This is a general guide, not just for Maths students, but for all who disdain walking through the doors for a 9am English lesson knowing that today you will be reciting lines of Shakespeare, analysing one word for three hours, or memorising quotes that you genuinely could not care less about.

My experience with the subject we call English was filled with highs and lows. Sometimes, we would have really interesting philosophical discussions, in which I felt engaged and willing to positively contribute to the general learning atmosphere of the classroom. Other times, it really felt like wading through a river of bullshit, trying to mould the clumps into something resembling a thesis.

If you’re reading this guide, you probably know what I’m talking about. You’ll feel like you understand exactly what’s going on, and then all of a sudden you get distracted playing Run at and you’ve missed an entire sonnet, in which the main character seems to have done a 180 in thought process.

Worse, you just won’t care. You just won’t care whether Hamlet is a serial procrastinator, or whether the context of The Tempest is the most important aspect, or WHY YOU ARE EVEN READING ROMULUS MY FATHER (yes, I did that in my year, thus the pent up aggression).

Here’s the first thing that you’ve just got to accept;

You’re going to have to do English

You’re going to have to get through the year. You’re going to have to write countless essays, short stories, comprehension tasks. We even did listening tasks, speeches, visual representations amongst many other (arguably) unnecessary tasks.

This short guide is going to go over the methods I used to get through the year. A lot of the tips might sound a bit extreme, but I swear to you that I utilised all of them to get through the year. I ended up getting a pretty great mark in the English (Advanced) course: a 95, as well as topping the course in my year. That pissed everyone off; I absolutely disdained the subject, made a complete joke of it, and yet I kept getting good marks. I am a Maths/Science oriented person; I did Extension two Maths, Physics and Chemistry. All I’m saying is to give these tips a go, and take the subject semi-seriously. You’ll be fine; everyone manages to finish the course, why on Earth would you not be able to as well?

  1. Acknowledge that, to some extent, the subject can be a joke. Why not treat it as a joke as well?

I played English like a game. I tried to come up with the strangest ways to approach the subject, so that I didn’t get bored and I thought I was in charge.

English Advanced can be, to a pretty large extent, treated as a formula. Quote goes here, explanation goes there, conclusion pops up somewhere towards the end. But that isn’t enough, that isn’t enough to keep you interested, to make your essay stand out. If you make yourself interested in your essay, you’re going to do better. If you think about your thesis on a Saturday night, weeks before your exam, you’re going to do better.

I didn’t believe any of the crap English tried to teach me at first. Metaphors didn’t mean anything, sibilance was just included to make the sentence sound slightly, slightly stronger. But, as I considered my thesis and main points throughout the year to a greater extent, I really started to get emotionally involved in my essays.


The main reason that I managed to become interested in my thesis and my points was by treating the subject as a joke. Lots of Science/Maths students think themselves above English: I didn’t quite believe that, I just did feel like it was a bit of a waste of time. So I messed with the system.

My thesis, for every single section, was the polar opposite of the standard thesis. For Hamlet, the typical response is “Hamlet’s hamartia was his inaction”, and then various arguments that flow from there. My thesis was that “Hamlet was a highly active, however introspective, individual, whom we should all admire”. Basically, I said he was constantly doing something, albeit different to his foils.

Making your thesis different, either by making it nuanced, specific, or just totally different to everyone else’s, is a way to make yourself interested in the topic and in the area of study. You don’t need to believe it; remember to treat it a little bit like a game. I completely disagreed with my thesis, but I constructed my own truth. You’re putting on a façade, a fake “English professor” jacket that lets you spout bullshit. Convincingly. Never underestimate your ability to aptly spend 5 pages explaining the importance of an idea that you completely disagree with.

To summarise: Make yourself interested in the essays. Come up with a thesis different to everyone else, which allows you to genuinely explore morality/humanity in a way that most students ignore because they just listen to their teachers and write whatever they are told. By being slightly removed from the rest of the class (by just generally not giving a shit), you can get an edge that no other student has.  

  1. But studying for English is long, boring and difficult.

Yeah. Yeah that’s true. Studying for English sucks. But there are methods that make it less arduous and less time consuming, although probably no less boring.

Let’s talk about writing practice essays. That was probably the most difficult type of study I had to do throughout the year, largely because I just didn’t have the focus or patience to spend 40 whole minutes writing out an essay. That’s why, in general, my recommendation is not to do practice essays, at least in one sitting.

Most of my English study consisted of writing ESSAY PLANS. Once you get going writing your essay, it’s easy to just keep writing. The hardest part is starting, and knowing where to start.

By having a fairly comprehensive essay plan, you don’t lose time thinking. You should walk into every essay knowing which two/three themes you’ll be discussing, which quotes you’ll be using, how you’ll be using them etc. Writing out your essay plan over and over again, and making that your study, is my top recommendation if you can’t sit through an entire essay-writing session.

For English, preparation is key. I would seriously recommend having these essay plans ready for each module, and basically knowing them by heart. Following the order of your plan in the exam room will keep you right on track to finishing the essay with the best results possible.

The following is a structure for any essay plan. I hope its useful!

Example essay plan


Write out the first half of the introduction that you will actually write in the exam. It’s important to eventually be able to just smash it out from the get-go, without thinking. Make sure to include the TWO OR THREE THEMES that you will use to build your thesis and answer the question.

The second half of the introduction should be, at least slightly, tailored to the question.

Paragraph one

                      Have your ‘Golden Sentence’ memorised. This is a single, brilliant sentence that summarises your take on the theme.

                     Quote #1. Explanation of Quote #1. Finally, application of Quote #1 to the thesis/question.

                     Quote #2. Explanation of Quote #2. Finally, application of Quote #2 to the thesis/question.

                     Quote #3. Explanation of Quote #3. Finally, application of Quote #3 to the thesis/question.

                     Finally, you put a concluding sentence. This should be tailored for the question, and so doesn’t need to be included in your essay plan.

Paragraph two

                     Have your ‘Golden Sentence’ memorised. This is a single, brilliant sentence that summarises your take on the theme.

                     Quote #1. Explanation of Quote #1. Finally, application of Quote #1 to the thesis/question.

                     Quote #2. Explanation of Quote #2. Finally, application of Quote #2 to the thesis/question.

                     Quote #3. Explanation of Quote #3. Finally, application of Quote #3 to the thesis/question.

                     Finally, you put a concluding sentence. This should be tailored for the question, and so doesn’t need to be included in your essay plan.

Paragraph three

                     Just a quick note; you may not need a third paragraph, depending on how you structure your thesis and themes.

                     Have your ‘Golden Sentence’ memorised. This is a single, brilliant sentence that summarises your take on the theme.

                     Quote #1. Explanation of Quote #1. Finally, application of Quote #1 to the thesis/question.

                     Quote #2. Explanation of Quote #2. Finally, application of Quote #2 to the thesis/question.

                     Quote #3. Explanation of Quote #3. Finally, application of Quote #3 to the thesis/question.

                     Finally, you put a concluding sentence. This should be tailored for the question, and so doesn’t need to be included in your essay plan.


                     Not a bad idea to have some really punchy sentences memorised, but for the most part it’s better to tailor your response to the thesis and question you are addressing.

Quick note: I am not saying you only need 9 quotes. Feel free to throw a few more in that you don’t necessarily go into great depth with. In fact, I would definitely recommend using 10-15 quotes per essay.

Once you’ve written out a few of these, it’s a good idea to type it up and have a finalised essay plan. If you want to expand on the essay plan, including interesting sentences etc. then feel free to. But I honestly think this sort of study is nearly as good as writing a practice essay.

You are going to need to write a practice essay. You’re going to need to write lots of practice essays. However that can be done closer to exam times, whereas this can be done throughout the term. It’s just a less arduous way to study.

In terms of remembering your quotes, I don’t think there’s a sure fire way to easily memorise stuff. I would keep your quotes short and memorable. Make sure every quote you use has a technique in it that you can discuss; there is no point using a content-less quote!

I would (hand)write your themes, and the relevant quotes beneath it. Then just use them as flashcards, memorising them by reading through them, asking people to test you etc. If you have a good understanding of why you’re using the quote (ie. Where it fits into your thesis) and how you’re using the quote (ie. What you are going to say about the quote), it makes it a hell of a lot easier to memorise.

To summarise: Have a very solid essay plan, which is detailed enough such that you know exactly what you are going to write walking into an exam, but short enough such that writing it out a few times to practice is not too arduous. Make sure to use sensible quotes: nothing too long, and nothing that doesn’t add to your thesis.

  1. To memorise or not to memorise, that is the question

Let’s talk about memorisation really quickly. I never tried to memorise my essays, but I promise you that by the end of the year, you’ll basically know most of your essay by heart. That is, if you write exams like I did.

I had my essay plan for each module smashed out about a month before each exam. That wasn’t because I was super prepared: I just genuinely didn’t listen in class, and so I had nothing else to do. When you feel your class in being unproductive, or you’re going through an irrelevant point, make the lesson productive for yourself. You feel superior because you’re not paying attention, and better because you’re doing great work.

Every single exam, I wrote the same essays within the module. Every belonging essay was the same throughout the year, every Frankenstein/Bladerunner essay was the same throughout the year. Literally exactly the same, with an altered sentence here or there to suit the question. I genuinely believe that you can suit ANY thesis that you have prepared to ANY question you can be asked, if you are nimble enough on you feet.

Basically, I never prepared multiple essays because you can always work around a question. However if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, by all means remember two. But by writing out the same one, over and over again, for the entire year, I got to my HSC exam and didn’t even have to think. My brain was switched off, my hand was scratching away, and then the exam was over. For another perspective, check out a great article here!

  1. Make yourself sound smarter than your teacher

This is a real thing I did. I found big words that I liked the sound of. I vaguely learnt what they meant, although not in any particular depth. Then, I used them in my essay.

My teachers absolutely frothed over them.

By having a thesis totally different from everyone else, you already sound bloody smart. You can think for yourself, and maybe your teacher doesn’t quite understand your thesis, but they think to themselves “hmm maybe this student is smarter than me, I can’t mark them down for that!”. To really push yourself over the edge, though, use big words.

My favourite words were vicissitudes and verisimilitude. A google of “Big smart words” yields things like:





You get the idea. For a great guide vis-a-vis (fancy word, look it up) improving your vocabulary, check this out! Write yourself a list, write yourself definition, put them in a sentence in your essay and memorise that sentence. By sounding smarter, teachers will generally look more favourable on you. Since all English essays are marked dependant on whether the teacher has had their cup of coffee that morning or not, having a few extra silver bullets is always helpful.

Share these words on the ATAR notes community! There’s no way anyone will pick up if you’re all using the same smart words; more likely, your HSC markers will just think you’re a brilliantly intelligent year group!

  1. I’ve made your teachers out to sound like utter morons. Mostly, they’re not

Most of your English teachers are actually very intelligent. They’re also great sources of knowledge, even if you have a great quote but you just don’t know what to do with them. Its class discussion that is often not so useful, however if you are developing your thesis, quotes to use etc. I would strongly recommend asking your teacher about it, whether in person or by email. They are there to help you; don’t waste that resource. Ask them to mark draft essays, or even just your essay plan. See what they like, and what they don’t like, because in the end what they say goes. Use them as a resource, like you would use any others: utilise their strengths, avoid their weaknesses.

  1. Finding the perfect related text

The related text I used in my HSC year was The Backwater Gospel, ( a short film I came across on Youtube. I only used one related text, throughout all modules. I would highly recommend doing this, as it minimises what you have to remember, the time you have to spend analysing your related text etc.

You should always use a different medium to your set text. Usually, your set text is a book/play etc. and so a visual medium is the way to go. In that case, a short film is perfect: It’s short, no one has seen it (so no one can contradict your analysis) and usually they’re just cool. Find yourself the perfect related text, and use it for everything. You can’t get marked down for it, and it allows you to spend your time elsewhere.

I think that’s it from me! This guide has gone for way longer than I thought, and there are countless more tips I could add. We have an ATAR notes forum, in which you can get essays marked, ask countless questions and answer other student’s questions. I would seriously recommend heading on over. Elyse, our amazing English forum moderator, will be there to answer your questions properly; if you’d like, I can always drop in for a sarcastic answer J

See you on the forum! If you want some high quality, totally free online tutoring, why don’t you check out my services here?