the HSC project

A Guide to Acing HSC English Advanced (Part 1): Common Module and Human Experiences

Nourish Education English Advanced

by Janet Zhao  on 21 July 2020

A Guide to Acing HSC English Advanced (Part 1): Common Module and Human Experiences

Nourish Education English Advanced

by Janet Zhao  on 21 July 2020

Half-way through Year 12 and still unsure about what needs to be done or just want to get a head start? 

Here is a summary of the HSC English Advanced Common Module, unpacking the content, how the module is assessed, tips and tricks for exam preparation and a bonus analysis of The Crucible.

Overview of the Common Module

The Common Module requires students to engage with the textual representation of what it means to be human, studied in both English Standard and Advanced. This Module is most likely taught in your first term of Year 12 and your very first HSC English assessment.

The syllabus is your best friend

Just like many of your other HSC subjects, the syllabus is your best friend.

 The syllabus covers learning objectives and outcomes that form the basis of marking criterias for school assessments and HSC exams. 

A closer look at the Common Module rubric statements will reveal some of the main concepts NESA wants you to explore, skills to develop and outcomes to achieve.

Common Module Key Ideas

  • Portrayal of an individual’s experience and/or shared experiences.
  • How are they depicted? Does the form, structure or style of the text play a role?
  • Is there a relationship between the individual and the collective?
  • Responses, tendencies and feelings towards events or situations.
  • Are these universal or unique to the individual or context?

Students often find it difficult to discuss emotions. One approach is to draw on your own experiences, that is, thinking about the emotions you felt or would have felt if placed in a similar situation. There are also models like Plutchik’s wheel of emotions (below) that provide a guide to emotions and visual representation on how certain emotions are connected.

  • Providing new perspectives and challenging preconceived notions.
  • Highlighting the contradictions or deviations of human responses.
  • Are behaviours aligned with motivations or are they inconsistent?
  • Encouraging a self-reflection within the responder (you).
  • What is the purpose of storytelling and how does it function?
  • Does a composer’s context influence their content or style?
  • Universal ideas that withstand the test of time, adapting to societal developments and others that are discarded.

These key ideas are a useful point of reference for developing your responses to unseen texts or essay questions, if at any point you get stuck. The use and integration of rubric statements is further elaborated upon later.

How is this module assessed?

The Common Module is likely your first internal HSC English assessment. This may be in the form of a multimodal presentation, as is suggested by the sample unit, but is at the discretion of each school. A related text is required for the first internal assessment of this module and typically not necessary for the Trial as it is not assessed in the external exam. Related texts are independently selected by students to compare and contrast with the prescribed Common Module text. 

This module forms the main focus of Paper 1 of the school Trial exams and Paper 1 of the HSC Advanced English exam.

  • 20 marks: short answer questions in response to a range of unseen texts
  • 20 marks: essay on your prescribed text in response to a general or specific question

So How Do I Prepare?

While there is no formula, getting a band 6 without putting in the effort is just too good to be true. The reality is that a lot of preparation and time is invested in working towards a band 6 in English. At times, it may seem like it’s just not worth your time, however a band 6 in English is incredibly rewarding.

Since English is a compulsory HSC subject, at least two units of English are counted in your ATAR calculations. While subjects like Maths offer better scaling, playing around with ATAR calculators will reveal more drastic differences in ATAR between a low and high band 6 in English compared to a low and high band 6 in Maths. 

Improvements in English can help to improve your writing across your subjects, enhancing both your written and oral communication and encouraging more critical thinking.

Preparing for Unseen Texts

With the rigour of Year 12, schools are generally chasing assessments and so much of the preparation work for the unseen text component of Paper 1 of both the Trial and HSC exams are left for independent study. This means doing practice questions or past papers throughout the year, taking advantage of periods where you aren’t preparing for school assessments. The Common Module has a broad focus on the ‘human experience’, so some of the resources from the old syllabus are still relevant.

It may be difficult to come up with layered arguments under time pressure, so it is useful to brainstorm potential ideas or arguments beforehand. Use the key ideas from the rubric, mentioned above, as a reference to develop insights into the representation of the human experience through texts. In many instances, the short-answer questions will specify one idea, however this does not prohibit you from discussing some of the other concepts. A blurring of the lines and combination of the ideas discussed in the rubric statements shows a deeper understanding and often fosters more complex ideas on the human experience.

As you go through past papers, it may also be useful to take note of common themes and arguments. This will further equip you with more complex ideas, allowing you to build and enhance your responses.

For example, going through past papers, you come across texts that deal with ‘place’ –

  • Place can be associated with  nurture or neglect ;
  • Settings (eg. city) associated with class and status that are hypothetically desirable can in reality fuel feelings of disappointment and isolation through the inherent superficialities.

NOTE how  this idea on the concept of ‘place’ has been linked to two rubric statements:

Textual references and analysis are used to support your argument. It is a critical component of the short-answer section as it is where most of the marks are awarded. Being able to identify techniques in quotes and effectively analyse and explain their effects is also a significant component to essay writing. Thus, such skills are crucial for success in English.

Essay Structure

There is no one right way of structuring your essay. However, here is a general structure:

NOTE the different colours relate to different rubric statements


The introduction presents your overarching argument in response to the question and introduces the main ideas of your body paragraphs. 

Your thesis statement should introduce your text and answer the question. Use key words from the question to show the marker you are engaging with the question.

Body Paragraphs

People generally choose to write three paragraphs as it allows you to explore different aspects of an argument, while maintaining a thorough analysis.

  • Topic Sentence: provides a succinct indication of what the paragraph is about, while responding to the essay question. 
  • Context point: establishes the idea or theme as the composer’s response to their social context.
  • Quotes: include 3-4 quotes, identifying the literary techniques, analysing the effect and integrating an explanation that links it back to the main argument of the paragraph.
  • Link: conclude each paragraph by summarising the main idea of the body, linking it back to how it supports the overarching argument of your essay and hence answers the question.


A set of conclusive statements in 2-3 sentences that directly answers the question and summarises your sub-arguments. Again, explicitly using words from the question ensures you are answering the question.

List of Prescribed Texts

A Sample Analysis of 'The Crucible'

While it may be tempting to not read your prescribed text, being familiar with a text is hugely beneficial when it comes time to writing your essay and manipulating your ideas to answer questions.


Context describes the social, political, cultural or historical environment that influences an idea or event. When analysing texts, it is important to examine both the context of the plot and the author’s context as they can often influence stylistic choices and ideas.

The Crucible Context

Failing to reform the Church of England in an attempt to ‘purify’, many Puritans left England for America. Settling in places like Salem and Boston, Puritans promoted theocratic ideologies in all aspects of life, wherein the government was ruled by religious leaders who had been believed to be ‘elected’ by God. The harsh and repressive structure of Puritan communities allowed for little emotional expression.

In 1692, in Salem, a group of girls had fallen sick. Exhibiting strange, unexplainable symptoms like seizures and hallucination, their behaviours were attributed to demonic possession. As more girls began displaying similar symptoms, sentiments grew linking the unfathomable behaviours to witchcraft. Members of the community quickly began accusing one another, in some cases on the basis of grudges, and fuelling hysteria. A court was established to hear trials which saw numerous individuals being accused and eventually hanged.

Arthur Miller's Context

Arthur Miller, born in 1915, was a contemporary playwright interested in the common man and realism in American theatre.

The Crucible was written in the context of the Cold War, an ideological war that began in the late 1940s and fueled international and national insecurity. This left Americans overwhelmed with concerns about the threat of communism growing in Eastern Europe and China. Domestically, the Communist Party USA had gained membership of around 80,000 by 1944, organising labour unions and opposing fascism. 

With the 1950 rise of McCarthyism, a fear of communism instilled by Senator Joseph McCarthy, membership had fallen to approximately 5,000 by the mid-1950s. McCarthy led the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in exposing Communists and Communist sympathizers in the United States. Accusing government employees and those in positions in power, lesser punishments were provided to suspected Communists who confessed or identified other Communist sympathizers. Those who chose to not incriminate their peers or remain silent were blacklisted and on some occasions, imprisoned. Among many other groups, HUAC investigated Hollywood, subpoenaing members of the movie industry (including Arthur Miller). 

The careers and lives of those who had been imprisoned or blacklisted quickly fell apart, with thousands losing their jobs. Some were actually involved with communist party, but for most, both the potential harm to the nation and nature of their communist affiliation were tenuous. It became apparent that everyone was at risk of condemnation and that it would be easier to cooperate, regardless of whether you were innocent or not. This painted a false representation of the infiltration of Communism in America, perpetuating hysteria. This time of fear, known as the Red Scare, exhibits many parallels with the seventeenth century witch trials.

Theme/ Thesis Statement

Working smart and not harder is crucial when you are short on time. Thus, in the process of developing thesis statements, it is effective to think about the flexibility of your argument. That is, how easily can you manipulate it to suit another question.


A quality that has been embedded in social structures throughout history and remains prevalent today. While, power provides structure, attributing such qualities to an individual can often have beneficial impacts or dire consequences. Examining both the plot and context of The Crucible as well as parallels to today’s society, it evident that power is subject to misuse when exposed to corruption and reputation.

Thesis Statement

  • Italics: responding to how composers share their representation of human experiences;
  • In this case, arguing that Miller uses the play form to present his perspective.
  • Bold: integrating words from the question.



  1. Severe test, as of patience/belief; a trial. 
  2. Place, time or situation characterised by confluence of powerful, intellectual, social, economic or political forces.
  3. Metal container used to heat material to very high temperatures.

Applying heat, a metaphor for hysteria, to examine and clarify a crisis situation. Exploring individual, community and government responses to pressure that reveal their motivations and behaviours. 

“We burn a hot fire here, it melts down all concealment.” (Danforth, p81)

Inclusive pronoun ‘we.’

Fire imagery - extended metaphor/motif of the crucible.

Reinforces the role of the collective in fuelling hysteria.

Reveals the role of fear and conflict as an instrument in uncovering realities. While Danforth is interested in exposing those involved in satanic activities, the realities exposed are more so concerning the true nature and qualities of humans.

Use of fear instead of objective attempts to research and understand facts presents the ironically unjust nature of the justice system.

Hopefully, you now have a better idea of what to expect and how to prepare for the Common Module.

Good Luck!

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