How to adapt your English essay thesis to an exam question

This article demonstrates how to best adapt an English essay thesis, using George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” as an example. This novel is currently listed as a prescribed text in the English Stage 6 Common Module Texts and Human Experiences. A thesis statement is undoubtedly the most important part of an English essay. A band 6 essay will constantly be establishing relevance of points by referring to this core point. How then, does one adapt a thesis statement to work with an unseen exam question?

When your teachers assign you a question for your draft essay, they will in all likelihood elect to use a fairly broad question. This is deliberately done so that the first draft of your essay will not be written in such a way as to have all effects and links exploring a niche concept. Consider the following two essay questions.

Question 1: “Nineteen Eighty-Four narrates a human experience which causes readers to view their own world differently. Do you agree or disagree?”

Question 2: “To what extent does the exploration of human experience in Nineteen Eighty-Four invite you to reconsider your understanding of loneliness?”.

Question 1 is a prompt which one would likely receive as a draft question. It focuses entirely on the broadest of points in the rubric (the human experience and a reconsideration of the world in general terms). Writing a thesis for a draft question like this is good practice for the more complex ones which one should expect for trials or HSC level. Do remember though not to place too much importance on perfecting a draft thesis, as your thesis should always change on day of an exam to directly respond to the exam question.

Upon reading Orwell’s dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four, responders undoubtedly undergo a passage of mental revaluation of their surroundings, due to Orwell’s bleak depiction of the human condition.

As a side note, notice that the syntax of the above example is reversed. This is done purely so that the thesis does not read too similarly to the essay question. For the same reason, students should use synonyms for key essay words in the thesis. Consider the following, more unchanged version of a thesis for question 1, and compare it to question 1 itself. Nineteen Eighty-Four undoubtedly presents a human experience which causes readers to reconsider their surroundings, due to Orwell’s bleak depiction of the human condition.

Question 2 on the other hand, is far closer to what one would expect of an HSC level question (and was in fact the 2020 Module A stimulus). With this stimulus, student’s must hit on four key points.

1. To what extent does: students must decide on the extent to which the author achieves something. This is usually best answered simply by using an adverb (Orwell powerfully insights doubt in readers as he…)

2. A Human experience: students must refer to some aspect of the human experience.

3. Reconsider an understanding: students must refer to how the author causes audiences to reevaluate something.

4. Core idea of loneliness: Besides hitting on the above two syllabus points, students must also discuss the two points in the context of loneliness George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four presents a bleak human experience through a
dystopian lens, which insightfully invites audiences to reevaluate their understandings of solitude. It is clear then, that in order to successfully adapt to an essay question on the day of an exam, you must be able to identify the key points the question is attempting to get you to answer. The most effective way to do so is to write a starting thesis from a generic question, and to then practice with past HSC questions. Using these tips, you should be well on your
way to perfecting the art of adapting theses on the day of an exam!

The syllabus for year 11 and 12 English can be found here

Past HSC exam papers can be found here


By Josh Pricken 

What are the five parts of an essay?

Essay writing is like writing a story, only analytical! Therefore for an essay to feel complete and to tick all the markers boxes you need to have a introduction, body and conclusion.

The introduction is the first part of your essay – it refers to the question you have been given and voices the “topic” of your essay. The introduction is normally 2-3 sentences. The first sentence is often a conceptual statement which is drawn from your knowledge of the course. With this opening statement you want to draw the marker into your piece and conceptually answers the question. Near the middle of your introduction you need to include your thesis – a statement that reflects the topic you wish to argue.

Below is an  example introduction I have written for  Hamlet.

Emotions add the color to every thought and action, a key ingredient to which one constructs their own life and equips for survival. These metaphysical threads define whom we are in our minds eye as well as in the eyes of others. It is through literature and delving into the psychological mindscape of characters that one interacts with the interior worlds, to introspect on their own desires and motivations that shape how one perceives, thinks and feels. Within William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Pablo Picasso’s the Weeping Woman, one is confronted by humanities ability to live life as a performance. Both these texts examine how emotions if left unresolved sew together a life of existential questioning, and how metathetically permeates the underbellies of our existence.

The next three paragraphs of your five part essay are referred to as the body paragraphs – those in which the student explores their argument (their thesis). Each body paragraph needs to have an argument that relates to the thesis. For example, a student writing an essay about Hamlets turmoil may include a paragraph on meta-theatricality, another on Hamlets characterization and another on his existential questioning – as arguments to support how each of these points lend to his overbearing turmoil.Within these body paragraphs remember to use the structure PETAL – point, evidence, technique, analysis and link – as it will make sure you include everything the marker is looking for. Make sure that the discussion of each body paragraph has appropriate evidence to support your point and the overall thesis statement of your essay. Each body paragraph needs to state your point and then be followed by 4-5 pieces of evidence and detailed analysis (the amount will vary depending on your grade and how much you can write in a given time period). Make sure throughout these body paragraphs you link to the question to show the marker you are thinking about the question throughout. The final sentence of each body should be a linking sentence to your point and the overall question as well as providing a transition into the next paragraph. By ending each paragraph with a transitional sentence, it allows you to make a segway into your next argument and also provides a cohesion between each point to show the marker that each body paragraph is supportive of your overarching thesis statement

The final piece of a 5 part essay is the conclusion. This paragraph is only 1-2 sentences long and is included within the essay to confirm your thesis statement. Within these final lines you should restate you thesis, however do not duplicate the opening thesis statement – say it another way! you then need to summarise the three major points you have discussed (the points of each body paragraph) – as this allows you to reiterate your points. The final sentence needs be conclusive and a clear signal that the essay is complete. A common way to end is to provide an application to your argument or to include a statement that causes the reader/marker to think about your thesis once they have finished reading your essay.

By Isabella Matthews

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