*For simplicity’s sake, I’ve just assumed that all the prescribed texts are literary works.
If you have chosen to study English Advanced for your HSC, I am going to just go ahead and assume two things 1. You like English as a subject and 2. You’re good at it. If you’re thinking right now that neither of these two things I’ve just assumed are correct then you, my friend, have made a mistake. If your English Advanced teacher is anything like mine was, you are in for a very nasty surprise.
This subject and your teacher is going to make you work. Hard. If you don’t like English or you have always struggled with it, do not pick this subject. Choose Standard.
However, if you do enjoy the subject and do well in it, these tips are for you.
Read Your Prescribed Text
In my junior years, I would frequently hear my classmates say that, rather than actually reading the prescribed text, they just looked up the plot synopsis or simply researched it online. That’s not going to work here. You actually need to have an opinion for this subject. And if you can’t even bother to read the text then you shouldn’t be doing this subject in the first place. It’s just going to stress you out more and make it harder for you to do your other subjects.
In reading the prescribed text, you are able to form your own opinion on it. You will therefore be a lot better off in an exam situation because you actually know what you’re talking about. In only reading external sources describing the text, you are relying on someone else’s opinion.
This subject is all about having your own opinion. Trust me, unless your marker is incompetent, if you haven’t read the text, it will show. It’s kind of like trying to follow a recipe for something you have never seen, smelled or tasted yourself. You’re not going to get it right. You won’t even realise it because you don’t have the relevant knowledge to be able to tell when what you are writing is clearly wrong.
Read Your Prescribed Text Before You Read Or Hear Anyone Else’s Opinion On It, Then Do Your External Research And Then Read It Again
One of the biggest setbacks when trying to get a mark for this subject is that your marker will often look for originality. Of course, it is important to write with the correct expression, have a solid foundation and every other thing your teacher tells you to include in your essays.
However, if you are the 50th paper your marker has read and you have all of the same ideas and information that were in the 49 papers before you, your marker will likely not even notice you. Face it, having a well written essay is not enough if you’re just regurgitating the same information as hundreds of other students.
So how are you meant to avoid this reality? Simple. Form your own opinions.
You should read your prescribed text before doing any research. This will mean that you will start the text with a fresh and unbiased mind. In doing this, you’ll be able to experience it without external input. Your ideas will therefore be more likely to be your own. Your essays are more likely to sound like something you’d write rather than an imitation of an article that basically every student doing this subject has read.
But of course, your opinion alone is not enough so you should obviously still go through all of the external research provided by your teachers and you should also do your own research. Just read the text by yourself first. Your research should provide a foundation for your essay but it shouldn’t determine your arguments. Your arguments should be based off of what you believe. That way, they are more likely to come across as original and genuine.
Even with that, you should probably reread the text again. If it’s short then you should probably read it as many times as you can but if it’s long then just once more.
That way, you’ve formed your own opinions upon your first read and then backed those up by your research. On the second read, you’re just combing through it for anything you’ve missed. You’ll find that, often, the context informs the text quite heavily. Without a thorough knowledge of the context, you might miss things that are quite significant.
Context Is Everything: Especially When The Author’s Context Is Different To Your Own
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that the texts prescribed to you in an English Advanced class will mostly be several hundred years old at least (except for visual texts). They will rarely have the same context as you. Therefore, there is a lot that the author will assume the reader knows. Due to this, to gain a thorough understanding of the text, you will need to research the author’s and the text’s context.
In a visual text, like a film, the creator may be living in the 21st century but even with that, their context may be vastly different. Take, for example, Guillermo Del Toro. He may be a modern director but his style is so unique that in order to effectively analyse his movies, one would have to have a thorough understanding of his context. This includes his background, what he’s been through, what his motive is etc. Only then could you have an analysis of his movies that was based on more than a shallow understanding.
There is just no way that you can have an essay that stands out without having a thorough understanding of the author’s context. It is easy to feel removed from a text written two hundred years ago. It is easy to just assume that the characters mentioned are just strange. Having an understanding of the context paves the way to forming a well-researched, in depth, unique analysis.
This subject is hard but it is also worth doing if you have a genuine interest in it. In order to do well, you have to have the motivation to do the work required and more. You have to form your own opinions and then back them up with research and a thorough understanding of the context. In order to stand out, you have to go above and beyond what is asked of you.
You need to immerse yourself in the text. In essence, you have to care about more than just marks. You have to be truly invested in what you are writing. Only then will you produce an essay that a marker will actually want to read.