FAQ: Area of Study – Belonging

Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/profile/pepo

Given the success of the Advanced English Module C FAQ, here is one for the Area of Study: Belonging.

I’m often surprised (read: shocked) by students who ask me just before HSC Trials (or worse, the actual HSC) – what is in Paper 1. Or whether they need a related text.

What is the exam?

In the HSC, you have 2 English exams (unless you do Extension – then you have more). The 1st paper is the Area of Study paper (aka Paper 1). It has 3 sections:

  1. Unseen Belonging texts – 15 marks
  2. Belonging creative – 15 marks
  3. Belonging extended response (“essay”) – 15 marks

They recommend 40 minutes for each section – totaling 2 hours (with 10 minutes reading time).

It would be wise for you to read the examination rubrics, which explain the marking criteria.

Both Standard and Advanced English Students take the SAME AOS Paper 1. With this in mind, Paper 1 is easier, because it caters for Standard students as well as Advanced

What are the unseen Belonging texts?

In Section I of the exam paper, you will be given about 4 texts which you have never seen before. They will be of different text types, but typically there is always 1 visual text and 1 poem.

How do I prepare for the unseen Belonging texts?

Firstly, revise your language and visual techniques.

Secondly, practise with past HSC papers and trial papers. You need to get used to reading the KEYWORDS of the questions and break down what the marker is looking for, according to the marks. The questions will either be:

  1. Idea-based: What is the concept of belonging conveyed in this text?
  2. Technique-based: How is ….. conveyed by the composer of this text?
  3. Comprehension-based: Why does the persona feel alienated?
  4. Synthesis (the final question is ALWAYS a synthesis of the unseen texts): Compare and contrast how the composers of TWO texts in this Section…

The key is analysing the question and doing all the questions within 40 minutes or less. The more your practise, the faster you will be.

What is the Belonging creative?

Section II of the exam paper requires you to write a “creative piece” about belonging. They may:

  • Require you to use a specific text type – eg. letter, memoir, diary entries, feature article, interview etc
  • Require you to use a particular quote – the concepts in the quote, or as the opening/ending of your piece
  • Require you to use a particular image – the concepts in it, or as the setting, character, object in your piece
  • Require you to explore a particular idea

How do I prepare for the Belonging creative?

Firstly, write a brilliant creative. See my tips here. Refine it by getting lots of people to read it and give you feedback – your teacher, parents, friends, tutor etc. It should be 1000 words.

Secondly, memorise it. Not word for word – that’s insane. But remember the key moments, storyline, the perfect metaphor or sensory imagery that you used…

Thirdly, practise with different stimulus. What happens if you have to write it in an interview format? Using different stimulus forces you to think and realise how FLEXIBLE your creative is to adapt to a given stimulus.

What is the AOS essay?

In Section III, you must write an extended response – this is typically an essay, but they CAN specify a different text type e.g. feature article, interview, reflection.

You will need to write about your prescribed text and related text(s).

What do we write about in the AOS essay?

The AOS is pretty easy. You need only write about ideas and techniques. The syllabus (go to page 10) provides you with suggestions for belonging ideas – identity, relationships, acceptance and understanding. Personally, I bring everything back to conformity and identity.

Check out the past HSC and practise AOS essay questions – to get a sense of what you may be required to response to or write about.

You may also include minor references to context, which might earn you brownie points or at least show your depth of knowledge.

Do we need related texts for the AOS essay?


You should prepare 2 related texts – and be able to write essays with either BOTH or only ONE. Interestingly, both the 2009 and 2010 HSC questions have specified “ONE related text” rather than “at least ONE related text”, which threw some students, because they had prepared to write for 2.

You should choose text types which are different to your core. For example, if your core is poetry (eg. Emily Dickinson), you should choose related texts of a different text type, such as a short story, novel, film, documentary etc.

How do I structure my AOS essay?

This is pretty basic, but:

  1. Intro – thesis about belonging, respond to question, state texts
  2. Idea 1 about belonging
    1. Core text
    2. Related
  3. Idea 2 about belonging
    1. Core text
    2. Related
  4. Conclusion

Your idea body paragraphs should be sandwiched (top and bottom) with a topic sentence explaining the idea about belonging. You can also have more than 2 body paragraph ideas, but I personally find 2 is enough if you talk about in great depth.

Don’t structure it by texts, because it makes it disjointed.

How do I prepare for the AOS essay?

  1. As with the Belonging creative, write a brilliant essay. Refine it with the help of your teachers, tutors and peers. It should be 1000 words.
  2. Memorise the key points of the essay – namely, your ideas, techniques, quotes.
  3. Practise writing your essay to different Belonging essay questions. See my massive list here. This will test your essay against various questions and allow you to see how flexible your thesis is.
  4. Practise writing your essay within 40 minutes or less.

What is the hardest thing about this Area of Study?

The topic “Belonging” is incredibly broad – this is both the easiest and hardest thing about the AOS.

Easy? You’ve got a broad choice of related texts, a broad choice of ideas to talk about and the idea is “basic” (read: actually complicated) enough to be understood by all students.

The challenge is thus developing a thesis and body paragraph ideas which cover what YOU think are the most important ideas about Belonging, BUT which is also so flexible that it can adapt to any Belonging question. I suggest writing multiple Belonging essays as a practise in order to arrive at some sort of composite or conglomerate “SUPER ESSAY” which can achieve that purpose.


Any other questions? Please comment.

16 comments for “FAQ: Area of Study – Belonging

  1. Schoolgirl
    December 9, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    could you please do one for extension 1?

    i’m not sure if the different electives mean different papers but is there a general format they have in common?

    • tutortales
      December 9, 2010 at 9:06 pm

      Yeah – it’s always essay (25 marks) and creative (25 marks). Thanks for the suggestion for an English Extension 1 FAQ. TT

  2. skay
    December 20, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Hello TT,

    I have a question about my related material. I am doing the HSC this year in NSW – for advanced english

    Can I use:

    sometimes gladness: collected poems 1954-2005 by bruce dawe


    the catcher in the rye by JD Salinger

    – my core text is as you like it.

    • tutortales
      December 21, 2010 at 10:40 am

      Technically, you can use both – as neither are current core texts. But I believe Dawe is a past core text (not sure about Catcher in the Rye). The related texts you’ve chosen are texts which will be very well known, so there is an advantage in that there will be a lot of existing analysis and study notes on them, BUT there is the disadvantage that teachers/markers will be very familiar with the texts and may “look down” upon your choices for that same reason. TT

  3. ZaaRaa
    December 22, 2010 at 12:06 am

    Hey, I’ve already analysed Brokeback Mountain (film) as a related text & used it for my first assessment in my speech but for our trials we need 2 new related texts and I am a bit stuck…
    Should I do ..
    – Remember the Titans (film)
    – To Kill a Mockingbird (novel)
    – The Road (film)

    which ones do you think are the better options? (and I know i can’t do both of them as films)

    I have read to kill a mockinbird so thats an advantage..but I’m not sure what aspects of it would be strong belonging ideas…
    Thanks !
    PS. Its for Adv. English…so are the above texts sophisticated enough as well?

    • tutortales
      December 22, 2010 at 7:24 am

      What were the marks/comments for your speech? If they thought BM was good, stick with it and add TKAM. I think they are fine as “sophisticated texts”, because ultimately it is about how you analyse and write about them. In my HSC, I did Ice Age as my related and that’s hardly “sophisticated”… and I did fine. Good luck! TT

  4. Dev
    December 22, 2010 at 9:04 am

    Hey, I’ve already analysed AsYouLikeIt as my core text and Gran Teri no as related text & used it for my first assessment in my speech but i got only 9 out of 15. Thorley disappointed, trying hard in holidays to get some notes/concepts writteb down for next test. Can I find an online tutor?

  5. Annette
    February 18, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Hi Tutortales,

    Just wondering what sort of techniques/etc. are to be examined when using a picture book as a related text?

    • tutortales
      February 22, 2011 at 6:06 pm

      Look at visual and literary techniques – especially the illustration style of the pictures and how they relate to the text. Consider layout and composition (where the text is placed in relation to the pictures etc). TT

  6. Rj
    February 24, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Hi TT,

    Just wondering if a short story is strong enough as a related text, in particular, Tim Winton’s Neighbours.

    Also, i did a speech of Romulus My Father and My Country By Dorothea Mackellar, and got 14/15 for my speech. However, is it a strong enough text to have as well? (because of the limited thesis/concepts it has)

    Thank you

    • tutortales
      February 27, 2011 at 7:41 am

      There’s nothing wrong with using short stories as a related text. However, Winton’s Neighbours tends to be VERY overused by students. It would be better to choose something different.

  7. Daniel
    July 24, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    Could you briefly explain how you link everything back to conformity??

    • tutortales
      November 4, 2011 at 4:14 pm

      If the question relates to identity – belonging requires conformity which detracts from our individual identity.
      If the question relates to the difficulty of belonging/not belonging – belonging is struggle because it requires us to conform and forgo part of our individuality; furthermore, individuals sometimes choose not to belong due to this very fact
      If the question relates to relationships – relationships which support and accept us generate belonging, whereas relationships which control and dominate (forcing the individual to confirm) create feelings of not belonging

      And so forth, all the concepts in belonging are interrelated in some way. In the way that I see belonging, conformity and identity are central in the web of concepts.

  8. Veronica
    October 14, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    When you say “Don’t structure it by texts, because it makes it disjointed.” How are we meant to structure it? How do make a well integrated response?

  9. Northey7
    November 4, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Hi TT, I was hoping you might be able to help me with selection of additional material. Im just starting belonging (i’m in that awkward year 11/12 transition term hahha). I’m thinking of using ‘My Country’ by Dorothea Mackellar however I am uncertain whether this would be considered “sophisticated” or “overused” by previous students? Please help! Also I am studying Romulus, My Father as my selected text.

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