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Paper 1: Section 1 Reading task

This unit was written by Lynne Marsh, Fairfield High School.

Please read the following about the Area of Study before continuing with this information about Paper 1: Reading task.

Introduction to the Area of Study

Previous HSC examination papers (external website) and notes from the Marking Centre including Marking Guidelines can be downloaded from the Board of Studies website. These notes and guidelines provide valuable information that will assist in developing understanding of ways to read questions and develop informed and confident responses.

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Paper 1 Section 1

Paper 1 Section 1 is the reading component of the common Standard and Advanced English examination. All candidates undertaking either the Standard or the Advanced English Course complete this paper. Therefore, it is competitive and you can improve your opportunities to gain full marks by developing strategies and skills, which will prepare you thoroughly.

The format of the paper is not predictable. However, the methodology of responding appropriately to the requirements of the paper is essential.

Paper 1 Section 1 does not require students to refer to any texts beyond what is presented in this section. There is no expectation that students will refer to the set texts or any related materials. Including a reference to any other texts, not contained in this paper, will not enhance responses or results. You should save that knowledge for other sections of the Area of Study paper.

The known fact is that Paper 1 Section 1 will contain several texts where belonging is represented.

The unknown fact is the form those texts will be presented in and how belonging or not belonging is represented in those texts. This is a paper where the best responses will clearly identify and discuss language forms, features and techniques as the means for representing belonging or not belonging. A response which may make a simple statement, that is, this text is about [insert name, place, event etc] belonging does not reflect any knowledge on the part of the candidate in relation to the how meaning is created and represented.


All HSC examination papers are printed and formatted in the same manner. At the beginning of any question is the rubric, which defines, for candidates, the guidelines or criteria their response will be aligned too in determining any mark for any paper. It is essential that for every HSC question, in any subject, that these guidelines are read and considered when composing a response to any question.

In 2008 HSC Paper 1 English exam the following rubric was used (please note that this refers to the previous Area of Study:The Journey and not the current Area of Study: Belonging).

In your answer you will be assessed on how well you:

  • demonstrate understanding of the way perceptions of the journey are shaped in and through texts
  • describe, explain and analyse the relationship between language, text and context

The explanation for terms used can be accessed through the Board of Studies website: A glossary of key words (external website). This explanation of terms is common to all courses, anytime these terms appear in any paper they are used in the same context and meaning. A clear understanding of the meanings listed in this glossary will enhance your opportunities across all subjects.

You should access and develop a thorough understanding through glossary of key words to ensure:

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Time management during the exam

You need to assume responsibility for the timing of your responses to ensure that all sections of the paper are completed with time allocation appropriate to the mark for each section.

Question 1 has historically had a 15-mark allocation. A question worth 1 mark only requires a brief answer. Perhaps one word, but at most two-three sentences is usually enough. Students who write more than this are compromising their time to answer the last question, which usually has the highest mark allocation. The glossary of terms is evident in the style of each section, eg, ‘describe’, ‘explain’, ‘analyse’ and ‘identify’. To obtain the best marks these terms must be applied to each answer.

You should download copies of past papers (external website) and work through the format of the questioning in Area of Study, Paper 1 and Question 1. The allocation of marks is similar and by going over past papers you can develop an understanding of the time it will take you to respond to each section.

Timing of each section throughout the actual HSC exam is important and you should ensure you have a watch or a clear view of a wall clock to maintain a consistent and appropriate pace in completing all sections of the paper/s.

Students’ approaches may differ in how they respond to each section, or the order in which they do so can be considered. However, it is clear that a deep understanding of all texts included in this question in Paper 1 cannot be developed unless each text is read or viewed in its entirety.

The paper builds in intensity and this is reflected in the mark allocation. Sequential answering of each section of the question progressively develop your knowledge of the texts, in the paper, better preparing you to demonstrate understanding of the way perceptions of belonging are shaped in and through texts in the final question. In other words, it is necessary to synthesise ideas to clarify meaning and develop new meanings. The synthesis of following the sections sequentially will clarify the meaning allowing candidates to develop new meanings in a personal, analytical manner for the final section.

It should be noted that these comments are based on the historical format of Paper 1: Question 1 and there is no indication given here on the format of future papers.

The rubric displayed at the start of the question has been shown, here, to be repeated in the actual questions and through the sequential building of understanding in both texts and meaning, which is reflected in the marks allocated per section. They are inclusive, sequential and the degree of knowledge and skills required increases throughout the paper.

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Reading to respond

Respond do not simply retell! Paper 1 does not require you to retell or recount the included texts. It requires you to basically do two things, identify aspects of belonging or not belonging and consider how the composer has presented/represented belonging or not belonging through the language forms and features of the text/s.

How = techniques

‘How’ is one word, which can be expanded to read explain what language techniques the composer uses to represent belonging in the text. ‘How’ does not, in any way, translate to just copy out something from the included text/s as your response to each section.

Quotations can and should be used to support a response by considering how, for example:

The language technique must be identified in the response in relation to the terminology of the question; describe, explain and analyse the relationship between language, text and context. The text in the section and the context is belonging. To continue the responses above for example:

The texts included in Paper 1 are generic to belonging. To describe, explain and analyse it further supports your understanding of the included texts if the form the belonging or not belonging can also be identified.

The term way is also closely linked to the how and requires direct reference to the language forms and features (techniques) of the texts. Quoting from the text to support the ‘how’ is essential. To successfully address the question of the way belonging is represented in any text there is an expectation of higher order thinking and this requires some form of synthesis between the ‘how’ as technique, the appropriate quote from the text and the question as a whole. A direct quotation from the text does not prove or determine the ‘way’ unless it is supported.

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Text forms

The texts included in Paper 1: Question 1 can be in any form. It is important to be familiar with the elements that go together to produce each text. Some forms in past papers have included:

There is no way of predicting which textual forms will be included in the paper this year. Students need to have an understanding of a variety of texts forms, which is in keeping with the spirit of the syllabus. There is no way of predicting which text forms will be required to be responded too in any section. This is a positive process and one that ensures those candidates with the best knowledge; skills and understanding achieve the marks they deserve.

Historical perceptions

Past examination papers are available from the Board of Studies websites. Another resource candidates can explore is the HSC Notes from the Marking Centres. (external website) These notes are available for the Area of Study and Modules papers for all English courses. Some of the general comments have already been discussed here, particularly in relation to the time candidates spend on each section.

The markers’ notes have been prepared thoroughly from feedback by the actual markers of those sections. The strengths and weaknesses of student responses are identified and highlighted. Visiting this section of the website and taking the time to consider and align your own strengths and weaknesses with the markers’ notes will provide assistance in how to improve your own weaker areas in this section.

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The HSC Glossary definition of the term (external website) ‘synthesise’ is putting together various elements tomake a whole and the final question in Paper 1 Section 1 expects your responses to synthesise the included texts and the knowledge gained as this section is being completed. Recounting responses to earlier questions does not bring together the various elements of the texts. This final response should have a balance between the number of texts stipulated by the question, historically two. If the weighting of your response is imbalanced this may affect the final mark. Again, timing is such an important element in ensuring that you have sufficient time so allocate sufficient time to balance the weighting, eg, 2 texts=50% for each within the breadth of your response.

To successfully synthesise, compare and contrast between the texts, don’t simply retell or recount. Choose the texts that you are most comfortable with, don’t try and choose one because it might be ‘harder’ and ‘get more marks’ if you do that text. In past HSC exams, this question has asked students for their considered and formed opinion on more than one of the included texts. Writing in a subjective manner using an objective voice would be preferable, eg, instead of “I think text #…” try “It is obvious that text #…” as this demonstrates connectivity between the question and the response that is considered and informed.

Direct reference to the texts is essential. Quotations should be appropriate and support the overall context of the response. The common link between the texts is the concept of belonging. Don’t simply make a brief link at end, almost as an afterthought. Integrate your connections throughout your response.

Use connecting words such as:

Prepared answers that are regurgitated seldom answer this year’s question sufficiently to expect full marks. The structure of this paper and the questions is designed to test your knowledge and understanding, not your memory.

Paper 1 Section 1 moves through each text to the concluding question, where you are expected to demonstrate, in your answer, your developed understanding of the concept of belonging in and through the included texts. A prepared answer will not demonstrate that development, as specifically related to the included texts, the question and the included texts must shape your response.

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General tips

Quotations should not be used in isolation and require explanation in a cohesively developed response, which provides equal balance to the included texts. To correctly time each section quotation s should be short, succinct, relevant and explained.

This paper is about language, form, features, techniques and how they create meaning, which represents some form of belonging. Full marks cannot be gained if these elements are not addressed in and through question responses.

Consider the mark value of each section and allocate time appropriately.

Visual literacy techniques are as important as written language techniques. Become familiar with terminology such as:

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Language features in written or spoken language

This section is rich with language features and the texts have been carefully chosen to provide opportunities for all candidates to find, locate, describe, explain and evaluate those features such as:

Identifying the effectiveness of texts for a particular audience

Consider whether the purpose and structure of the text is appropriate for the intended audience. Evaluate how well the text does this by comparing and contrasting the forms and features of the text/s and their effectiveness in representing the concept of belonging.

To successfully demonstrate your knowledge of how belonging is represented in and through the included texts you will be expected to:

Time your responses

Paper 1 has three sections each has an equal mark value to the other. The maximum time allowed for each section is 40 minutes. Use the past papers available and be proactive in developing the skill of working within a specific time frame for each section of all the papers.

Walk into the examination with an air of confidence knowing that you have taken the time to adequately prepare for Paper 1 Section 1 – Reading of the Area of Study by being knowledgeable about the concept of belonging and the language forms and features of multiple texts.

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