A Student’s Guide to Surviving HSC Society & Culture

By Olivia Widjaja in HSC
16th of May 2018
HSC Society & Culture

Olivia is a current Year 12 student. For all things HSC Society & Culture, check this out!

HSC Society & Culture is sometimes dismissed as an ‘easy’ subject, considering how the essays are worth 15 marks, in comparison to the 20-mark and 25-mark essays you have to write in other subjects. However, don’t underestimate the difficulty of Society & Culture, considering how you have to flesh out the definitions of the SAC concepts and work on your PIP throughout the year. So how do you survive in HSC Society & Culture?


Using the Syllabus to Your Advantage

Just like the other subjects, the syllabus is extremely important to help you understand what content you will be going through and any important ideas and definitions you need to know. The syllabus for other subjects usually tells you what content you’ll need to know, but the HSC Society & Culture syllabus gives you more than that. Not only do they tell you what content you’re expected to know, they give you the glossary of key terms that you should know for each depth study and overall, and a thorough list on how to be a more socially and culturally literate person. Take advantage of these key terms and definitions because they’re important when you have to apply them in real-life situations in multiple choice and short answer.

Furthermore, they tell you the two types of research methods and give you a list of what methods belong in qualitative or quantitative. The types of research methods may seem easy but don’t underestimate the difficulty of these types of questions because the multiple choice can easily offer options that can arguably be correct but you must choose the ‘most correct’ answer.

Know these key terms and definitions really well. Personally, I find the hardest past of HSC Society & Culture is to be able to flesh out these key terms into paragraphs and finding the perfect example. Plus, these SAC concepts need to be applied to your PIP as well.


Short Answer Responses

When approaching short answer responses, it’s best to divide your response into two paragraphs: an ‘introduction’ and a discussion. It’s difficult to describe what you need to do in the first paragraph because it’s a combination of an explanation of the key idea in the question and a bit of a discussion on how this idea relates to the depth study. This approach is generally applicable to questions where it addresses two key ideas.

HSC Society & Culture

An example of this is Question 11 from the 2017 HSC Paper, where it states: ‘For a country you have studied, apply a social change theory to explain change in one of the following aspects: beliefs, values and lifestyles; education; family and population; gender roles and the status of men and women; and the legal system and political processes.’ Considering how this question requires you to apply a social change theory, the way you could approach this question is:

Paragraph 1: Explain your chosen social change theory in three or four sentences.

Paragraph 2: Apply the theory to one of the listed aspects in at least five sentences.

However, questions that ask you to relate a concept to a situation will most likely require you to have two paragraphs:


Question: How do traditions and culture influence gender roles in ONE belief system or ideology?

Paragraph 1: Small explanation of how the concept relates to one aspect in real life.

Example: Gender roles in Buddhism are heavily influenced by tradition and culture due to its adaptable nature. Since most of Buddhist values and beliefs and left open to interpretation due to their belief that individuals are responsible for their own actions, Buddhism is capable of adapting to different cultures, thus resulting in slight variations in different countries. An example of this is the differing role of women. Traditionally, the Buddha stated that women are capable of reaching enlightenment. However, cultural values alter this value. In Theravada Buddhism, women are not allowed to be ordained. Instead, men are able to take their vows and be ordained as monks to reach enlightenment for women and the laity. Nevertheless, due to the varying Buddhist traditions, the enforcement of gender roles differ; my experiences in Nan Tien Temple indicates the importance of women as the nuns are responsible for maintaining the temple, thus emphasising the significant role of women in Buddhism due to the combination of the Buddha’s teachings in relation to women and the influence of western society.


Paragraph 2: Discussion of how the concept relates a different real life situation.

Example: Globalisation is also used to propagate its culture, influencing gender roles within Buddhism. Due to the increasing fascination towards Buddhism in the west, women are starting to become more involved in the monastic life due to their desire to follow the Buddha’s footsteps. As a result, there is an increase in the number of women achieving more significant roles. An example of this is Abbess Blanche Hartman, the first woman to achieve a position of high authority in San Francisco Zen Centre. Since the west are conscious over the role of women in all aspects of society, Abbess Hartman encountered an issue whether her title would be ‘abbot’ or ‘abbess’; on one side, the title ‘abbot’ would allow her to achieve equality with other abbots. However, her title as ‘Abbot Hartman’ would be misleading due to the ambiguity of her gender, thus her decision to use her ‘abbess’ title. This debate illustrates the complex role of women in Buddhism due to the conflicting nature between the Buddha’s teachings and the traditional idea of women being unable to achieve positions of higher authority, hence emphasising the idea of western values influencing gender roles in Buddhism.


Disclaimer: This response is typed and not completed in exam conditions. The length of this response may be cut down in exam conditions. However, my teacher gave me full marks for this response.

Notice how I showed the relationship between gender roles and traditions and culture in the first paragraph and did a more extended discussion on the relationship between the two aspects in the second paragraph. It really depends on how you want to approach the different types of questions.

HSC Society & Culture


Essay Writing

Writing essays in HSC Society & Culture, just like in other Humanities subjects, follows the PEEL structure. The difference is that your thesis varies slightly. The difficult thing about SAC essays is that the verbs differ from ‘assess’, ‘evaluate’ and ‘examine.’ Take note of the differences between these verbs because you can easily get off-track. For example, a lot of students generally use ‘assess’ and ‘evaluate’ interchangeably but the main difference between these terms is that ‘evaluate’ requires you to make a judgement based on a criterion. Your first sentence should be answering the question – in the ‘assess’ or ‘evaluate’ instance, your judgement should be in your first sentence. Put simply, remember when you were in primary school and the teachers asked you to write in full sentences by including key terms from the question? This is how you should write the first sentence – of course, be a bit more sophisticated with your wording and include terminology if applicable. As for the rest of the introduction, I generally follow the ‘one sentence per paragraph’ structure and reinforce my thesis.

Another difficulty in writing essays in using the most appropriate example. Your examples can be a variety of things: your case study, a scene from a film (preferably one you studied), contemporary issues or even your experiences. As long as you can apply a SAC concept to these examples, you should be able to link your evidence to your topic sentence and answer the question. My teacher tends to look favourably on the students who use personal experience since HSC Society & Culture is all about combining personal experience and public knowledge. However, this does not mean you should be writing a biography – only use your personal experience when appropriate. For example, my school visited Nan Tien Temple for our Belief Systems and Ideologies camp and we used that as an example in our essays. It’s appropriate and fits with the social and cultural literacy.


Personal Interest Project

A lot of students dread the PIP – it’s long, requires a lot of effort and it’s something you can’t do in one night. It’s also easy to fall behind and get extremely overwhelming. Organisation is key when starting your PIP. A timeline is really important to keep you on track. Use this as a way to set weekly goals and make sure you complete them. Make sure your goals are small and achievable – the project is already large so don’t stress yourself even more by setting yourself unrealistic goals. Set something simple such as annotating five secondary sources. Doable and helps you get the job done.

When researching, don’t forget to take notes and date and title them! This is extremely important when you’re writing your annotated bibliography since it helps you reflect on how useful the source is or how valid the information is in comparison with your other sources. Furthermore, when you’re writing your PIP chapters, it makes things easier when you have your information in dot points so you can easily put it into your own sentences. Plus, quoting makes it easier since you don’t have to dig through your list of sources since your notes are dated and titled.

HSC Society & Culture

Writing PIP chapters can sound overwhelming to many. Personally, it took me three weeks to start drafting my first PIP. Start off your PIP chapters by planning out what you want to discuss in all of your chapters; for the sake of simplicity, I will be dividing my PIP into three chapters to show the past, present and future component. The easiest way to satisfy these three components is to come up with a focus question that fits under the three chapters. For example, in my first chapter, I discussed how interracial marriage was viewed in the past and explained the issues interracial couples experienced and the reasons as to why intermarriage rates increased. After you’ve come up with a focus question, flick through your research notes to find what ideas answer your question. These ideas will become the basis for your paragraphs. Make sure your paragraphs are set out in a logical order to make your chapter flow better.

The difficult part in writing PIP chapters is that there’s no specific structure – it’s a combination of a report and an essay. Taking your focus question into consideration, your first paragraph should be like your introduction for an essay – state your stance and support this with the ideas you have found through your research. As for writing the remainder of your chapter, I found it helpful to have my chapter structure and research notes open while I ‘free-write.’ I use the word ‘free-write’ loosely because you have a plan. Set around 30 minutes and just write – don’t bother going back and re-reading to see if something doesn’t flow as well as you like to. The main point of this exercise is to get all your research into a report/essay format so you can go back and polish it. I found this extremely helpful during my PIP lessons since I tend to overthink. Make sure you’re in an environment where you won’t get distracted; essentially, it’s like writing a personal reflection except the style of writing is formal.


Study Tips

Just like other Humanities subjects, notes are extremely important. My layout for my HSC Society & Culture notes is the exact same as my other Humanities notes: syllabus dot points and have my information in dot point form underneath the syllabus. Considering how key terms is really important, make sure you have the definitions in your notes. You can have them in a glossary format at the beginning of your notes. Another way is to make flash cards, either typed or written. I would suggest colour-coding flash cards so you know what key terms are applicable to which depth study.

Another thing you should include in your study notes is examples. You need strong evidence for your essay so include quotes, statistics or even a summary of a situation in your notes and highlight how a SAC concept relates to your example. Also, keep up to date with contemporary issues and see how SAC concepts and theories apply to these issues – this makes essay planning easier.

Here are some ways you can do to survive HSC Society & Culture. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of this subject. Even though the syllabus basically tells you all the definitions and key terms you need to know for exams, these terms can get very overwhelming. If I had to summarise Society & Culture, key terms is what helps you survive this subject. Not only is it useful for exams, you also need to apply it to your PIP, especially your five main SAC concepts.

For study motivation, hear more from Olivia at @studywithlivia.