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Improving your HSC English essay from the 17 range to the 19-20 range

By Mikaela Mariano in HSC
4th of December 2019
HSC English advice

English is one of those subjects that is mandatory for year 11 and year 12 students to undertake. However, it’s not that hard of a subject to smash. In my first and second assignment, I was always getting 17/20 and the feedback I got to improve those marks, was minimal and obscure. After some refinement in how I wrote, my trial marks in an individual essay became 19/20 and 20/20! But there is a distinct difference between the two; the use of a personal voice. Here’s a guide to help improve your english essays from a a 17/20 to a 19-20/20, adaptable for any form of texts in any module studied!


Focus less on structure

This is the most pivotal tip in all of english essays. Yes, it is important to have clear, concise paragraphs that are easily readable, however, English is about creating your own personal voice. Thus, falling out of a “conventional” structure is essential to reaching out to that voice. Personally, this was hard to adapt to, especially since throughout 7-10, I was always taught a specific structure on how to write:

HSC English study tips

Whilst this was useful, it didn’t enable me to connect with my own voice, which is important for Year 11 and Year 12. Let’s look at an example where I used this structure:

One of my body paragraphs from my first assessment, based on George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ and ‘Matrix’. Scored 17/20 for the essay.

HSC English advice

Whilst this was an effective paragraph in outlining the similarities between both texts, the structure of this sounds purely mechanical and too methodical. It is clearly identifiable that I was using the above structure, which, thereby, hinders the development of that personal voice.


So how can I create that ‘Personal Voice’?

1) Learn your texts in regards to the author’s context and paradigms

To do well in english and score those high marks, you need to mainly consider the author’s contextual environment and their contextual influences. For example, in Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’, Orwell’s postmodernist influences were derived from Stalin’s fascist and communist authoritarianism persona, reflected upon the fictional entity, Big Brother – a figure practically structured around its own supposed infallibility. By adding this extra sophistication, you will signal to the marker that you are fully aware of the form of your text, and why the composer has chosen the form of the novel to communicate with the audience. To achieve this, you may consider the following questions:

> How is the author’s/composer’s contextual environment reflected upon the text?
> What are some examples (evidence) in the texts demonstrating the issues that were prominent in the their society? This can be represented through motifs, characters in the story. It could even be important figures at the time
> Why does the author use their techniques?
> How does the composer then make the audience feel, and supplement their narrative?
> How does their contextual environment resonate with us?

Remember each feature, technique, sentence in the texts was an integral yet deliberate compositional choice made from the author. So interrogate their motive behind every technique and analyse it from their intentions of writing it.


2) Integrate your evidence thoroughly

A part of creating your own voice, and scoring those near full or full marks in any english essay, is to holistically integrate your evidence. It is one thing to mention evidence that is relevant to your essay, but it adds another sophisticated layer when you are able to seamlessly establish your evidence consistently, without following a procedural, methodical approach.

Here is an example of one of my paragraphs I wrote for trials, scoring a 20/20 for the essay.

How to write an HSC essay

As seen in the paragraph, I followed an unconventional approach; I did not use the same structure aforementioned, but this let me access that ‘personal voice’. The difference between my 17/20 essay and this 20/20 essay, is that I consistently used evidence from my text as much as I could. Another thing to mention, is that I did not include a technique for every quote used. You don’t always need to add the sentence “The technique of so and so” before introducing the evidence and its perceived importance to show the marker you understand, rather, directly add it into the explanation and evaluation of your paragraph’s theme.


Interpret from a different perspective

In truth, this is harder than the other tips to get used to, but is surely one to use to stand out for the markers. This is about using the same theme, but being able to interpret it differently. To achieve this, you need to be able to know your texts inside out reading it a couple times and doing further research on the text. You could even look at some critic or academic readings to enhance a different perspective! (academia.edu is strongly recommended!). In your text, try to identify any non-linearity use of objects, structures of texts that’s mentioned and draw it to contextual ideas and genre of that text. For example, at the introduction of ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’, it includes “clocks were striking thirteen”. The use of 24 hour clock, unravels military time further reinforcing the connotation of war, corruption and state control in a dystopia, ‘perfect’ society. If you can’t do this, don’t fear! Here are the steps on how I was successful in doing this:

  1. Pick a piece of evidence. This could be dialogue between the character or the character’s introspection, an object (motif or symbol) or the main setting where the story took place.
  2. Analyse the piece of evidence from all points of view. In other words, consider the good connotations and the bad connotations that come with it, and how it relates to the author’s intention. Using the clock example from before, the clock is symbolic in a sense of structure and routine (a good connotation), but also that time can be manipulated, and is symbolic of ordeals at a time in past society (a bad connotation).
  3. Adapt that evidence analysis into your paragraph, “tweak” it a bit to fit the theme of your paragraph.

Once you do this a couple of times, this comes with ease. Being successful in this is the difference between receiving just an A (17/20) to a higher A range (19-20/20).



You’ve probably heard this analogy more than enough times, “the syllabus is your bible”. So treat it like it is! Your syllabus has key words that is handy to use in any English essay. Integrating the terminology into your own essay will show the marker that you do know your syllabus inside out. To do this, look at your syllabus and highlight any terminology that is relevant to the modules studied. What I did, is for each module, on a flash card I wrote down the important words that I highlighted. That way, in preparation for trials and HSC, whenever I wrote an essay, I always had that flash card in front of me and in a way, I was able to memorise those specific words that enhanced my essay.

Following these tips will enhance your English writing, making your essay earn a higher A, and in turn, gain a greater appreciation for your texts. All the best for your English studies!


  • avatar_comment



    thank you so much you saved my life with your english wisdom :’) 10/10 would read your articles again oh holy one

  • avatar_comment



    Thanks Mikaela! This is such a great article, thanks for sharing 🙂👍

  • avatar_comment



    Thank you for sharing this with us