School is a marathon, and the HSC is the final sprint. The sprint that some students (or runners, if you will) will trip and fall through, thus failing miserably. They will then take their anger out on the studied poets, artists and authors rather than their own shortcomings.
This is most evident through the HSC students’ collective distaste for the English exams, both paper 1 and paper 2. TWO exams for 1 subject totalling 4 hours and 10min. It’s a bit excessive in my opinion. Let’s just say, English is not my favorite subject, especially considering it’s the only compulsory subject and every other two-unit subject has a singular HSC exam lasting up to 3 hours and 5mins.
I’m not saying English isn’t important, it is, and I really believe that. However, it’s not suited to all students, and it doesn’t always play to their strengths or interests. With the different English courses including the ATAR pathway, you have a choice of either English Standard or English Advanced as well as the option for Extension units or the non-ATAR pathway of English Studies. The problem with the ATAR pathway is for many students it does not feel applicable to their areas of interest and is just not enjoyable in comparison to their other subjects.
My Preliminary year 11 English was much more enjoyable, I felt it was more engaging than year 12 and my marks and ranking show that. My favourite ever assignment in year 11 English involved creating a google site exploring the investigative-journalism podcast, ‘Serial’, season 1 to be specific. This interactive digital assignment piqued my interest and I put care and effort into it and my results on the task reflected that.
The idea of the assignment was for students to develop critical thinking skills and be able to question information from a logical standpoint, which is valuable in everyday life. In this digital age I feel more students should be given assignments that encourage students to be digitally fluent. In comparison my year 12 English assignments are influenced by what we will encounter in the last HSC exam - essays, essays, and even more essays which I enjoyed much less.
Section 1, paper 1 is the main issue, it is basically comprehension, deconstructing and understanding unseen texts and relating them to the human experience. We revisited literature techniques and analysis of texts/stimulus but very briefly as it was presumed that students knew how to deconstruct text as they had done it all throughout high school. There are 5 sections all up each worth 20 marks. In every other section students had a whole term to study in detail whereas section 1 got a few lessons sprinkled in here and there.
In previous years, students came out of the exam centres to immediately go on social media to harass and troll the referenced authors, poets and artists within the English exams. It's so common that my English Teacher, who I have so much respect for, said to my entire class the last week of school, with the passion that exists only in English Teachers, “If any of you go on social media and harass or dm any of the authors in the unseen texts after your exam, I will hunt you down.” I was waiting for an ‘and’, but it never came. But she warned us, and she should have warned the entire state I guess because no one wants a repeat of the previous HSC groups who have been stained by what a select few have said or done on social media.
In 2021, Ocean Vuong, a Vietnamese American novelist/poet fell victim to angsty Australian teenagers, where the harassment was dealt with calmly using humour. Even posting on his Instagram story a picture of a dog along with “Yo, what the hell is an HSC exam and why are all of y’all failing it?”. The unseen text in question was an exert from Ocean Vuong’s 2019 debut, award-winning, coming-of-age novel ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’. The protagonist is depicted plucking the grey hairs from their elderly Grandmother's head as she tells them stories.
Unfortunately, the graduating class of 2017 were not at all kind to Indigenous Poet Ellen Van Neerven. Van Neervan, along with every English Teacher in the state, were not informed that her poem was to be used in the exam. She endured racial and sexist abuse from some HSC students, primarily on the HSC Discussion Group. For the students that defended Van Neerven on social media, they also became the victims of abuse, including sexual harassment. This behaviour was in response to her Poem ‘Mango’ as it was featured as an unseen text and, without context, perplexed many HSC students at the time. The question “Explain how the poet conveys the delight of discovery”, was only worth two marks. To put this into perspective, this question would be only 2/100 marks in the English exams meaning, if a student bombed-out on this question, they would get a maximum of 98/100, which is a band 6, the highest band.
No matter how much the question was worth, the abuse was unnecessary and extremely hurtful, especially as it was directed towards a person with no input into the exam whatsoever. NESA (NSW Education Standards Authority) expressed their disappointment as they stated students involved should issue apologies for their action and reiterates that the NSW curriculum promotes tolerance and diversity.
This year, I completed my HSC. I am also a part of the HSC Discussion Group which had a few trolls that would do their trolling every now and then. But after the English Paper 1, the Group lit up with trolls, poking fun at both NESA and the unseen texts. English Paper 2 came along, and NESA decided to throw us a curve ball. After spending a year learning to write a polished and concise reflection piece for Module C, NESA decided against it and instead decided more unseen text was ideal for this year’s HSC. This baffled both students and English Teachers alike and led to more uproar on the Facebook Group directed at NESA.
It is imperative that HSC students understand that theHSC isn’t the be all and end all. If you fumble on aquestion, it is not the fault of an artist, author, or poet, they don’t deserve the abuse and trolling theyare people with feelings too. For the students that troll these human beings they need to askthemselves, is it worth spending my fleeting time harassing strangers for an exam that is already over?
Students need to get it out of their head that the HSC will determine the future trajectory of their life and avoid basing their self-worth on the ATAR.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, JADE:
My name is Jade. I am 17 from regional NSW. I am passionate about bringing awareness to the safety of social media users because it is ever so present in my own life and the people around me.
I believe it is a hugely influential aspect of our lives as it shapes culture and social expectations and has significant impacts on our mental health. Ongoing education in regards to social media is necessary for the future.