HSC English Standard – Close Study of Literature Study Guide

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HSC English Standard – Close Study of Literature Study Guide

Introduction

Module B, or Close Study of Literature, refers to the unit of study that has been prescribed by NESA to the English Standard course. Broadly speaking, the role of the student is to analyse in great depth a single text or body of work and evaluate its cultural significance. It is extremely important that the student knows the text well enough that they can take on the role of a critic and be able to contribute an original idea about their personal interpretation of the prescribed text. Hence, every student should ensure that they are aware of the specific elements that should be included in their response that the rubric covers.

In this study guide, we will deconstruct the key aspects of the Close Study of Literature rubric and how they should be engaged with in a response. Then, we will look at what to expect when sitting Paper 2, as well as a general guide to writing responses for this module.

Prescribed texts

Your school will assign you ONE of the following prescribed texts to study. These texts have been selected by NESA because they, in more ways than one, have contributed greatly to the world of literature. They hold cultural, political, social and personal significance to both the audience of the composer and a universal audience. In consideration of this, it may be helpful to ask yourself why and how your prescribed text relates to this module exactly.

Prose fiction

  • Feed (2012) by M.T. Anderson
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (2014) by Mark Haddon

Poetry

  • Coast Road (2014) by Robert Gray
    • ‘Journey, the North Coast’
    • ‘Flames and Dangling Wire’
    • ‘Harbour Dusk’
    • ‘Byron Bay: Winter’
    • ‘Description of a Walk’
    • ‘24 Poems’
  • Selected poems by Oodgeroo Noonuccal
    • ‘The Past’
    • ‘China…Woman’
    • ‘Reed Flute Cave’
    • ‘Entombed Warriors’
    • ‘Visit to Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall’
    • ‘Sunrise on Huampu River’
    • ‘A Lake Within a Lake’

Drama

  • Namatjira from Namatjira & Ngapartji Ngapartji – Two plays by Scott Rankin (2012) by Scott Rankin
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (first performed in 1605) by William Shakespeare

Nonfiction

  • Stasiland (2003) by Anna Funder

Film

  • The Truman Show (1998) directed by Peter Weir

Media

  • Frank Hurley: The Man Who Made History (2004) by Simon Nasht

Initial considerations

No matter which text you are assigned as your prescribed text, it must be analysed in terms of the Close Study of Literature rubric. Some initial considerations you should deliberate before writing a response in order to consolidate your understanding of the texts and the module include:

  • Your personal response to the text – again, the most important aspect of this rubric is your ability to convey to the marker what you think of the text
    • What is the text about?
    • What is the text trying to say?
    • Is the text attempting to influence audiences to react in a certain way?
    • How do your personal experiences affect the way in which you interpret the text?
  • The composer’s purpose in creating the text – is it to provide commentary on social and political issues, spark a certain emotion in responders, challenge cultural beliefs and stereotypes, create art for art’s sake or a culmination of all of the above?
  • The literary significance of the texts (awards, accolades, critical and commercial reception) – what do the broader responses to text mean? Why does society regard the text as being important or notable?
  • Responses to the text and how they have changed over time
  • How form, structure, genre and style deeply influence the ways in which messages, themes and ideas are depicted by the composer and interpreted by the responder

An evaluation of some key terms

In Module B, you may come across various terms that will be central to the unit of study. They may initially seem very vague and confusing. This is partially because these terms have various definitions – none of which are unanimously agreed upon. It would therefore be a good idea to familiarise yourself with what each term means and ask how it can apply to your study.

  • Cultural significance – the aesthetic, historic, scientific, social or spiritual value of a text
    • What makes your text interesting, unique or important?
    • Would the world be the same if this text had never been created? Why/why not?
  • Literary canon – the body of texts considered to be ‘high culture’ or have achieved the status of being ‘classics’
    • What texts do you think belong in the literary canon? Why/why not?
    • At what point does a text become a classic?
    • What issues of diversity come with the literary canon? Is it good to take an elitist attitude towards texts in this way?
  • Textual integrity – the ability of a text to unify content, form and purpose into one coherent message
    • Why is it important to consider all aspects of the text when analysing it?
    • Do you think these three elements complement each other in your text?

Deconstructing the rubric

As with any module, we must first look to the Close Study of Literature rubric to understand what it really is that we are asked to do. In fact, every potential HSC examination question can come only from this rubric—though at times it could be less obvious and masked by synonymous language—so it is imperative that we study the links between your text and the major points in the Close Study of Literature rubric. The rubric is as follows:

‘In this module, students develop an informed understanding, knowledge and appreciation of a substantial literary text. Through their development of considered personal responses to the text in its entirety, students explore and analyse the particular ideas and characteristics of the text and understand the ways in which these characteristics establish its distinctive qualities.

Students study one text chosen from the list of prescribed texts. They engage in the extensive exploration and interpretation of the text and the ways composers (authors, poets, playwrights, directors, designers and so on) portray people, ideas, settings and situations in texts. By analysing the interplay between the ideas, forms and language within the text, students appreciate how these elements may affect those responding to it. Students produce critical and creative responses to the text, basing their judgements on a detailed knowledge of the text and its language features.

Through reading, viewing or listening, students analyse, assess and comment on the text’s specific language features and form. They express increasingly complex ideas, clearly and cohesively, using appropriate register, structure and modality. They draft, appraise and refine their own texts, applying the conventions of syntax, spelling and grammar appropriately.

Through their analyses and assessment of the text and their own compositions, students further develop their personal and intellectual connections with, and enjoyment of the text, enabling them to express their informed personal interpretation of its significance and meaning.’

Let’s look at some example questions you could receive in the HSC examination and what aspect of the rubric it most closely reflects (remember, some questions can be a combination of different elements of the rubric!). Then, we will deconstruct what the statement actually means and, most importantly, how you can apply it to your response.

Understanding and appreciating a substantial literary text

  • Potential question: ‘Without the ability to appreciate art, we lose the ability to feel truly connected to the universe.’ Explore this statement in relation to your prescribed text.
  • Rubric statement from which the question is derived from: ‘Students develop an informed understanding, knowledge and appreciation of a substantial literary text.’

Essentially, what this rubric statement means is you will be tested on how well you know your prescribed text and are able to engage in meaningful discussions about it. Although it is necessary in every module for you to know your text in great detail, Module B is perhaps the most important when it comes to this.

There are various ways in which you can become informed about your text. Make sure you employ as many as techniques as you can, if not all of them:

  • Read your text (more than once if possible) and write good notes about it
  • Engage with critic readings
  • Discuss your text with teachers and peers
    • Try to understand or listen to others’ opinions, even if you don’t agree with them. Then, ask yourself why you disagree – what evidence from the text makes you believe what you believe?
  • Keep notes throughout the term so that you can reflect on how your understanding of the text has changed
  • Research the composer’s context and the form of the text
  • Ensure that your work is read by others

It should also be noted that there is a difference between understanding and appreciating a text. Understanding a text is quite straightforward – what is the text about? What are its main themes, messages and textual features? What techniques did the composer use to get their point across? Attempting to understand a text should be the first thing you do when studying this module.

However, to elevate your responses to a Band 6 response, you must learn how to also appreciate the text. Here, you must apply that knowledge you have about the text and evaluate it. Explain to the marker why you think the text is significant to humanity. Discuss the cultural impact of the text, whether that be on the political context of the composer or its effects on other texts at the time. Consider the different perspectives of the text that exist, and then form your own.

The distinctive qualities of a text

  • Potential question: In your opinion, what aspects of your prescribed text make it unique, distinctive and memorable?
  • Rubric statement from which the question is derived from: ‘Students explore and analyse the particular ideas and characteristics of the text and understand the ways in which these characteristics establish its distinctive qualities.’

Every text is unique and different. This should be obvious to any person. Try to think of a text you’re familiar with – it could be your prescribed text, your favourite movie, song or novel, a text you grew up reading – and think about what makes it memorable. You might start to realise that it is more than the plot and story that differs between texts. The text’s style, genre, tone, political commentary, subversions of expectations, techniques make it distinctive from other texts with similar themes.

Take the example of the film, Shrek (2001). If you reduce the plot down to its bare bones, you could chalk up to the film to be a classic fairytale story about a hero who saves a damsel-in-distress from some type of dangerous situation, with the two characters later falling in love. This is essentially the story of texts like Rapunzel and King Kong. However, a large part of what makes Shrek different is that it subverts expectations of the text’s form. Instead of a handsome, heroic protagonist, the film surprises the audience by showing a rather unattractive ogre. It also subverts the fairytale genre by showing that the dragon that Shrek saves Fiona from is actually quite a kind-hearted creature. Here, we can see how various stories with a similar setup and plot can turn out extremely differently – it is a unique feature of Shrek that it adopts a rather ironic, sarcastic tone towards the clichés often found in damsel-in-distress films.

Your job, as the student, is to identify features like this that separate your text from others. Then, you must examine why the composer chose to subvert expectations this way and what kind of implications it has on the text’s reception by audiences. It may be helpful for you to go through this checklist:

  • How is the text similar to other texts?
  • What was surprising to you about the text?
  • What was the most memorable aspect of the text to you?
  • What purpose does the text serve by subverting expectations?
  • Were there any aspects of the form that were unique?
  • Was there something about the text that hadn’t been done before?

The interplay between the ideas, forms and language

  • Potential question: ‘In order to fully understand a text in its entirety, one must consider all elements of the story, its structure and purpose.’ To what extent does this statement apply to your prescribed text?
  • Rubric statement from which the question is derived from: ‘By analysing the interplay between the ideas, forms and language within the text, students appreciate how these elements may affect those responding to it.’

It is extremely important when attempting to understand or appreciate a text that we talk about it in its entirety. This includes not only the themes and ideas presented by the composer, but the way in which these themes and ideas are being portrayed. In other words, you must be able to analyse the connection between the ‘ideas, forms and language’ of the text. This is where the concept of textual integrity becomes extremely important. Refer to the earlier definition in part 1.3 if you need a reminder of what this term means. Ultimately, when you write your response in Module B, you must consider and incorporate all elements of the text in order to provide a meaningful analysis.

Textual form and language features

  • Potential question: Discuss the significance of form and how it can be manipulated by composers to portray important themes. In your response, make close reference to your prescribed text.
  • Rubric statement from which the question is derived from: ‘Through reading, viewing or listening, students analyse, assess and comment on the text’s specific language features and form.’

As mentioned before, the form of a text – that is, features of the text that relate to its structure, style, genre or techniques – is an extremely important feature that should not be dismissed. After all, a really interesting, clever story idea would not matter if the author does not know how to tell the story in an engaging way. Discussing form in an answer is certainly ideal, but not essential unless the question specifically asks for it. Even still, it should always be considered whilst undertaking a study of the texts and explored whenever possible. The following are examples, but certainly not a complete or even extensive list, of common features or tropes that can be found in familiar text types:

Prose

  • Nature of language used
    • Is it sparse, eloquent and flowery, colloquial or meant to reflect a certain dialect/accent? Why would the author choose to write the voice way?
  • Linear/non-linear structure
    • Flashbacks

Film and media

  • Camera angles
  • Lighting as a means to create mood
  • Taking advantage of the multimedia form—using music, visual techniques and dialogue/text to portray their message instead of simply written language as prose fiction would do

Poetry

  • Symbolism
  • Structuring of the stanzas
  • Persona
  • Musicality
    • Remember that poetry is meant to be heard, and not simply read. There is careful section made by poets as to the actual sounds of the words or phrasing they adopt as to aurally accentuate certain features

Theatre

  • Metatheatricality
    • Direct engagement with the audience works best in forms such as theatre due to the immediate presence of the audience in front of the stage
  • Stage effects
  • Staging and set design
    • What directions does the playwright give in the script? Why do they add these details (or, conversely, choose to leave it vague enough for the production’s director/actors to interpret it themselves)?

Persuasive texts

  • Rhetorical questioning
    • Similar to theatre, live speeches are often given in the immediate presence of an audience, meaning good speeches must be able to directly engage with the responder
  • Anecdotes
  • Assertive tone

Genre

  • Romance
  • Tragedy
  • Black humour
  • Absurdism
  • Dystopian fiction
  • Historical monograph

Contextual movements

  • Modernism
  • Feminist
  • Regency era

It is not enough to simply state these aspects of the text’s form. Depending on the texts you are studying, analyse its genre and context and understand how every sequence of the work is a deliberate choice made to contribute to these features (or, perhaps, challenge or pioneer them). Think of the form, structural features and nature of language as deliberate choices made in order to most effectively tell the story they needed to tell in the text – they aid composers in exploring universal themes as a medium through which they can communicate with the responder.

Your personal response

  • Potential question: Write a series of three or four reflections that detail how your personal response and connection to the text has evolved over time.
  • Rubric statement from which the question is derived from: ‘Through their analyses and assessment of the text and their own compositions, students further develop their personal and intellectual connections with, and enjoyment of the text, enabling them to express their informed personal interpretation of its significance and meaning.’

What separates Module B the most from other units of study is the fact it requires you to form your own, personal opinion about the text. With every other module, you are still required to analyse and become familiar with your prescribed text. However, Close Study of Literature is unique in that you are allowed and encouraged to convey your personal response to the text’s themes, message and impact.

Think of how the text has challenged you personally, or how it has made you feel. What parts of the text did you enjoy? Draw on your own experiences, memories and values to evaluate how the text has impacted you as an individual. Note that the rubric also establishes the importance of developing an ‘intellectual connection’ with the text, meaning you must be able to express to the marker what the text has taught you. Perhaps, it may have even made you a better writer. Regardless, this is arguably the most important, defining aspect of writing a Module B response.

Writing a Close Study of Literature response

What to expect from Paper 2

Now that you have familiarised yourself with precisely what NESA is asking of you in this module, you should begin to understand what you should expect from Paper 2. The following is a summary of key points you should know long before going in to the exam:

  • Paper 2 consists of three sections
    • Section I – Module A response
    • Section II – Module B response
    • Section III – Module C response
  • It will be 2 hours of writing time, with an additional 5 minutes reading time (you will not be able to mark your page in any way during this time)
    • This means you should be devoting approximately 40 minutes to each section. While you don’t have to evenly divide time between the three modules, we recommend that you stick to this guideline as much as possible
  • All parts are out of 20 marks each
  • You must only write in blue or black pen

Being a guide to Module B, this study guide will focus on Section II. This section is relatively straightforward in that you are given one question only. However, you may be expected to write in a variety of forms, such as a full essay with an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion, personal reflection, a creative response or any other type of persuasive form. Regardless, all questions will draw from any aspect of the Close Study of Literature rubric (including specifying form!), though it may sometimes include quotes and extracts or rewrite statements from the rubric in a different way. You must come prepared having studied your prescribed text in great depth. After all, Module B essentially evaluates how much you know about a single work of literature.

Constructing an essay

In any English essay, the following structure should generally be followed.

  • Introduction: 6 sentences maximum, approximately 150 words
    • General statement about the module (e.g. ‘Literature has the ability to make its mark on the world in more ways than one.’)
    • Thesis statement that defines key terms of the question and makes a judgement on the question asked
    • Introduction of texts
      • Title, composer, date of publication and form
    • Conclude using an evaluative adverb to demonstrate how you will develop a thoughtful response
  • 3 – 4 body paragraphs: 200 – 300 words
    • Topic sentence: explicitly reference language from the question, restate your thesis in terms of your theme
    • Context/elaborate sentence(s): emphasise more specifically what you mean by the topic sentence, especially in terms of what happens in the text. Two sentences maximum
    • Analysis: using evidence to support your topic and elaboration sentences—there must be a direct link or progression of logic made between the analysis and the argument. Deconstruct at least two quotes, but ensure that you are focused on quality over quantity
    • Concluding sentence: use an evaluative adverb such as purposefully, cleverly, insightfully (e.g. Significantly, this text projects the necessity of … ) in order to assess the question and your argument as a whole
  • Conclusion
    • Re-address main ideas/topic sentences of body paragraphs
    • Make an overall judgement about the texts in terms of the question
    • Optional: finish with an insightful afterthought about the role of texts in our cultural experience

Of course, this is only a general guide to writing a sound essay. As frustrating as it can be to hear, there is simply no single scaffold you can follow to impress a marker, as each module will have different requirements, every student’s writing style will differ, and markers will have different tastes.

The most important advice to keep in mind when writing an essay is to have a strong thesis. Learn to define the question in your own terms—this is what your thesis is, not simply a restatement of the question. By defining the key phrases in the introduction, you can manipulate any given question so that it fits your plan/ideas about the text. If you state this thesis at throughout your body paragraphs (not simply the topic and concluding sentences), your essay will have a strong argument and persuade the marker that you are confident in your case. It is similarly important to ensure that your arguments always come back to Close Study of Literature. That is, you should be able to clearly explain how your quotes or ideas are relevant to the themes in your prescribed text.

Personal reflections

Over the course of this study guide, the notion of ‘personal responses’ have been emphasised a lot. In fact, this aspect of the module is so important that it is very possible that you will be asked to write a personal reflection of your text. When writing in this form, you must remember that it is not the same thing as an essay – the structure, tone and purpose of personal reflections are completely different.

Firstly, there is no strict introduction-body-conclusion structure that you should follow. You may choose to simply write your response in normal paragraphs. Your paragraphs can be in chronological order – that is, they detail the progression of your learning over time – or they can be grouped thematically like you would in an essay. You still need quotes, examples and analyses, but you do not have to follow PEEL or any other paragraph structure. Above all, write what feels natural to you.

The tone of the personal reflection should be, obviously, quite personal. You may use first-person pronouns like ‘I’ and ‘my,’ which you should avoid when writing formal essays. The way in which you discuss the text should also be more intimate. Instead of describing what the text is about, you should focus more on how it made you personally think and feel. This style of response can also invite colloquial language! Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone.

These two aspects tie into the purpose of personal responses. Unlike formal essays, which attempt to present the ‘facts’ about a text in a cold, hard way, personal responses should only be used to present how you feel about the prescribed text. You are not just persuading the audience of something (although your response should still serve this purpose!), you are putting forward your own thoughts and perspectives. Hence, your response should reflect this purpose.

Creative response

Creative writing is a skill that is difficult to learn, mostly because of the fact that good stories do not take one form. For example, a saga set in space that deals with questions of morality and justice is not inherently better than a simple story that takes course over an average businessman’s lunch break. Instead, good writing is judged on the overall effectiveness and cohesiveness of a story rather than its specific parts. That is to say, there is no ‘formula’ or scaffold in which you can follow in writing a story as there might be when writing an essay. Each writer will inevitably have different writing styles, quirks and nuances – it is up to you to capitalise on and focus on your strengths, whilst still working on improving your weaknesses, to create an effective piece of writing.

Regardless of the fact that all short stories are extremely different in their plot, style and themes, there are some features that will assist you in writing a more effective story. Firstly, one of the most important characteristics of any good story is having a convincing purpose. That is, though you may not think essay writing and creative writing are the same in any way, both forms actually have a thesis/argument that you are attempting to prove that you are trying to prove to the reader. A short story is, in essence, an essay in action. Your very first step in writing a story is choosing a purpose – in other words, the moral of your story.

Secondly, every engaging story must have a sense of development in either the world or the characters. Without this change, there is no story to be told. A character or a society must have had their values or perspectives on the world challenged, an obstacle to overcome or an event that confronts their fears, beliefs, etc. Your character/world should never be the same from start to finish.

Above all, make sure that you are following the stimulus given instead of simply rewriting a memorised story. Think of what the stimulus inspires in you, as well as how it might be relevant to your prescribed text.

Conclusion

The Close Study of Literature module can certainly seem extremely overwhelming at times. There are many aspects of the rubric to familiarise yourself with. It is therefore extremely important to maintain a focused attitude and show to markers your personal ideas and beliefs about the text.

Final tips

  • Avoid writing memorised responses. It is incredibly easy to recognise when a student has done so, and markers are ultimately judging you based on how well you are able to think critically and not simply regurgitate an essay or a creative response
  • Write lots and lots of practise responses. You may (and should) begin setting no timer so that you can clearly express your thoughts without timed pressure, but gradually move on to putting yourself under exam conditions so that the actual assessment will feel familiar to you. This, as well as actually writing responses out on paper and not simply on a computer, is going to make a huge difference
  • Themes and rubric statements can and do mix. This is because texts are not produced against such distinct lines or categories. They are only here to provide basic structure to your responses so that you and the marker can better understand the point you are trying to make
  • It is ideal to discuss form in your essay even if the question does not ask for it. Of course, in that case, it would not have to be your primary concern, but even a sentence or two about the structural features or language used in the texts could show the marker that you really understand the relationship between theme and form
  • When writing a creative response, try to limit your story to 2 – 4 characters, with the main plot not exceeding 24 hours. This way, your story is more manageable and therefore more detailed
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