay response—and that’s where the certainty ends. Part 1 is often based on some sort of unseen text, but that could be anything from a) stimulus for a creative story b) unseen texts on which to write short answer comprehension responses c) unseen texts on which to write an essay d) a hybrid creative-analytical text, like an imagined foreword for a prescribed text, or a speech for the prescribed text’s book launch, or e) some division of the 25 marks that asks for more than one of the above.
Worse, the requirements of the New HSC Extension English rubric are not as clear as they could have been—while the 2018 overhaul to the Advanced and Standard syllabuses have been thoughtful and practical in improving both study experience and skill-building required from students, the Extension 1 syllabus has actually gone backwards, in my opinion. Where we once had neat genre, context and structure frameworks for study, now we have the nebulous ‘Worlds’ concept—is it a context essay? A text-type convention essay? A thematic essay? There is also the problem that some electives are stacked with amazing texts and philosophical ideas, while others are left intellectual paupers.
Despite these general criticisms of the New Extension 1 English exam, the 2020 iteration of the paper wasn’t so bad. Part 1 had three unseen texts about the theme of ‘Literary Worlds’ and asked students to use two of them to write a comparative essay on a very vanilla question: ‘Compare how the construction of literary worlds offers you new insights.’ Part 2 asked one very general question that all electives studied had to address: ‘composers construct texts that interrogate contextual values’ stating that when we read them, we are ‘positioned to consider the complexity of the world.’
Ironically, students who have been trained to think in terms of elective-based essay questions often do poorly on this more general kind of question as you need to write an introduction that ‘sets up’ the answer—responding to 1) the question, 2) the module rubric, 3) the elective rubric, and 4) establishing a logical link between them. Then, students must narrow further with a theorist framework, and connect all this to their prescribed texts—which can make for a chunky introduction. The best advice here is, as always, to practice a range of question types.
If you’re doing Extension 1 English, it means you’re capable of independent work and research, but my advice is, so long as the vagaries of the 2018 rubric reign, make sure you’ve got a really good teacher or tutor who can lead you through the wilderness and familiarise you with the HSC exam requirements.