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2010 HSC Notes from the Marking Centre — English Extension 1



This document has been produced for the teachers and candidates of the Stage 6 course in English Extension 1. It contains comments on candidate responses to the 2010 Higher School Certificate examination, indicating the quality of the responses and highlighting their relative strengths and weaknesses.

This document should be read in conjunction with the Stage 6 English Syllabus, Stage 6 English Prescriptions 2010–2012, the 2010 Higher School Certificate examination, the marking guidelines and other support documents which have been developed by the Board of Studies to assist in the teaching and learning of English Extension 1.

General comments

Candidates need to be familiar with the Board's Glossary of Key Words which contains some terms commonly used in examination questions. However, candidates should also be aware that not all questions will start with, or contain, any key word from the glossary. Questions such as ‘how?’, ‘why?’ or ‘to what extent?’ may be asked, and verbs which are not included in the glossary may be used, such as ‘design’, ‘translate’ or ‘list’.

It is obvious that candidates often prepare for the examination by preparing generic responses which they learn by rote. Many candidates reproduce these responses regardless of the question, or make some perfunctory modifications to refer to the question in the introduction and conclusion. Of course, candidates must prepare thoroughly for the examination, but they need to demonstrate flexibility in applying their knowledge and understanding to address the questions they encounter in the examination.

Module A: Genre

Critical response: Questions 1, 3, 5

General comments

Candidates generally demonstrated a strong grasp of the elective they had studied but did not always link their ideas to the concerns of the module. Responses often presented clear and cogent arguments and candidates integrated theoretical concepts to support their views to varying degrees of success. Many responses tended to lack originality in their interpretation of prescribed and related texts, regurgitating the same scenes and scenarios from each text studied in a centre. A significant number of candidates ignored the word ‘texts’ and wrote only about a single related text which did not allow them to access the full range of marks.

In better responses, candidates used language effectively to communicate a clear response to the question and used a range of texts to support their theories and to engage the reader. Weaker responses typically lacked cohesion or a structured argument, and candidates relied on memorising a prepared response that they attempted to link to the question. Many responses contained repeated spelling and syntactical errors.

Critical response: Question 1

Candidates engaged with the question in a wide range of ways to explore complex ideas that are central to the study of genre. In better responses, candidates demonstrated a highly developed capacity to craft and sustain an original essay that addressed all key elements of the question. They evaluated the extent to which the given statement reflected their own perceptions about texts in the context of the elective they had studied.

Stronger responses demonstrated:

  • a depth of understanding of genre
  • a detailed knowledge and deep understanding of their prescribed and own texts
  • insightful use of texts
  • understanding of the specific social and cultural conditions from which texts in the genre arise
  • exploration of texts in the context of genre
  • discerning engagement with the notions of significance and enduring relevance
  • an informed critical and personal voice
  • expression of complex ideas with clarity
  • assertion and sustaining of a thesis that clearly answered the question.

Weaker responses tended to be descriptive rather than analytical or evaluative. They were characterised by limited engagement with the question and confusion about the social and cultural conditions from which the texts they studied arose.

Weaker responses demonstrated:

  • limited understanding of prescribed texts in the context of genre
  • little discussion of texts in detail
  • description of texts and their contexts in general terms
  • uneven engagement with the terms of the question
  • inaccuracies in discussion of social and cultural conditions
  • limited control of language
  • limited notions of significance, culture and relevance.

Specific electives

Elective 1: Life Writing

In stronger responses, candidates established clear connections between genre, texts and the social and cultural conditions from which the texts arose. They asserted and sustained a coherent and sophisticated thesis about the nature of the genre and the place of the texts within their respective contexts.

In weaker responses, candidates tended to focus only on the composers’ purposes in writing/composing without consideration of the wider social and cultural concerns inherent in the texts. Candidates’ engagement with the question was often restricted to an exploration or description of personal context.

Elective 2: Crime Writing

In stronger responses, candidates demonstrated a deep understanding of the genre as an ongoing reflection of society and its relationship with those who transgress its laws. They made connections between their texts and the genre as a whole, rather than the more formulaic treatment of texts in isolation.

In weaker responses, candidates demonstrated limited engagement with the terms of the question and instead offered a survey through the genre’s history.

Candidates are encouraged to read and view widely in the genre in order to deepen their understanding of the diversity of crime writing.

Elective 3: Science Fiction

In stronger responses, candidates engaged with the key terms of the question in sophisticated ways and sustained insightful lines of argument about humanity’s relationships with technology. Text choices tended to be broad and eclectic.

Candidates are encouraged to broaden their knowledge and understanding of the science fiction genre and its connections with contemporary contexts.

Imaginative response: Questions 2, 4, 6

Candidates generally addressed the prerequisites effectively. Ideas were often very original when the terms were incorporated naturally and seamlessly into the response and where the setting immediately indicated the elective the candidate had studied. Less clear links to electives meant that the knowledge of the elective was not always immediately discernible and the response tended to lack clarity and purpose.

In stronger responses, candidates played with the parameters of their elective in order to elucidate the concerns of their module. They were innovative in structure and concept and took risks with both narrative voice and plot that were appropriate for the elective and clearly illustrated the central concerns of the module. They were engaging, often witty and used language in an original, imaginative and insightful manner.

Weaker responses often demonstrated incongruities in register, narrative voice, plot and structure. They also demonstrated a lack of original thought or attempted to use devices from the original texts in an unsuccessful way.

The least successful responses were those that appeared prepared and which had no engagement with the question.

Imaginative response: Question 2

General comments

In better responses to Question 2, candidates demonstrated:

  • an engaging voice that was sustained throughout the piece
  • recognisable use of a setting from a prescribed text, either physical or psychological
  • excellent control of language that was sustained throughout the piece
  • an obvious knowledge of the studied elective and in some cases an ability to convey a knowledge of the genre over a period of time
  • an ability to articulate complex ideas through imaginative writing
  • an ability to weave the provided terms into the response in a clever or thoughtful way
  • evidence of wide reading and deep knowledge the genre
  • successful experimentation with voice, tense or narrative structure
  • an ability to write in an engaging style, often quirky and playful, sometimes subverting the genre.

In weaker responses to Question 2, candidates demonstrated:

  • poor or at best simplistic understanding of the elective in particular and the module in general
  • superficial incorporation of the provided terms into the response
  • predictable and clichéd storylines that failed to engage the reader
  • ineffective spelling, punctuation and syntax
  • no recognisable link to a setting from a prescribed text
  • derivative storylines from a prescribed text or a related text
  • very short responses that failed to develop an idea or a narrative structure
  • evidence of a pre-planned response that failed to adequately answer the question.

Specific electives

Elective 1: Life Writing

Some responses seemed to draw on basic autobiographical aspects of a life. Any questioning of the validity of the accounts of lives was almost non-existent.

Elective 2: Crime Writing

Candidates often resorted to a New York apartment as their setting and many of these responses became fairly mundane. Most responses seemed to have a solid grasp of the elective.

It was apparent that many candidates saw gratuitous violence as a key aspect of this elective but some candidates delved into aspects of the elective such as questions of justice and the role of the detective in society.

Some candidates subverted the genre while other candidates successfully toyed with the traditional ‘whodunit’. In the stronger responses there was evidence of appropriate wide reading.

Elective 3: Science Fiction

Candidates writing in this elective need to be wary of being too derivative, especially in regards to the ideas in Huxley’s text. Topics covered included the idea of imagined worlds and developments in technology and the human race.

As in other electives in this module, evidence of wide reading was sometimes lacking. Students are reminded to read well beyond their prescribed texts and choose related texts that add to their understanding of the genre.

Module B: Texts and Ways of Thinking

Critical response: Question 3

General comments

Stronger responses showed sophisticated consideration of the key words, ‘significant’ and ‘relevance’. Lucid, sustained and purposeful, these responses integrated theoretical and contextual references relevant to paradigms related to the era defined by the elective. Such arguments used fluent academic discourse to support the development of convincing theses, fleshed out through a sophisticated synthesis of appropriate textual knowledge. In many successful responses, candidates narrowed their scope of argument in order to better explore the implications contained within those self-set parameters.

In better responses, candidates used their prescribed texts to support their arguments, exploring the contexts and concerns of these texts in ways relevant to the question. Through their analysis of language, these candidates showed excellent understanding of the ways composers shape meaning through visual, aural, literary and cinematic techniques. Such candidates also made equally insightful use of self-selected texts with a strong link to the period specified in the elective rubric and showed the ability to analyse and evaluate these texts with the same level of detail and sophistication as the set texts.

Weaker responses displayed difficulty engaging with the question. In these responses, candidates often resorted to recount with little or irrelevant textual detail. Some candidates appeared to lack essay writing skills, such as using topic sentences that articulated the argument being pursued. Paragraphs in weaker responses often started with naming the text being discussed and then followed with an explanation of the relationship between the text and the ways of thinking without reference to the question. Such responses often featured a tokenistic use of the key terms that was not underpinned by a strong, purposeful argument and employed textual references without apparent connection to the argument. On occasions, potentially strong responses were marred by a serious imbalance of content, a lack of detailed analysis of related texts, or inappropriate related text selection. There were also a significant number of candidates who wrote about only one text of their own choosing, despite the requirement to refer to ‘texts of your own choosing’. A number of candidates focused on the identification of technique in isolation from arguments. There was also a tendency in many weak responses for candidates to explain the historical facts and concepts of the period of the elective without much recourse to textual analysis.

Specific electives

Elective 1: After the Bomb

Stronger responses demonstrated understanding of the key terms relating to the elective. In these responses, candidates recognised the impact of the concerns of the period upon the creation of texts, identifying common threads running through the texts chosen. These candidates often synthesised references to appropriate theorists of the period. They also addressed the question of relevance successfully, discussing enduring values that have continued beyond and/or throughout the period. They also chose appropriate related texts that assisted their argument, relating in different ways with the prescribed texts, in terms of concept, context and language use.

Unfortunately, some responses exhibited the tendency to discuss the historical perspectives of the texts rather than the ability of the composers of the texts to convey those perspectives with a variety of techniques. This approach sometimes led to the selection of texts of own choosing that related well on an historical basis but did not yield sufficient textual analysis.

In weaker responses, candidates resorted to contextual descriptions and generalised recount, often not linked to the question or effectively substantiated with textual analysis. These candidates often addressed the concept of enduring relevance in a perfunctory manner, drawing parallels between the period and contemporary society in terms of generalities, such as the continuing presence of war and existential doubt.

Elective 2: Romanticism

Better responses contained explicit references to the ways of thinking in the body of a strong argument that was supported with detailed and insightful textual analysis. They also expressed a clear knowledge of different parts of the Romantic period of the late 18th to mid 19th century, making pertinent references to appropriate thinkers and critics. They also provided a discussion of the enduring relevance of the values expressed in the texts. These responses often centred around two premises – one being the significance of the relationship between Romantic paradigms with those from the period before; the other dealt with the significance of the relationship between the Romantic paradigms and the emergence of the Industrial Revolution. Many of these responses also included appropriate use of 20th century texts that substantially related to the paradigms of the rubric-defined Romantic period.

Many candidates provided a detailed literary analysis without establishing a strong link to the ways of thinking related to the historical period. Some responses were marred by references to late 19th century and 20th century texts that did not substantially relate to the period defined in the elective rubric, despite identifying some relevant values. Teachers and students are reminded that suitable related texts should be from or about the time frame specified in the elective rubric. Some candidates that used artworks and music from the period tended to be descriptive and referred to techniques without apt connection to the ways of thinking and to the prescribed texts. Another feature of these less sophisticated responses was the tendency to discuss a narrow range of text types, specifically poems, which at times made for narrowly focused and repetitive responses, limiting the opportunity to display a broad understanding of the representation of the ways of thinking.

In some weaker responses, candidates lapsed into narratives that employed key terms in a superficial manner, failing to address the question in a meaningful way. There was a tendency to also choose quotations from texts that dealt more with plot recount rather than adding to the argument. These responses also often addressed the concept of enduring relevance in a superficial fashion, identifying vague similarities between the values of the Romantic period and contemporary society.

Elective 3: Navigating the Global

In better responses, candidates incorporated a balanced vision of the relationship between the local and global, suggesting an awareness of blurred boundaries and the complexity of local/global values. Such candidates threaded references to appropriate theorists throughout well-substantiated arguments that engaged fully with the concept of significance and relevance in terms of enduring values being explored through the texts.

Mid-range responses often featured discussion of the ways of thinking, displaying a detailed understanding of the paradigms. However, this discussion was often supported by textual analysis that did not feature the requisite detail or level of language evaluation. Responses in this range also contained discussions of globalisation and global thought, but such discussion did not always relate well to the question.

In weaker responses, candidates followed the pattern of recount, especially in relation to filmic texts. These candidates generally presented simplistic notions about the ways of thinking. They also addressed the concept of relevance in a perfunctory way, citing the popularity of a text or the use of related material that was contemporary but not sophisticated in construction or conceptual content.

Imaginative response: Question 4

General comments

The most successful responses demonstrated a capacity to address all key elements of the question in a highly skilled, original and purposeful manner that communicated a sophisticated grasp of the ways of thinking within an appropriate imaginative form. These responses were firmly grounded within their given context, and candidates integrated references to the three key concepts/terms of the question and the setting of the prescribed text in a fluent and seamless manner. The ability to synthesise the given terms, a required setting and appropriate specificity with regards to the ways of thinking was a key discriminating factor. Contextual relevance involved both an appropriate sense of ideology as well as a grasp of the time parameters pertaining to the period highlighted in the elective.

Some of the features of particularly strong responses were:

  • sophisticated use of language and structure that often involved subtle and complex layering of ideas, nuanced vocabulary, evocative descriptive detail, the use of purposeful motifs, the manipulation of highly effective figurative language
  • successful use of the language of the particular context, often with a very highly developed sense of the historical, political and ideological details of the period; specificity was a feature of superior responses
  • creation of a sense of time and place that was successful conceptually and narratologically
  • the interplay of distinctive and sustained voice[s]; the creation of original and purposeful authorial voice.

Candidates are reminded that the electives in Module B deal with specific periods of literary history and ways of thinking. The importance of defining, locating and recreating a particular context of the elective in an imaginative response is paramount. In some cases the response was out of period; for example, a response exploring the ways of thinking relevant to Romanticism might be located in the twentieth century without any reference to ways of thinking of the defined period. In other cases, the response was so general and/or incoherent that the studied elective could not be determined by the marker.

Some features of weaker responses were:

  • limited understanding of the paradigms central to the electives, as reflected in simplistic/overly concrete scenarios
  • failure to establish a clear and immediate sense of the elective that has been studied
  • ineffective use of a particular form of imaginative writing; for example, some students selected the form of poetry and were unable to use it appropriately
  • vague and clichéd use of language
  • poor literacy skills.

Specific electives

Elective 1: After the Bomb

In stronger responses, candidates established a clear social/political context and used this to reflect the values of the period. A strong sense of this specific historical context was clearly identifiable through the authentic experiences of characters.

Some candidates composed rather amorphous and generalised settings which were not clearly attributable to set texts and which failed to register a strong sense of the social or political context of the After the Bomb elective. There were a number of responses that attempted to address the concerns and values of absurdism with varying degrees of success – overly derivative pieces which simply replicated the language, action and characters of a setting from a prescribed text could not be valued as original compositions.

Elective 2: Romanticism

Many candidates clearly established Romanticism as a way of thinking that was a response to urbanisation/industrialisation in the late 18th/early 19th century. The use of historically accurate elements such as locations, personalities and events was often an effective method of demonstrating an understanding of the ways of thinking. In better responses, candidates explored sophisticated concepts rather than more literal or physical experiences in nature.

Candidates are reminded that Romanticism as studied here is defined within a specific historical period. Responses must therefore reflect an understanding of that context: ‘In this elective students explore texts which relate to ways of thinking characteristic of Romanticism in the late 18th century until the mid 19th century’ (Stage 6 English Prescriptions 2009–2012).

Elective 3: Navigating the Global

In stronger responses, candidates explored specific cultural, economic or technological concepts, rather than generalising about an expanding world, demonstrating that they had engaged more fully with the ‘navigating’ elements of this elective. They investigated points of difference between different cultural contexts without necessarily offering judgement. Candidates are reminded that Navigating the Global is a contextually specific way of thinking that reflects the concerns and values of a particular period of time. It is useful for teachers and candidates to think in terms of the publication dates of the set texts as a historical guide to the elective.

While many candidates used the economic paradigm of globalisation as a way of demonstrating knowledge and understanding of this elective, others successfully – and perhaps more imaginatively – explored other paradigms.

Candidates are reminded that while this elective certainly has the protection and enjoyment of the natural environment as one of its concerns, there must be an understanding that this concern takes place within a specific context and reflects certain values. Weaker responses included clichéd migration or generational stories that reflected polarised views, more akin to the earlier Retreat from the Global elective. There were many travel stories that overlooked the political/economic/cultural aspects of globalisation.

Module C: Language and Values

Critical response: Question 5

General comments

The question clearly indicated that students were required to engage with two prescribed texts and ‘texts’ (plural) of their own choosing, but a significant number only wrote about one text of their choosing.

In stronger responses, candidates:

  • addressed all the key words of the question
  • explored the prescribed texts and related texts, maintaining a balanced discussion
  • often referred to key theorists in their essay and related the theories to the discussion in a meaningful way while maintaining focus on the texts
  • analysed language forms and features in an appropriate and insightful way
  • wrote a sophisticated, fluent and engaging response that synthesised theories, texts and language analysis relevant to the question
  • chose related texts that were highly suitable to the elective
  • demonstrated an understanding of how language shapes and reflects culture and values
  • showed an understanding of the role that values play in the elective
  • linked their ideas to their texts and were able to see connections between their texts
  • wrote essays that were highly original and reflected a genuine understanding of the rubric and elective.

In weaker responses, candidates:

  • failed to address key aspects of the question and/or spent too little time on some aspects of the question
  • displayed little, if any, real knowledge of theorists relevant to the elective
  • wrote essays that were prepared and hence failed to answer the question
  • failed to include their own thesis or line of thought throughout the response
  • chose unsuitable related texts that were clearly not appropriate for the discussion
  • displayed a lack of understanding of the elective and its rubric in Stage 6 English Prescriptions 20092012
  • spent too much time simply recounting the details of their texts, both prescribed and related
  • failed to discuss or imply the values inherent in the elective
  • wrote essays that were poorly constructed or too brief to properly analyse the key aspects of the question.

Specific electives

Elective 1: Textual Dynamics

In strong responses, candidates demonstrated a clear, fluent and sophisticated control of language. Their understanding of the module and the elective was demonstrated through thorough, well-integrated and adeptly expressed responses. The choice of self-selected texts demonstrated a wide range of approaches; of particular strength was the exploration of the dynamic relationships between texts, and how (sometimes seemingly disparate) texts can converse with one another. There was detailed exploration and analysis of how texts manipulate language to shape and reflect ‘profound ideas’ about culture and values.

Weaker responses lacked analytical depth and tended to focus on the recount of textual detail. Many of these responses included a discussion of several relevant theorists that failed to properly integrate this type of understanding into existing textual analysis. Candidates should be encouraged to range widely in their choice of what parts of the prescribed texts they choose to analyse.

It is essential that a distinction be made between the study of Textual Dynamics and the previous elective Postmodernism. There were a number of candidates who focused their attention on examining texts through what was identified as Postmodern theory.

Elective 2: Language and Gender

A sophisticated understanding of the performative nature of gender, with an integration of relevant theoretical discussion, and the close analysis of language forms and features, was a highlight of the better responses. The ability to write with fluency and clarity is not to be underestimated at the Extension 1 level.

Some candidates focused on the gender component of Language and Gender and failed to discuss, and hence demonstrate understanding, of the crucial role that language plays. In many instances, candidates in this elective focused on gender as a theme of their prescribed and self-selected texts, rather than a concentrated analysis and exploration of how language can be used to ‘construct, perform or conceal masculine or feminine aspects of identity and their associated values ...’ (Prescriptions 2009–2012, p. 35). Students are reminded that this elective requires them to engage with a close analysis/discussion of verbal and written language, rather than an examination of the language of actions.

Imaginative response: Questions 6

General comments

Responses in both electives demonstrated a wide variety of approaches, influences and interpretations of the module and electives. Candidates utilised a setting from a prescribed text and integrated the three terms seamlessly and effectively. The skilful control of language and structure, and the development of distinctive voices to explore concepts were notable features. Many candidates displayed a high level of understanding of the course, an outstanding ability to be innovative in engaging with an unseen question and to utilise well-developed writing skills. Some candidates captured, interrogated and commented on contemporary situations, texts and ideas in an original and entertaining way.

Ascertaining which elective had been studied was a problem with some responses, indicating a limited understanding of the chosen elective and a poor establishment of setting. Again, prepared answers were presented by some candidates, thereby restricting the effective use of the three terms and setting. The insertion of prompt words into prepared answers allowed for varying degrees of relevance and success. Some unnecessarily long answers would have been improved by candidates exercising a greater economy of language and working with a tighter structure.

In stronger responses, candidates engaged cleverly with the question displaying wit, originality, a sophistication of ideas and a controlled writing style. Many candidates worked with a clear idea, motif or structural feature that brought cohesion to their response as a whole. Central to these was an insightful demonstration of all aspects of the elective and its clear connection to the module. Various dimensions of setting were referenced and the terms effectively employed.

Weaker responses were often unclear in concept, fragmented, lacked insight and depth, and demonstrated a limited sense of purpose. Spelling, punctuation and grammar inconsistencies also marked these responses. Adopting a character’s voice from a prescribed text and either commenting on an incident or scene, or placing them into a different context, often contemporary, was not a particularly successful strategy.

Specific electives

Elective 1: Textual Dynamics

Stronger responses displayed a clear understanding of all the terms in, and the implications of, the rubric and demonstrated this insight through imaginative means and ‘stylistic ingenuity’. The three terms in the question were strongly embedded within the response, often clever in their rendition.

In weaker responses, candidates offered a narrow reading of the elective. Many chose the setting of a library, bookshop or gallery to explore the relationship between and among text and between texts and responders but were constructed around predictable and clichéd dialogues. Some responses were overlong without effect. Essays, offered through speeches and conversations, were not always convincing.

Elective 2: Language and Gender

Stronger responses were based around a clear concept that was convincing in its reading of the broad expectations of the current elective. Theoretical ideas underpinned the voice, characters and scenarios that were explored. Identity was central to these responses, which were distinguished by characters, situations and style that were fresh and engaging.

In weaker responses, candidates approached texts, notably Elizabeth and Orlando, through summary or retell. Sexual identity, marital conflict and discussions with therapists were common focuses. Poor control of dialogue and structure limited many of these responses.


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