1. Home
  2. HSC
  3. HSC Exams
  4. 2011 HSC Exam papers
  5. 2011 HSC Notes from the Marking Centre — English Extension 1
Print this page Reduce font size Increase font size

2011 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 2011 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 2011 Higher School Certificate examination, the marking guidelines and other support documents 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 that are not included in the glossary may be used, such as ‘design’, ‘translate’ or ‘list’.

It is obvious that some candidates prepare for the examination by preparing generic responses that they learn by rote. Such candidates reproduce these responses regardless of the question, or make some perfunctory modifications to refer to the question in their 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 and 5

General comments

Many students, who wrote otherwise sophisticated and erudite responses, limited their access to the higher mark range by ignoring the instruction to refer to ‘other texts’ and instead addressed only one piece of supplementary material.

A number of candidates struggled to adequately address the question as a whole, often ignoring a key aspect such as ‘context’ or ‘forms and features’ and focusing solely on the specific concept from their chosen elective. Candidates must be aware of the concept of genre and be prepared to discuss this in relation to their elective and its texts, as detailed in the rubrics for English Extension 1.

Candidates adopted a number of different approaches to their exploration of genre and the complex ideas associated with the concept.

In better responses, candidates successfully addressed all aspects of the question, often approaching them holistically rather than sequentially. In these responses, candidates also made an effort to offer a genuine evaluation of the statement, rather than a simple tacit acceptance of its truth. Candidates:

  • made a genuine evaluation of the statement provided in each question
  • gave equal attention paid to each of four texts (two prescribed, two supplementary)
  • demonstrated a knowledge of seminal texts in the genre, but selected more original texts for analysis
  • synthesised their discussion of texts with fluent integration of theory, contextual ideas, textual forms and features, and generic conventions
  • made connections between the elements of the questions, which allowed for greater integration of their key aspects
  • demonstrated an understanding and appropriate use of genre theory, displaying a depth and breadth of knowledge about the chosen genre
  • demonstrated understanding of the specific social and cultural contexts from which texts in the genre arise
  • engaged with ideas of form and feature
  • expressed themselves clearly.

In weaker responses, candidates:

  • demonstrated an inability to draw strong connections between genre theory, their chosen elective and their texts
  • showed limited engagement with the questions, with students often attempting to answer a different question entirely through a prepared response
  • displayed little insight into the relevance of context to the questions
  • did not connect the aspects of the questions, often ignoring an element of them entirely
  • selected unoriginal supplementary material
  • provided responses with an imbalance in the quality and amount of attention paid to each text
  • discussed texts and contextual issues inaccurately
  • demonstrated limited control of language.

Specific electives

Elective 1: Life Writing

There were a number of strong responses by candidates who established clear connections between the texts in the genre and displayed knowledge of the experimentation with form undertaken by authors working within it. In particular, Modjeska’s Orchard featured prominently among better responses, often in relation to the notion of interrogation.

In weaker responses, candidates tended to recount the events of the lives being represented with little consideration of context, limited textual reference, and little or no evaluation of the statement in relation to the text.

Elective 2: Crime Writing

Many candidates struggled to answer the question in its entirety. In better responses, candidates  used original texts and did not become overly focused on one aspect of the question. In some sophisticated responses, candidates, often in reference to The Real Inspector Hound, rejected the statement as a contextual concern, which led to a sophisticated evaluation.

In weaker responses, candidates used an overly formulaic approach and showed little understanding of the variations available in modern crime writing. Instead, they over-used authors such as Agatha Christie with little understanding of their contexts and limited evaluation of the ways in which their texts scrutinise justice.

Elective 3: Science Fiction 

Many candidates engaged strongly with the contextual concerns of their often well-chosen and original texts. In better responses, candidates displayed significant insight into the ways that composers challenged traditional perspectives on humanity and the contextual reasons for doing so. They also engaged with notions of form and feature in a sophisticated way, particularly when utilising Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Gibson’s Neuromancer.

In weaker responses, candidates focused heavily on conventions of the genre without connection to the statement given in the question. Candidates often gave a recount of the history of science fiction.

Imaginative response: Questions 2, 4 and 6

General comments

In better responses, candidates displayed a grasp of the conventions, ideas and values associated with particular electives. In these responses, candidates exemplified purposeful and controlled plot development, often in a concise and tightly structured manner. Depth and originality, rather than verbosity, were rewarded. Development of a credible and engaging context against which ideas could be explored was a notable feature of these responses. They were also characterised by authentic and sustained use of voice. Candidates demonstrated:

  • a clear and sustained engagement with the statement provided and strong elements of reflection
  • a deep understanding of the module and the particular elective, which was evident through their sophisticated manipulation of conventions
  • a sophisticated understanding of the values of the genre
  • original, engaging plot lines and successful experimentation with narrative structure, such as non-linear storylines and dual voices
  • evidence of wide reading and, in some instances, a seamless and highly effective integration of cross-curricular knowledge
  • an authentic, engaging and sustained narrative voice
  • highly effective control of language throughout the piece
  • an ability to ‘show’ conventions rather than ‘tell’ them.

In weaker responses, candidates demonstrated:

  • a lack of reflection
  • superficial understanding of the module in general and the elective in particular
  • pedestrian/cliched/derivative plot lines with conventions used in a simplistic manner
  • little evidence of independent reading or research
  • unsophisticated vocabulary and grammatical and syntactical errors
  • brief, underdeveloped responses, sometimes with unrealised potential, which may indicate poor time management.

Specific electives

Elective 1: Life Writing

Most candidates demonstrated a thorough understanding of key concepts. Candidates who performed strongly observed the functions of the genre in an authentic and original way. Settings were evocatively realised and demonstrated an insightful understanding of context. Powerful voices were created through complex and engaging characters. Impressive mastery of language was evident. Most candidates wrote narratives, with diary entries also featuring prominently.

In weaker responses, candidates produced responses that lacked complexity and nuance. Characters were less finely drawn and settings more mundane. The use of language tended to be imprecise. Candidates are advised to engage in wide reading and research in order to render contexts in a convincing and meaningful way.

Elective 2: Crime Writing

In better responses, candidates drew on a deep and wide-ranging knowledge of not only crime writing but other genres, such as history and visual arts. Conventions were manipulated and subverted in an engaging and highly effective manner. These responses were also characterised by narrative approaches that demonstrated a complexity and depth of ideas as well as an insightful understanding of the genre’s history and traditions.

Weaker responses tended to rely on gratuitous violence and explicit language, lacked plausibility and drew on populist, hackneyed interpretations of the genre. They displayed little evidence of independent research and were usually limited in scope. Control of language was often variable and development of ideas predictable.

Elective 3: Science Fiction

In better responses, candidates created convincing alternative worlds. These candidates displayed a highly developed understanding of genre conventions and the possibilities offered for imaginative exploration of ideas. Scenarios were engaging and language was manipulated with skill and flair.

Weaker responses were characterised by a limited understanding of the specific field, indicating a lack of independent reading and research. These pieces were often simplistic and underdeveloped.

Module B: Texts and Ways of Thinking

Critical Response: Questions 7, 9 and 11

General comments

Candidates used the key terms of the questions and articulated a clear understanding of the key paradigms present in each elective. They successfully used the statements in order to execute sophisticated arguments about the relationship between texts and the specific ways of thinking. It was important therefore to accurately use the key verbs of each question – critique, transform and confront respectively – in order to help focus the response. In these arguments, candidates demonstrated an ability to integrate their knowledge of the concerns of each era and balance this with detailed and apt reference to the forms and features of prescribed and self-selected texts.

Better responses contained a detailed evaluation of how texts related to the concerns of the eras of each elective, in both their content and the way in which textual features were manipulated as a response to the concerns of those eras. In these integrated analyses of language, candidates demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of how the techniques of poetry, prose fiction, plays, films and other forms of text were used to deliver meaning. They also balanced this with an argument that clearly revealed the relationship between techniques and the influence on those techniques by events and paradigms of the respective eras. Better quality responses were those in which students analysed at least two poems from a prescribed poet’s work or two short stories from a self-selected short story composer. The analysis undertaken in relation to the two or more self-selected texts was as sophisticated as that accorded to the prescribed text, and seamlessly integrated  the arguments proposed.

In weaker responses, candidates:

  • focused on textual detail and analysis rather than the concerns of the times, or focused mainly on the ways of thinking rather than textual analysis
  • did not address the key terms present in the question
  • used only one self-selected text
  • used texts that did not address the specific concerns of the eras from the electives
  • paid considerably less attention to the analysis of self-selected texts than that of the prescribed texts
  • explained both the ways of thinking and making reference to texts and their relationship with the paradigm, rather than analysing the texts
  • explained the content of the texts and made general comments about their relationship to the ways of thinking.

Specific electives

Elective 1: After the Bomb

Better responses balanced an argument about the personal and political values present in the texts used and how the concerns of the era shaped the forms and features of those texts. Candidates used self-selected texts to demonstrate the quality of understanding of these concerns, especially if those texts clearly were a sophisticated response to the times.

Mid-range responses in this elective focused on a discussion of the historical concerns of the period, and candidates included little discussion on the effect of the period on the shaping of textual features.

In weaker responses, candidates recounted the concerns of the era with superficial references to texts.

Elective 2: Romanticism

Better responses balanced an argument about the transformation of human experience through imagination and how the concerns of the era shaped the language used in the texts. In these responses, candidates also provided clear comments on the relationship between the concerns of the late 18th century through to the mid-19th century with the texts, often discussing previous eras or contemporary social movements as a point of comparison or a medium through which paradigms could be discussed. These responses also contained well-chosen self-selected texts that could be compared effectively with the prescribed texts.

Mid-range responses often contained detailed references to textual features, but these candidates included little discussion on the relationship of textual features to paradigms, or presented opaque arguments. Responses were often weakened by poorly chosen self-selected texts that dealt primarily with concerns of the Victorian era or 20th-century romanticism, which placed the response at odds with the parameters set in the rubric of the elective.

In weaker responses, candidates retold the concerns of the era with references to texts that featured superficial textual analysis, or recounted the events of the text with little reference to social movements and concerns.

Elective 3: Navigating the Global

Better responses in this elective balanced the complex dilemmas present in the globalised world represented in texts and an analysis of how the times shaped the textual features of the texts. These responses often presented a balanced vision of the blurred lines between the local and global contexts, integrating key terms and concepts present in the era to the discussion. Some of these responses contained an apt, clear integration of ideas of key theorists on the concerns and language of the era, such as Baudrillard, Jameson and Fukuyama, in discussing the paradigms.

Weaker responses tended to contain a discussion on the concerns of the era, which overpowered the essay and resulted in less textual analysis than was required. These candidates tended to explain the concepts of the era, sometimes recounting theories or providing textual detail that did not have strongly built links to the paradigms.

Imaginative response: Questions 8, 10 and 12

General comments

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 – this allows the candidate to reveal their ability to inscribe the values of a particular period in a text of their own creation. In some cases, the candidates’ responses were out of period; for example, a response that explored the ways of thinking relevant to romanticism might be located in the 20th century, with the resultant neo-romantic framework disregarding the directive in English Stage 6 prescriptions that students are to ‘explore texts which relate to ways of thinking characteristic of romanticism in the late 18th century until the mid 19th century’. In other cases, the responses were atemporal; for example, fairytale settings without any sense of historicity were used by candidates in Romanticism responses. Some candidates used overly allegorical settings; for example, some After the Bomb responses were stripped of any sense of historical specificity, relying on extended motifs that related to colour imagery or to the creation of weakly allusive characters.

In better responses, candidates engaged with all facets of the questions, incorporating both the components of character reflection on a significant event and the given statement in a manner that contributed to the textual integrity of the imaginative piece,  as well as to the depth and breadth of the relevant paradigms being represented. The most successful responses were structurally unified, with candidates presenting a sustained voice or series of voices that possessed authenticity in terms of their capacity to evoke realms and experiences pertinent to the ways of thinking. The sophistication of candidates was evident in the purposeful manipulation of form, structure and diction to create texts of conceptual richness. Candidates offered a clear, concretely detailed context that was established early and skilfully maintained, which represented a highly developed knowledge and understanding of the elective that acknowledged, albeit implicitly, the heterogeneity of values in particular periods. The ability to synthesise the given statement, a sense of reflection and appropriate specificity with regards to the ways of thinking were key discriminating factors. These responses were characterised by:

  • language and structure involving the skilful integration of complex ideas, nuanced vocabulary, evocative imagery, purposeful motifs and 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
  • the creation of a sense of time and place, which was successful conceptually and narratologically
  • the interplay of distinctive and sustained voice(s), and the creation of an original and purposeful authorial voice.

Weaker responses were characterised by:

  • a limited understanding of the paradigms central to the electives, as reflected in simplistic/overly concrete scenarios
  • a failure to establish a purposeful context
  • the 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
  • clichéd use of language
  • poor literacy skills.

Specific electives

Elective 1: After the Bomb

In better 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 general settings that were not clearly attributable to the historical, political and social context of the After the Bomb elective. As stated previously, overly allegorical responses that lack strong anchors in the period should be avoided.

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; however, in stronger responses, candidates frequently went beyond this, establishing a sense of the political dissent that underpinned the ideologies of liberalisation. 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 response to the question.

Candidates are reminded that romanticism as studied in this course is defined within a specific historical period that encompasses the late 18th century and the first half of the 19th century.

Elective 3: Navigating the Global

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 and to heed the time parameters indicated by English Stage 6 prescriptions: ‘late 20th and early 21st century’.

In better responses, candidates explored specific cultural, economic or technological concepts rather than generalising about an expanding world, which demonstrated that they had engaged more fully with the ‘navigating’ elements of this elective. Candidates seamlessly interwove references to multiple aspects of global navigation in conceptually rich responses.

Module C: Language and Values

Critical response: Questions 13 and 15

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 own choosing.

In better responses, candidates:

  • addressed all the key words of the questions
  • explored the prescribed texts and self-selected texts, maintaining a balanced discussion of both
  • often referred to key theorists in their essays and related their theories to the discussion in a meaningful way, while still maintaining a 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 that were 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 of the 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 pre-prepared essays and hence failed to answer the question
  • failed to include their own thesis or line of thought in their response
  • chose 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 2009–2012
  • spent too much time simply recounting the details of their texts, both prescribed and self-selected
  • 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

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.

In better 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.

In weaker responses, candidates provided analysis that lacked depth and tended to focus on a recount of textual detail. In many of these responses, candidates included a discussion of several relevant theorists that failed to properly integrate their understanding of this into existing textual analysis.

Elective 2: Language and Gender

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 providing 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 …’ (Stage 6 English Prescriptions 2009–2012, p 35). Candidates are reminded that this elective requires them to engage in a close analysis/discussion of verbal and written language, rather than in an examination of the language of actions.

A sophisticated understanding of the performative nature of gender, together with an integrated relevant theoretical discussion and the close analysis of language forms and features, was a highlight of better responses.

Imaginative response: Questions 14 and 16

General comments

From some candidates’ responses, it was clear that a piece of pre-prepared writing had been attempted to fit with the stimulus line given. The statement appeared to sit in the text or at the beginning of it without any real connection between the narrative and the interpretation of the statement. Also, some pieces from the same centre contained narratives that were very similar in plot and interpretation.

In better responses, candidates demonstrated a well-developed understanding of the elective and wrote with flair and skill using voice and setting in engaging and entertaining ways. Their pieces were well structured and indicated an ability to develop complexity and innovative interpretations of the dynamic existing between and among texts.

In weaker responses, candidates’ pieces lacked insight and depth, and were often unclear in concept. They demonstrated a limited sense of purpose, and errors in spelling and punctuation and grammatical inconsistencies were also evident. 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

In better responses, candidates demonstrated a clear understanding of the dynamic existing between the author, the reader and the life of the text itself. They created pieces that cleverly played with intention and expectation, which demonstrated an ability to challenge conventional interpretations and construct new ones. In these responses, candidates demonstrated skilful control of language and structure, and the development of distinctive voices to explore concepts. They displayed a highly developed understanding of the elective and demonstrated a highly developed ability to be innovative in engaging with the stimulus. Some candidates clearly demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the humour and playfulness required for commenting on contemporary situations, texts and ideas in an original and entertaining way.

In weaker responses, however, candidates demonstrated a limited understanding of the complexity and cleverness in textual manipulation in this elective. They composed pieces that changed plot and characters without a consistent awareness of the subtle control that is required to convey meaning and to demonstrate an understanding of the dynamic being explored. Many candidates chose the setting of a library, studio or home office to explore the relationship between and among texts, and between texts and responders, but these were constructed around predictable and clichéd dialogues. Some responses were very lengthy without being effectively developed. Pieces that relied on dialogue and conversations were not always convincing.

Elective 2: Language and Gender

In better responses, candidates demonstrated an understanding of the way in which language influences concepts of gender. Their imaginative writing cleverly manipulated characters in order to explore gender codes and identify these through language. Their reflections engaged readers in insightful personal accounts of the ways in which language can be used to construct, perform or conceal masculine or feminine aspects of identity and their associated values.

In weaker responses, candidates did not write creatively using language to reflect an understanding of the social identity of the speaker. They wrote about roles and sexism rather than explored constructs of gender in the language. Some responses were weak in the structure and control of language used to express ideas. In many of these responses, candidates also employed reflections that dealt only with love affairs gone wrong, cross-dressing dilemmas, transgender digressions, questioning of sexual identity, and so on.

Print this page Reduce font size Increase font size