Breaking Down a Belonging Essay Question

With this post, I will try to explain the thought processes involved in deconstructing a given essay question – and how you can make an essay (approximately 1000 words) out of it.

An “How is this represented” Question

Let’s first look at the 2009 HSC question:

‘Understanding nourishes belonging. A lack of understanding prevents it.’

Demonstrate how your prescribed text and ONE other related text of your own choosing represent this interpretation of belonging.

With any question, you need to see how it can be broken down into components. You should notice the following:

  1. There are essentially TWO ideas: “understanding nourishes belonging” and “lack of understanding prevents belonging”.
  2. You are to talk about your prescribed text and ONLY 1 related text.
  3. The question is asking how those ideas are represented – NOT whether you agree or disagree with the statement.

From the TWO ideas, you can begin to plan a structured essay.

IDEA ONE: Understanding nourishes belonging.

  • How this is represented in your core text
  • How this is represented in your related text

IDEA TWO: Lack of understanding prevents belonging.

  • How this is represented in your core text
  • How this is represented in your related text

You should be able to come up with this structure in the first 5 seconds that you look at this question!

Because the part that will take more time is figuring HOW you can relate those ideas to your core and related texts.

You can figure this out by asking yourself WHAT do the statements mean? Underline the key words:

Understanding nourishes belonging. A lack of understanding prevents it.’

  1. There is no need to underline belonging – you should already know what that keyword means!
  2. Nourishes is just a fancy verb

Ok, so what does “understanding” (or a lack of) mean?

  1. Is it the individual understanding the community?
  2. Is is the community understanding the individual?
  3. Does understanding mean KNOWING? Or accepting? Or sharing? Or empathy?
  4. WHAT is being understood? Feelings, traditions, values, perspectives?

By considering the above questions, you effectively expand on the word “understanding” so that you can encompass and relate the question to your texts.

Furthermore, it will help you to elaborate on your ideas and topic sentences.

An “To what extent” Question

So the previous question was one about HOW the ideas are demonstrated in your core texts.

Another common type of question is where they give you a statement – and either ask you to DISCUSS it, or ask “To what extent is this true in your texts…” For example:

‘Belonging is the cornerstone to finding identity in an individual’. To what extent is this true of your texts?

With these types of questions, you first ask yourself (with respect to your texts): Is that statement true in my texts?

  1. If the answer is YES, you then ask yourself WHY? Why is belonging the key to finding our identity? Your reasons may form your body paragraphs.
  2. If the answer is YES and NO, then those are your body paragraphs.

Example 1: YES answer

IDEA ONE: Belonging is key to finding our identity, because our relationships to people/place define who we are in the world.

IDEA TWO: Belonging is key to finding out identity, because without belonging we are lost and confused within the world (we have no sense of self).

Example 2: YES/NO answer

IDEA ONE: Yes, belonging is key to finding our identity, because our relationships to people/place define who we are in the world.

IDEA TWO: No, belonging is NOT the key to finding our identity, because in order to belong we must conform and suppress our individual identity.

37 comments for “Breaking Down a Belonging Essay Question

  1. sarah
    October 4, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    Honestly, the term ‘cornerstone’ bugs me. If I was in that exam, I would be there wondering what the heck that means and english is my first language.

    Do you think they’ll ask a 2 related text question for AOS this year?

    • tutortales
      October 5, 2010 at 12:53 pm

      Hi Sarah – I’ve had tutoring students stumped by that word too, and it is almost a colloquial saying. But regarding related texts, I really don’t know. The most likely thing will be “at least ONE related text”.


  2. Phoebie
    October 6, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Do you recommend spending the same amount of time on the prescribed text and the related text(s) or should you spend more time analysing your prescribed text?

    Thank you 🙂

    • tutortales
      October 7, 2010 at 3:37 pm

      I would spend 50/50, but if I was strapped for time in an exam, I would focus on the prescribed.


  3. Emma
    October 8, 2010 at 10:57 am


    When it asks you to “discuss”, would you recommend arguing whole-heartedly against it, or discuss the for and against possibilities?

    • tutortales
      October 8, 2010 at 12:13 pm

      You should do for/against. However, if your text only demonstrates “yes” or “no” to the statement – then you discuss the reasons why. TT

  4. Tanya
    October 9, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Hii! Thanks for making this website! It’s magic for studying the last week or so before the exams =)
    But one thing I’m not sure about, for the belonging essay, do we come up with central ideas and techniques that show these ideas, and just alter them to the question?

    I’m not sure how to prepare for it… right now I’ve just analysed my texts in terms of the ideas “Relationships” and “Environments” and shown how the different relationships show a belonging or not belonging, and same for environment. What do you think?

    Thanks heaps again!

    • tutortales
      October 16, 2010 at 8:48 pm

      Hi Tanya – realise this is post AOS, but for the sake of future readers – will answer. Hope you went ok on Friday, especially since “relationships” would’ve worked REALLY well with “interactions”.

      Yes, that’s the right approach to take – to have central ideas and have techniques/quotes to support. A good way to develop this is by practising with the different essay categories. For example, can you adapt those ideas to a question about the “need to belong”? If not, then you may have to prepare notes another central idea in relation to that.


  5. Bahia
    October 10, 2010 at 9:17 am


    How many paragraphs do you think we will need for the belonging essay?


  6. Pat
    October 10, 2010 at 8:02 pm


    Im finding it hard to find belonging practice questions. If you have any they would be much appreciated.


  7. jo
    October 12, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    In what situations can we refute/ go against the essay question??

    I know we can for things like :
    To what extent / (e.g. none at all if refuting?)

    But can we for
    “DISCUSS” questions??
    How is this shown in yo texts? (e.g. say it isnt shown at all, instead blah etc,.)

    btw is it just not recommended to refute questions because the examiners are trying to see what you know regarding the question?

    • tutortales
      October 12, 2010 at 7:58 pm

      “Discuss” – you can argue for/against. With “How is this shown…”, if it isn’t in your text at all – that’s going to be a problem. Hopefully it’ll be one of your related texts which you can drop. There’s nothing wrong with refusing a question – especially with “discuss” and “to what extent” when what they’re looking for IS a critical examination of the statement. TT

  8. smi
    October 13, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Hi TT!

    If you were to get a question like “To what extent have your perceptions of belonging been influenced….” or say “To what degree has studying ‘belonging’ augmented your understanding of yourself…”, are you able to use first-person?
    e.g. …. has shown me that to belong you do not always have to be in complete agreement. – Would something along those lines be appropriate? Should we just keep making comments like that in our body paragraphs to address such a question??

    Thanks a bunch TT =)

    • tutortales
      October 16, 2010 at 8:51 pm

      Hey Smi – sorry for late reply, but will answer for future readers. Hope you went well on Friday with AOS.

      You can use 1st person. Personally, I’ve never been comfortable doing that, so usually I refer to myself in the 3rd person either as “the reader” or “the audience”. For example, [Text] has broadened the reader’s understanding…


  9. Bahia
    October 13, 2010 at 1:05 pm


    How many paragraphs do you think we will need for the belonging essay?


    • tutortales
      October 14, 2010 at 1:56 pm

      Depends on how you’ve structured your essays, but most of my students have 4-5 body paragraphs. TT

  10. Jason
    October 14, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    these two questions are the same kinda, but i dont get it still
    “More than anything else, Belonging requires our understanding when we encounter the unexpected”
    and “Texts may show us that belonging involves unexpected discoveries”
    what do they mean when they say ‘unexpected’? like i know what it means, but what it means in regards to belonging. Thanks for this helpful information!

    • tutortales
      October 14, 2010 at 2:03 pm

      The “unexpected” aspects of belonging could cover many things – depends what your thesis is. But my 1st thought would be linking it to conformity (ie. in belonging, we can be surprised by how groups/communities are dictated by rules and obligations) and identity (ie. in belonging, we find not only others but ourselves). TT

      • Jason
        October 14, 2010 at 2:12 pm

        Thanks for the reply, but i don’t know how i could relate skrzynecki’s poem to either conformity or identity, sorry im not too good at english :S

  11. A-Lea
    October 14, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    ^i could do “Feliks Skrzynecki” for identity and maybe postcard.. but as with conformity- i’ve got nothing. I’m just hoping that we dont get one on that…

    • Jennifer
      October 14, 2010 at 8:16 pm

      Hi A-lea and Jason,

      I would use “St. Patrick’s College”. It has elements that suggest conformity AND identity (well, that’s what I think)

      Conformity: Skrzynecki uses imagery when describing his “blue, black and gold uniform”. Therefore, by conforming to the school and wearing the same uniform he physically belongs to the school.


      Identity: There is a tone of sarcasm in “Luceat Lux Vestra. I thought it was a brand of soap”. There’s also irony in “I stuck pine needles into the moto on my breast”. So by denigrating the school’s motto, Skrzynecki shows that he never emotionally belonged to the school and had his own identity. You could also use the last few lines of the last stanza.

      “Before I let my light shine” –> First person and a more positive tone compared to the rest of the poem therefore, more uplifting and assertive. Through that last line, the audience can see a glimpse of Skrzynecki’s personal identity.

      Good luck for tomorrow guys! I’ll be battling it out with you aswell. Gosh, I hate the HSC. Don’t worry, schooling life is almost over – we might aswell end it on a high note!

      Good luck, take care and go to sleep!!!

      • tutortales
        October 14, 2010 at 10:15 pm

        Thanks for the comment Jennifer – you’ve got some great points there about identity and conformity in St Patrick’s College. Good luck tmr. TT

  12. Iris
    October 14, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    HI ^^
    I wonder what can I write for the “immigrant chronicles” and “rabbit proof fence” for the question “experiences shapes belonging”?
    What can I relate to “experiences”? I have no idea at all =(
    Can you give me some examples?
    thank you so much

    • tutortales
      October 14, 2010 at 10:12 pm

      Think about positive and negative experiences of belonging and how that effects whether we feel like we belong or not. TT

  13. Anthony Liang
    November 11, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    Hey, just wanted to know if you had any peter skrzynecki notes for belonging, if so could you please email them to me at

  14. nat jones
    March 12, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    Hi, i was wondering if you could please break down the 2010 essay question? i’m a bit lost. Thanks

    • tutortales
      March 19, 2011 at 3:49 pm

      2010 HSC: ‘An individual’s interaction with others and the world around them can enrich or limit their experience of belonging’. Discuss…
      The keywords are interaction, enrich and limit. Essentially there are 2 parts to this question: enrich and limit. I would structure a response to discuss:
      – how certain interactions enrich their experience of belonging (2 paragraphs – core text and related)
      – how certain interactions limit their experience of belonging (2 paragraphs – core text and related)
      In terms of interactions, think about relationships, conflict/challenges, connection, submission/dominance etc.

  15. Alex
    March 20, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    Hey, just wondering if i could have a bit of help with the essay question, ‘belonging always comes at a price, does your study of belonging support this idea’. Im just not too sure how to start the essay… I have to relate it back to one skryznecki poem, which im thinking will be Feliks Skryznecki. I just am unsure how to start up my introduction… I personally think that the introduction is the hardest because its basically a settup of your essay. :S

    • tutortales
      March 27, 2011 at 8:28 pm

      Your introduction should, in 1 sentence or more for each point below:
      – state your thesis (addressing essay question): eg. “Belonging necessarily involves sacrifice and compromise of…”
      – state your texts and their authors: eg. “As Peter Skrzynecki’s poem… ”
      – outline your body paragraph ideas.

  16. hkjbkjb
    June 27, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Thanks TT! Your majorly simple structures for essay structure never fail and provide me with relief! Thank you again!

  17. eug
    July 30, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    For my prepared belonging essay, i only talk about the interactions with place. Would it be safe if i only prepared for this aspect of belonging?

    • tutortales
      July 31, 2011 at 5:27 pm

      If you’ve thought about and practiced that essay against many types of questions, you should be fine. It also depends whether you’ve talked about “place” as in just physical place or place as in the people and community as well – if the latter, then your essay would be a lot broader and more flexible, so that should be fine. TT

  18. Gem
    October 15, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Hi tutortales !
    i’m just wondering what would constitute a good conclusion ?
    ive always had trouble writing them 🙁
    thanks again for all the english help ! 🙂

    and also would it be stupid to just prepare 1 related ?

  19. Ejayne
    October 17, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Gem: When it comes to conclusions (and introductions as well) it’s really important not to get bogged down in them, because the body of your essay is more important and if you spend too much time writing superfluously long-winded intros and conclusions you’re cheating yourself out of time and marks in other sections of the paper. A conclusion functions as a formal way of reminding the examiner what you said and offers a nice, clean way of ending your essay. Essentially in a conclusion you need to re-state your thesis with reference back to the question and your texts, sometimes adding how this perspective of the module has enhanced understanding. A conclusion any longer than about 3 or 4 sentences is too long. With critical analysis don’t say in 100 words what you can say in 10 because it dilutes the academic integrity of your work, and in an exam; wastes time. Conciseness also demonstrated sophisticated writing ability which is what separates band 5 and 6 responses. (Don’t mistake shallowness for conciseness though.)

    Whether or not it is stupid to just prepare one is probably not a good question. According to all accounts, the current examiner is moving towards a policy of “quality over quantity”. In terms of the number of related texts, such an ethic would probably manifest itself in asking for one additional text, as any more than that, in an exam setting, would mean that you can only write about 250 -300 words on each additional which is not enough to develop any level of complexity. Having said that, no one except the examiner can predict the requirements. You will not regret preparing two related texts, even if they only ask for one. You will regret only preparing one if they ask for two. Considering the exam is tomorrow, I wouldn’t try and stress yourself by preparing a perfect essay for another related. Just have a bit of a think about other texts you could use if they ask for two. Nowhere does it say that you have to spend an equal amount of time on both of your additionals.

    Good luck tomorrow! You’ll be fine!

  20. Alannah
    October 11, 2012 at 8:03 am

    What makes a really good introduction that separates the essay from the rest?

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