In English, as for other subjects, it is important to engage regularly with your texts. Many students find it difficult to work out how to study for English because we don’t have textbooks with set exercises at the end of each chapter that you can use for simple revision. Still, there are a wealth of things that you can do! I would be looking to spend at least three hours, across the week, devoted to English study.
This study could take a number of forms.
Students should take the opportunity, even if they have not explicitly been instructed to do any homework, to write a summary of some of the ideas that were discussed in the day’s English class, to concretise their thinking before it starts to dissipate, and to make notes on such things as characters, themes, or key scenes or moments in their text. Making lists of quotations from the term’s text-a quote bank-that is organised into columns for such things as “technique”, “effect”, or “module link”, can also be excellent study.
Academic or scholarly articles, even if they are aimed at a university or adult audience, are a goldmine for ideas and vocabulary. Students should think about searching Google Scholar or JStor (via the Bibliothèque) for articles that are relevant to the text they are studying–they could use the text name and a theme or concept that they are interested in exploring, for instance “King Henry IV Part 1 Shakespeare masculinity”, as a search string. Reading and taking notes on these articles, including writing down a great critic’s quote that they might be able to use in their own work, is also valuable study. This may be in addition to the valuable study guides or introductory texts that exist for many of our prescribed works, such as the Cambridge Companion to Sylvia Plath.
Later on, after a student has a body of notes about a text, and a quote bank, it is time to start practising timed responses to HSC-style questions, and then submitting these to their classroom teacher for feedback. The more of these a student can do, the better! I would recommend having at least three different responses to different questions for each module in the HSC English course that a student is undertaking.
There is some interesting empirical work that suggests that the cognitive resources that are employed in order to synthesise thinking and interpretation into longer-form writing, written by hand, are more advantageous for long-term memory than writing that is done by computer–especially in the context of taking or making notes (Muelller and Oppenheimer, 2014). So I would be encouraging students to develop their capacity to write by hand by doing their notes on paper; this should thereby enhance their encoding into memory (and make later retrieval more rapid), in addition to preparing them for writing in the HSC.
Students are encouraged to approach their classroom teachers, or me, for more on how to fine-tune their studies in English.