So, you’ve picked up an extension class which requires you to write a major work? Congratulations! A major work in the Humanities – in my case it was History Extension – is a highly rewarding part of any HSC year. It allows you to become an expert in any topic of your choosing and prepare you for the workload of university, where 2500+ word essays and copious amounts of research are not uncommon.
Extension subjects are in fact a great way to prepare you for the uni experience, as the work you are required to put in externally in terms of research, reading, and writing about more theoretical concepts gives you a head start at these skills. From my own experiences during the HSC, alongside later experiences of completing similar projects at uni, I’ll give you my top four tips for making the most out of your major work!
When trying to brainstorm potential topics, see if you can pick a more niche topic! While there is nothing wrong with attempting a tried and true area of research within your discipline, it can be harder to maximise your marks without arguing a more original take. Think about it – your teachers have probably marked lots of these kinds of essays and will value one especially if it is coming from a more obscure topic or, if not, at least with a particularly hot take.
My advice would be to cover a subject area you have not already studied in class – this way, you are less likely to burn out and get sick of the content (and your markers will probably appreciate the fresh topic too!). You can even choose a topic related to sections of the HSC syllabus that your school doesn’t cover. There may be a particular module or option on the syllabus that you wish you’d had the chance to study in class.
Following on from the previous point, once you have got an idea of what you would like to study, it is imperative that you search for quality sources to build your argument off of. Some more accessible places to start collating information (even just to refine your topic) if you are stuck include YouTube, Reddit, your podcast app, and your local bookstore – even skimming through a few books can help you come up with ideas!
While these are all helpful, especially for preliminary research and getting background knowledge, it’s probably a good idea to invest in library memberships. Uni libraries are a good option, as they are particularly extensive, containing an extremely diverse range of resources, the majority of which are available online, and are reasonably easy to navigate. It’s a good idea to ask an older sibling or anyone else you might know at uni for their details to log in online and save money!
It can be pretty daunting to attempt your first major project of this scale, but don’t let this put you off! I could go on a long tangent about managing you time well, but none of this will really make the project seem any less daunting. Figure out roughly how many arguments you want to make (this will also help you when structuring your research notes), as well as how many paragraphs they will take to write. Split your word count between these accordingly, remembering to leave room for an introduction and conclusion of course!
For example, for my History Extension major work, which had a word count of 2,500, I allotted 500 words to each of my four body paragraphs, and left the remaining 500 to split between my introduction and conclusion. Suddenly, instead of having to write 2,500 words, I only had to write a ~300 word intro, four ~500 word paragraphs, and finally a ~200 word conclusion over an entire year. Much less overwhelming!
I couldn’t NOT mention this piece of advice, as it is so incredibly important – your major work needs to have a sense of cohesion which can only be achieved when you put forward a strong and decisive argument to answer a research question which you yourself have to design! It is for this reason that many students will opt to work backwards, writing their body paragraphs first to get a feel for the essay before even considering how they will tackle their introduction and research question.
Once you have gotten all of your work down, a good trick that my History Extension teacher taught me to check the flow of your essay, as well as whether or not you have answered your research question properly, is to sit someone down to read your essay (minus the question) and have them try and guess what your question is! The closer they guess, the more likely it is you have the right question to suit your essay.
With this advice I wish you all good luck getting those major works done! Try to make the most of this process and treat any mistakes as a learning experience for what is to come later!