How to ace Section 1 of paper 1

How to ace section One of Paper One:


As many of you know, in the HSC this year and in the year to come, students must sit two papers for their English examination: paper one and paper two. Within paper one, there are two sections, the short answer responses, and the common module essay and today we will be focusing on the first section.


What is it?

When you sit the exam you will be provided an undisclosed amount of questions accompanied by an equally undisclosed amount of unseen stimuli. These short answer questions will range from anywhere between two-eight marks each and will cumulatively amalgamate to provide you with a mark out of twenty. Each question will have specified the compulsory stimulus/stimuli to be used to answer the question. 


How do I approach these questions?

First thing’s first; take a moment to actually read the question. Not skim over it, not vaguely interpret the 3 words you deem important from the question, not write whatever comes into mind when you see the question, you have to actually read the question. When I say read the question, what I mean is that:

  1. Take a moment to compose yourself and settle your thoughts (e.g take a breath, take a drink of water, maybe make a small prayer etc.)
  2. During the reading time, read the question and break it down in your head and then read it again with the stimulus side by side with the question
  3. Compose a direct, clear, succinct answer to the presented question
  4. Begin writing your answer, that answers the question, and secure those marks!!


  1. Take a moment to compose yourself and settle your thoughts (e.g take a breath, take a drink of water, maybe make a small prayer etc.)

Once opening the trial or HSC paper (whatever one you may be sitting), it is of the utmost importance to calm oneself before embarking on a considerably hefty paper that has the potential to dictate your final performance. If you’re not calm, you cant think. If you cant think, you cant answer the question. If you cant answer the question, the marker can’t give you the marks. That’s why teachers will always tell you “it’s gonna be alright, you guys will do just fine” and other such encouraging words because they understood the importance of clarity during stressful periods that require your full attention. As such, I found it invaluable whenever I took a deep breathe once the time had started, took a sip of water to soothe my nerves, and then read the question laid in front of me as it made sure that I was not only ready to smash this paper but it ensured that I had the necessary clarity to do so to the best of my ability. 


        2. Read the question and break it down in your head

Surprising enough, the one consistent factor differentiating band 6 students from the rest of the state is one deceptively simple fact; these students answer the question. It sounds confusing but allow me to clarify. Most students will read a question, hastily assume what that question means, and then proceed to write an answer they believe to be suitable to the question they think they have been asked….wrong. In order to succeed in English, all it takes is for you to read a question, understand the question, and to then formulate an appropriate answer that fulfills the requirements put forth by that question. In order to achieve this seemingly scarce skill, all it requires of you is time. Take the time to read a question, not once, not twice, but three times in order to ensure you truly understand what this question is asking of you. You must highlight or underline the keywords you believe to be essential, you must cement in your conscience the foundational basis of the question and formulate an answer accordingly. This may involve reading words separately, taking a moment to quickly brainstorm, or just reassuring yourself of what the words in the question actually mean. Once you have understood the question, read it one more time but this time have your stimulus sheet right next to it. The purpose of this is to allow your brain to begin working on your behalf before you’re even conscious of it doing so as this will allow you to formulate a better answer with more solid techniques than if you didn’t follow this method. Additionally, it allows you to begin brainstorming appropriate techniques before the allocated reading time meaning you can already have a skeleton answer ready to go when the timer starts.  


        3. Compose a direct, clear, succinct answer to the presented question

One of the most annoying things about marking English papers for teachers is that students don’t answer the question and sometimes when they actually do answer the question, they let their amazing idea down by accompanying it with mediocre techniques. So, the first thing we need to do is to answer the question but since I already told you how to do that let’s move onto the structure of your response. To begin, you must highlight your understanding of the question by providing a profound yet succinct topic sentence that addresses all the aspects of the question. Once this is done, dive straight into your evidence “we find evidence of this through the authors/composers use of …” wherein you establish the piece of evidence you are using, the technique that provides it with agency, and an explanation of how this piece of evidence affirms your thesis statement. As a rule of thumb, the amount of marks assigned to a question is how many pieces of evidence and explanations are required of you in that question. Although different teachers will tell you different things, take it from me, you don’t need a concluding sentence unless it is a mini-essay style question, which generally tends to be the very last question (5-8 marks). 


       4. Begin writing your answer, that answers the question, and secure those marks!

Now that you know how to write the perfect short answer response, go get those marks!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *