The short answer or comprehension section of the HSC exam is undoubtedly one of the most neglected sites during preparation. It is a mistake made by many year 12 students that they will be able to score well in this section simply because it's "only short answers right?". Although this component of the exam is slightly easier in the sense that you are not required to memorise an entire 1100+ word essay, often involving a series of shorter texts like poems, images and short fiction and non-fiction extracts, there is a very methodical way to achieve full marks here.


You should be well aware that the short answer component of the HSC is embedded within the Common Module: Texts and Human Experiences. This means that the ideas contained within the texts you will be analysing will be taken from the issues and concerns raised in the rubric, of which you already have direct access to. Thus, familiarising yourself with concepts like: individual and collective experiences, the role of stories throughout time, the importance of challenging assumptions, our emotions, behaviours and motivations, paradoxes, inconsistencies and anomalies etc. will probably be the best tool for you when navigating the sometimes complex and ambiguous nature of these texts.

You should have a go at brainstorming the different ideas associated with each of the key rubric terms would be a good way of consolidating your understanding and familiarity with the main ideas that will probably be raised in the comprehension texts. Below are a few examples of what you might do:

Individual and collective experiences:

- Humans exist as both a singular entity experiencing life in a unique way (every single person has their own personal conception and interpretation of reality, their own assumptions and deeply held beliefs about how the world operates and is organised, and also has their own perception and subjective experience of themselves) as well as an element of a wider social network/ broader environment, sharing similar thoughts and experiences as others who also inhabit the same socio-cultural, political, historical and ideological space (each individual is unique but also forms a part of a wider communal fabric, in turn sharing experiences with others who also form part of that same space. These collective experiences tell us many things: firstly, how we are social beings and secondly, how the experience of being 'human' contains many constants. For example, all individuals will experience loss, hope, grief, ecstasy, confusion, dread, contempt etc.)

Human emotions and responses to experiences:

- These rubric words draw our attention to the way in which we should be analysing texts. NESA wants us to focus on how experiences and the effects of these experiences interact in a very dynamic way. Our experiences of the world are interrelated with many other factors, such as our emotions and subjective reactions, our interpretation of the meaning behind these experiences, and our behaviours in response to them as well, all of which then collectively influence the experiences that we will go through again in the future. NESA wants us to consider how experiences do not unfold in a vacuum, but are actually part of a dynamic constellation of factors that highlight our sensitivity to the things we endure, the things we go through, and the things that we face. For example, the experience of losing someone you love might elicit a range of emotional reactions, such as grief (the individual might feel completely strangled by sadness and despair, ruminating on the time spend with that person and fixating on the past) or hopelessness (the individual may feel as though there is no reason to live without the individual, manifesting more self-destructive behaviours as a result of their intense feelings of existential dejection).


Once you have the ideas in your head and you are prepared to read to analyse the work, you need to make sure that you are automatically searching for the appropriate devices that are used in the particular medium or form you are asked to look at. During preparation, this will entail you revising a list of the different devices that composers use for different textual mediums. In the HSC comprehension, common text types include:

- short fiction extracts

- non-fiction extracts

- poems

- images

- radio transcripts

- blogs and online articles

- cartoons

- play extracts

Having a comprehensive list of the different devices used for these text types will be a good idea. Have a look at the example below:

Short fiction extracts:

- figurative devices (metaphor, simile, personification, zoomorphism, anthropomorphism etc.)

- word choice/ diction (positive/ negative connotations)

- repetition (anaphora, anadiplosis etc.)

- syntax

- structure

- typography

- imagery (visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory, tactile)

- synaesthesia

- motif

- symbolism

- extended metaphor

- characterisation

- setting

- irony

- paradox

- satire

- juxtaposition

- contrast

- allusions (literary, historical, philosophical, cultural, political, religious etc.)

- intertextuality

- dialogue

- tone

- mood

Visual texts:

- vectors

- salience

- gaze (direct/ indirect)

- composition

- layout

- angles

- shots

- body language

- facial expression

- background/ foreground

- lighting

- subtext

- visual motifs

- visual metaphors

- contrast

- juxtaposition


Let's have a look at a full-scoring response to an image. Pay close attention to the ideas that are raised within the answer and how it responds to the question through its ideas, alongside with how it integrates the appropriate techniques related to the form of the work.

Explain the human experience represented in the poster. (3 marks)

The poster visualises our desire for meaning and connection in a world of constant movement. The salient image of the two figures centred at the bottom-third of the composition draws our focus to the intensity of their shared experience of connection, symbolised through them gazing directly into each other’s eyes as they communicate their feelings without words but simply through an understood presence. The monochromatic colours depict the hollowness of urban life that makes genuine and authentic human connection so difficult and rare to achieve, an idea compound by the figurative title “lost in translation" that alludes to how individuals feel alienated within a foreign landscape. However, the close proximity between the central figures and their body language communicate the sense of comfort they experience with each other through their connection in an otherwise disconnected world.


Have a look at the classes we offer here at Concept English in order to improve your English skills! Our team consists of the top performers in NSW English Advanced and Extension.

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