Example Painting for the Discovery Area of Study by Kirthana Selvaraj

As you may know by for now for HSC Discovery, students of both English Standard and English Advanced share the challenge of tackling common content for their English Paper 1, the first hurdle in the HSC (rat) race. Mercifully, those responsible for the administration of the HSC appreciate that this is a stressful and challenging time for young minds, so English Paper 1 has been

designed to ease the students in to their exam block. As such, Paper 1 is broadly speaking not as challenging and demanding as Paper 2, although of course it does not mean that it is easy and students should definitely not underestimate it. This would be a particular folly because, as it the only exam that is sat by all 75,000 HSC students in the state, it is incredibly important for scaling, and affects how other subjects are weighted. However, it is meant to ease students into the exam period (as much as that is possible).


It is arguably less heavy-going and arduous. As opposed to Paper 2 which requires students to complete 3 essays on their respectively assigned Modules and Electives, Paper 1 is comprised of a comprehension section, a creative writing piece and only one essay. Strictly speaking the comprehension section cannot be prepared for (although we will touch on this later), while the creative writing section naturally affords a higher level of creativity and freedom than an essay, and is therefore its production is in a sense more enjoyable.


It would be amiss to say that the comprehension section cannot be prepared for. Of course, in as much as you have virtually no conception of what content you will come across, then that is true. However, there are some good habits you can incorporate into your routine to increase your chances of performing well in this section.


This section tests you on your ability to apply analytical skills quickly, efficiently and spontaneously. The more interesting and original the points are, the better you’ll perform. It is a mistake to wholly conceive of both analysis and originality as innate; they can both be developed. A good tip for preparing this section is to expose yourself to as many cultural products as possible, including poetry, film and books, outside of your ascribed texts. Make it a part of your outings and dialogue with friends and family, and engage in critical discussion afterwords. Back your points with sound arguments, and crucially, relevant evidence. The best tip though is to read as many critical works as you can. Any culture guide is very useful. If you like music, check out The Music or Drum Media. How do the critics justify their opinions? What elements of a composition do they point to? The Sydney Morning Herald’s Spectrum lift-out on Saturdays is probably the definitive resource for students trying to ascertain the level of critical engagement expected to receive high marks.


As for creative writing, too many students launch straight into this without any consideration of distinguished works in that form, and without any appreciation of what it takes to keep a reader’s interest in such a short amount of time. Firstly, read masters of the form, and ask yourself how they achieve their end. Great examples are:

  • Roald Dahl
  • Tim Winton
  • Virginia Woolf
  • James Joyce
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Nam Le


There are of course many more. As a general rule, the form means the story must be less plot-driven. A vignette is preferable, focusing on a particular moment of time and exploiting a character’s subjective standpoint and changes in their psychology. This would meet the criteria of the Area of Study under which the creative writing section falls under: Discovery. A great short story will have a very condensed thematic focus, and will build to a kind of epiphany. This is certainly the case with the aforementioned writers.


Lastly, all the usual suspects of good essay writing will be essential to your performance in the discovery essay. Although we will cover these in more detail in later posts, a strong thesis, a structure that indicates prior reflection and a good, logical development of argument with ample evidence will go far. Traditionally, the theme of the Part 1 essay is quite expansive, and leaves a lot of flexibility for student interpretation. This has been the case in the past and is the case with “Discovery”, something which is more or less, with the exception of Waiting For Godot, a part of every work art. It also means lots of wriggle room to choose your related text. Careful consideration of how you can profit off of the similarities and differences in the texts will help you get more marks.