Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.

June 22, 2024, 03:17:17 am

Author Topic: [Guide] How to Improve Your Vocab and Expression in HSC English  (Read 28191 times)  Share 

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.


  • Supreme Stalker
  • Honorary Moderator
  • ATAR Notes Superstar
  • *******
  • Posts: 2429
  • Respect: +1632
[Guide] How to Improve Your Vocab and Expression in HSC English
« on: January 21, 2016, 10:17:04 am »
How often have teachers told you that you need to have 'more sophisticated vocabulary'?  How often have they complained in bold red pen about 'poor expression' in your essays?  If you're anything like me, way too much.

Hopefully, if you actually read it and implement the suggestions, this ridiculously long post will clear some of the vapour and set you on the path towards clean, beautiful English that will make your examiners shed tears of pure joy. [Probably not, but I can hope.]  Any questions? Register and ask away, and I'll get right back to you! :)

tl;dr of this post: aim to get your ideas across most efficiently, clearly, simply, accurately, and appropriately.  Big fancy words DO NOT inherently score big fancy marks.

How to build a good/high-quality/superior/better/outstanding/admirable/broad/excellent/varied/wonderful/wide-ranging/comprehensive vocabulary

To challenge yourself to learn and use new words and build a more powerful vocabulary, try these steps!

1.  Read.  This is ultimately the best way of improving expression and vocab, albeit slow.  Push yourself, all year through, to read more and more.

2. Write.  Write something, anything, and then go through your writing and list any ‘problem’ words – words that you commonly repeat (e.g. ‘the’… no not that), don’t quite express what you wanted, or are vague and generic (e.g. ‘good’).

3.  Collect alternatives.  Thesaurus it and ‘lift’ great words from other people’s writing.  Build up a bank or mind-map of synonyms.  (Use Shift+F7 in Word or thesaurus.com.)

4.  Use them.  Create cue cards with a word you use too frequently on one side, and synonyms on the other; practise verbally coming up with as many synonyms as possible.   Practise writing the words in single analytical sentences.  When writing essays, have the bank there and refer to it as you go, trying to incorporate new words.  Or, go over essays afterwards and replace weaker words with stronger ones from your bank.  To improve your overall expression, write short pieces not essays, as the fear of writing essays can detract from your actual writing practise.

5.  Rinse and repeat.



Words on a synonyms list DO NOT mean exactly the same thing, and ARE NOT used in exactly the same way!
1.   Different words often have a slightly different meaning; like, see these two synonyms for ‘argument’, ‘war’ and ‘quibble’.  ‘War’ implies a very serious conflict involving bloodshed; ‘quibble’ implies a petty little argument over nothing.
2.   Different words fit grammatically into different sentences.  e.g. Just because I find ‘present’ on a list of synonyms for ‘suggest’ does not mean I can plug ‘present’ into any sentence where I said ‘suggest’.
‘The author suggests that oranges are good.’ :D
‘The author presents that oranges are good.’ >:(
‘The author presents the idea that oranges are good.’ :D

So: NEVER write a word in your vocab bank without finding a couple of sample sentences that show how the word is used.  Googling ‘define >word<’ often provides a couple of sentences.  Similarly, before you use a new word in an essay, write a few single sentences containing the word, and show them to your teacher/mum/friend to check that you’re getting it right.  You’ll then be more comfortable to use it correctly in an essay.

Nothing grates more on an assessor than words used incorrectly – they’d prefer you to stick to boring, vague words you’re comfortable with.  It makes you look stupid.

Just use with caution, that’s all.

And don't use big words for the sake of big words.

Your aim is to communicate the message as simply and clearly as possible.  Writing more words does not make you a better writer.  Writing fancier words does not make you a better writer.  The excessive implementation of Brogdingnagian vernacular irrespective of necessity, with the exclusive impetus being amplification of your perspicacity, is detrimental to the readership's comprehension of your import, and indeed can precipitate a sense of pretension.

It's easy to 'rate' words in your mind, and be like, 'Hmm, use... that's like a 3/10 word.  But utilise, wow that's so a 10/10 word!  Imma put dis in!'  In reality, neither is inherently better, except in providing variety.  Having a couple of awesome words per sentence sounds great, as these words 'shine', but cramming in too many just sounds pretentious, cluttered and confused.

Just like you wouldn't apply makeup with a trowel, don't apply big words in essays by the trowelful, or else your essay will look like this:

‘If you want to convey intelligence through writing, use simple words and short sentences* to convey intelligent messages and ideas. That is a far greater sign of intelligence, instead of masking otherwise clever ideas with poorly chosen phrases.’ ~ Jonathan Crossfield
* my strikethrough, you need a balance to stop your writing getting choppy
And try reading this.

And in the same vein:

Aim to write concisely.

Or: It is clearly evident that it is imperative that you attempt to keep as far away as possible from the redundant usage of excessively unnecessary words, in order to reduce, or decrease, the risk of your writing possibly becoming just a little bit too verbose.

Your aim is to get across the same information in the fewest words possible.

The English exam is a beauty pageant.  Obese essays packed with flabby writing aren’t likely to be winners.

Going on a word diet:
1.  Shows off your brilliant abs ideas so they shine.  Why dilute or hide them behind rolls of blubber?
2.  (plot twist!) Shows off your flaws.  In your practise essays, priority #1 is to search out your mistakes.  Word flab seeks to conceal them from you!  In cutting down, you often find that you have poor linking, very few ideas, or repetition.  (NB examiners wear x-ray glasses to see through the flab, so it doesn’t help you anyway)
3.  Rejoices the lazy, time-limited, but all-powerful assessors.  Make their life easy, and they will reward you.  Lead them a twisty-turny meandering dance that makes their arthritic gouty legs/brains tired, and they will punish you.

How to I become more concise?
Firstly, always think about exactly what your point is, and exactly what information or evidence is needed to get this point across.  Cut out any random unnecessary sideline descriptions or irrelevant story details.  And never say something twice in different ways.

Then, concise writing is about using STRONG, EFFICIENT words that pack real punch and power.  Weak, fluffy filler words are your enemies, that bog down your ideas.  ATTACK THEM!  Get out your verb-hammers, buddies; often, a strong verb can slaughter a whole vague-fluffy-flowery-adjectivey-adverby clause.  Note the powerful verb ‘slaughter’ rather than ‘put a stop to’ or ‘take away from the sentence’ or ‘bring to a bad end’.

So, fun challenge!  Get one of your essays, record the word count, and then set to work to cut it down as far as is humanly possible.  Rejig sentences, cut repetition, find more powerful words, kill flowery adjective-adverb fluff, switch to active voice, change verb tenses. I strongly recommend that you read these four articles on conciseness, (and maybe this, and Google ‘concise writing’ or something when you get hungry for more!).  As this exercise leads to short, choppy writing and woefully spindly paragraphs, you'll need to make up by gluing multiple short sentences together and expanding on your ideas.

Before long, you’ll easily pick up wordy phrases or structures and be able to eliminate them without thinking!

Finally, you may enjoy this Bad Writing Contest. Try reading the sentences in one breath ;D

A couple of first-prize winner sentences for your interest - click here to expand
Indeed dialectical critical realism may be seen under the aspect of Foucauldian strategic reversal — of the unholy trinity of Parmenidean/Platonic/Aristotelean provenance; of the Cartesian-Lockean-Humean-Kantian paradigm, of foundationalisms (in practice, fideistic foundationalisms) and irrationalisms (in practice, capricious exercises of the will-to-power or some other ideologically and/or psycho-somatically buried source) new and old alike; of the primordial failing of western philosophy, ontological monovalence, and its close ally, the epistemic fallacy with its ontic dual; of the analytic problematic laid down by Plato, which Hegel served only to replicate in his actualist monovalent analytic reinstatement in transfigurative reconciling dialectical connection, while in his hubristic claims for absolute idealism he inaugurated the Comtean, Kierkegaardian and Nietzschean eclipses of reason, replicating the fundaments of positivism through its transmutation route to the superidealism of a Baudrillard.

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.
Oh and on a slightly different note, you just have to love the banter in this thread
Mulans superb english q.s

Some of the more epic quotes from user pooshwaltzer:

Gospel is an attempt to preach the virtuosity of faith's domain. It is the unremittingly fundamental extension of one's trust towards some esoteric belief system; one belonging to the realms of ethereal existence. These values assert the quintessential for exercising absolution from renounced evils, the denunciation of which requires dedication, forbearance and perseverance. The youth of our society - children, juvenile youngsters, adolescents, fledgling adults exist in under the saturation of worldly exposures. These can range from the lesser misgivings to the downright Satanic. Suffice to say, an inexhaustible reserve of popular pervasive antagonistic influences include domestic violence, substance abuse, illicit conduct and other behavioural misdemeanours. And these exemplary perturbations are as yet still within civil jurisdiction. Presiding rule of law and its inability to resolve these perennial matters presents a dilemma of conscience. Being young means being vulnerable. Vulnerable to the suggestive, attractive luring of insidious sources. The Gospel is a cause which seeks to equip the uninitiated novice with sanitised values, norms and ethos. It provides them with the tools which purvey moral fortitude and ethical subsistence the necessity of which goes towards ensuring spiritual survival.

At some point in time, one may be in such a dire state of discontentment that they'd be enticed to strike out, with ostentatious randomness, at their fellow peers - irrespective of innocence or guilt. It's rather unfortunate that you feel this way Ninwa. Perhaps someday you'll discover the ability to demonstrate even so much as a limited degree of tolerance for a relegated subordinate such as my humble self.

It seems the pinnacle of hyperbolic hypocrisy that a certain someone may be tempted to insinuate an accusation of questionable succinctness cum lucidity upon another unsuspecting target when the subject themselves would perhaps benefit from introspective examination. May I be so bold as to inquiry upon the sagacity of your somewhat inane choice to use fallacious ad hominem against the ramblings of a purported troll?

Detracting criticism insofar has stemmed from a contingent of self-righteous Admins and Gurus. Importune coincidence or a systemic pattern of collusive vindication?

Have you yet got my point about how simple language is 100000000000000x better than ... well ... this?

So what's the point of a wider vocab, then?!?

A wider vocab does two things:
1.  Keeps the assessor awake by introducing variety
2.  Improves specificity and quality of your ideas

Re reason 2: the reason ‘bad’ isn’t a great word is not because it’s short or commonly used.  It’s because it’s not SPECIFIC enough.

When you use a vague word like ‘bad’ to describe a character, action or solution, it looks like you’re not thinking deeply and analytically.  What do you mean by ‘bad’?  Morally dubious?  Weak and easily led?  Selfish?  Thinks Collingwood is a good team?  Goes round murdering people for fun?  Hotheaded?  Ineffective?  Hypocritical?  Even with these you could be more specific – morally dubious, selfish or ineffective in what way?

So, if in your mind you’re more specific, if your thinking is clear, specific and deep, you’ll automatically find yourself using ‘bigger and better’ words.  Similarly, good flow is often a flow-on (geddit) effect from having coherent, well-linked ideas.

Conversely, though, if you have a very small vocab, you limit your chance to express your higher-order, more analytical and specific ideas.  Let’s say you’re trying to explain how great oranges are.  If your vocab doesn’t go beyond the word ‘good’, you’ll can’t say anything more than ‘oranges are good’ – so even if you know in what way they’re good, you won’t be able to explain, and you risk leaving people unconvinced.  If your vocab included ‘juicy’, ‘thirst-quenching’, and ‘vitamin C’, you could clearly express what you were actually thinking.

To put this into practise, write your essays with the first words that come into your head.  Then later, try to improve by brainstorming exactly what you mean by any vague words you find - ask questions and try become more specific.  This will improve not only your vocab quality, but your ideas quality!

A truly good writer uses words with precision, variety and appropriateness – not just ‘big words’ for the sake of it.

Improving flow

Use linking words, all the time.

•   conversely
•   on the other hand
•   in opposition to
•   in contrast to
•   alternatively
•   thus
•   hence
•   due to/because of
•   accordingly
•   consequently
•   as a result
•   inevitably
•   since/as/given that
•   ultimately
In addition
•   moreover
•   furthermore
•   further
•   subsequently
•   additionally
•   although/although/even though
•   despite
•   while/whilst
•   nonetheless
•   nevertheless

Caution: you know how well it works to sticky-tape two floor-boards together, end to end.  It doesn’t.  Same here; there’s no point using a linking word in an attempt to glue together two unrelated ideas.  e.g. Jim likes oranges better than apples.  Similarly, eggs and pineapples are quite different types of food.  Doesn’t quite work, right?

If your writing is getting choppy with short sentences – e.g. The author claims that oranges are ‘juicier’ than apples.  He also outlines the health benefits of oranges.  This presents oranges as thirst-quenching and healthy.  Thus, readers are more likely to eat oranges. – then it’s time to use some grammar-glue!

> conjunctions (e.g. and, but, because, since, as)
The author claims that oranges are ‘juicier’ than apples, and outlines the health benefits of oranges.
> semicolons
The author claims that oranges are ‘juicier’ than apples; this presents oranges as thirst-quenching.
> comma + an ‘ing’ verb
The author claims that oranges are ‘juicier’ than apples, presenting them as thirst-quenching and encouraging readers to eat oranges.

If, on the other hand, your sentences are too long, search out and slash commas, conjunctions, and ‘ing’ verbs.

Fall in love with verbs

One of the biggest traps in essay writing is storytelling:
The day before he argues with Andrea, Jim goes to the supermarket in his shiny red car which he had bought a few weeks earlier to buy an orange, which he then eats because he likes oranges better than apples.
Pure storytelling!  No analysis!

Think of it like this.  You have a deep treacherous river you must cross in your essay:

EVIDENCE                                                                                 SIGNIFICANCE

Heaps of students just look down into that river and are like, wow that's scary!  I give up!  So they stay safely on the evidence bank, just telling examples from the story, and rarely cross into analysing the significance - which was actually the point of having the evidence in the first place!

But, there's a very simple bridge!

EVIDENCE -----------------------VERB-------------------------SIGNFICANCE

Here are some of these verbs!
•   Implies
•   Suggests
•   Reveals
•   Exhibits
•   Displays
•   Highlights
•   Presents
•   Underscores
•   Emphasises
•   Establishes
•   Demonstrates
•   Illustrates
•   Shows
•   Conveys
•   Portrays
•   Depicts
•   Paints
•   Characterises
•   Exposes
•   Challenges
•   Condemns

Here's some examples of what I mean:
Jim’s consumption of ‘luscious oranges’ rather than apples HIGHLIGHTS that oranges are both thirst-quenching and healthy.
When Jim deliberately chooses to eat ‘luscious oranges’ rather than apples, he CHALLENGES the notion that apples are both more delicious and healthier than oranges.
Jim chooses to eat 'luscious oranges' rather than apples, REVEALING the thirst-quenching and healthy nature of oranges.

Basically, even though you can swap these segments round, make sure that every time you put in some green, you ALSO have some red and blue - if you've got 2-3 sentences of all green, warning bells should be ringing.

Here’s some tricks of how to write the green part to force you to move on to analysis!  Take ‘Jim eats fruit’.
1.   Nominalisation: turning the verb ‘eats’ into a noun that Jim does/possesses.
Jim’s eating/consumption of fruit…
2.   Begin with a word that locates your evidence in the plot: when, before, after, during etc.
When Jim eats fruit…
3.   Begin with a contrast word: while, although, despite, etc.
Although Jim eats fruit…
4.   Begin with 'The fact that...' or 'That...'
The fact that Jim eats fruit...

Because these aren't complete sentences, they nudge you to complete them with a red verb, and once you've got a red verb it's easy to launch into marks-scoring blue analysis and significance!

So remember to keep trying to put in those words: reveals, revealing, and which reveals (or 'this reveals' can start a new sentence).

So this is why I think that in expanding vocab, make verbs your first priority!  Strong verbs can:
• Take away the need for adjectives, which can make writing sound flowery and cumbersome (like, have you ever tried a hot chocolate with six sugars?!  That’s what binging on adjectives can get like)
• Replace a big fluffy phrase
• Make writing punchy, clear, and just downright impressive

For example: ‘Jim eats an orange’ tells you nothing more than that he eats it – it gives no insight into his opinion of them.  (Though at least it’s better than ‘Jim removes all the juice and flesh from the orange in his teeth and they pass to his stomach for processing to provide him energy’ – you see how a simple verb can eradicate so much unneeded info?)  But, ‘Jim savours an orange’ or ‘Jim forces down an orange’ tell you how he feels about the orange!  You don’t have to explain with fluffy adjectives and adverbs (e.g. Jim enthusiastically eats an orange with relish) because the more powerful verb already explains.

Expression and vocabulary under timed conditions.

This is where it gets tricky.  Ultimately, the only way to improve this is through PRACTISE - both in timed and untimed conditions, because every time you use a word or phrase it'll be easier to spit it out next time.  So take good words and phrases through the year and USE THEM obsessively till they just flow off your pen without a thought.

The most important thing in an exam is not to get stuck on a word, phrase or sentence.  Instead, use a weak 'stop-gap' phrase and then put an asterisk in the margin of the page, so you can fix it later.  Writing on every second line of your paper gives you heaps of editing room.  You don’t have time to perfectly craft each sentence before writing it – get your point down quickly and as well as you can, and maybe dedicate 5 minutes at the end to pick up the worst errors.  GET IT OUT, edit later, and remember that BOSTES knows that this is a timed-conditions first draft.  Their expectations aren’t huge.

Ultimately, expression and vocab aren’t the be-all and end-all.
Yeah, they only make up max about 90% of your marks, so don’t stress.

… Just kiddin’.

While expression and vocab make a huge difference to your writing, ultimately English is a two-step process:
1.   Having (relevant) high-quality ideas
2.   Expressing those ideas in a high-quality way

Without Step 1, no matter how nicely you can express your ideas, if you don’t have any ideas, you won’t get good marks.  It is FAR FAR FAR better to get down your ideas, even in a really sloppy way, than to not get them down at all.

So please, don’t stress!  Your marks will be minimally affected by this.  (But then, if you have great ideas, and can’t express them clearly or specifically, the examiner’s not going to know that you have them.  So, the key with good writing is: to show off your ideas in the most crystal-clear, strong, and interesting way.  But ‘crystal-clear’ is the most important).

But ultimately, if you don't remember anything else from this post, I want to leave you with just one message: oranges are so better than apples.
« Last Edit: February 26, 2016, 01:06:12 pm by brenden »
VCE (2014): HHD, Bio, English, T&T, Methods

Uni (2021-24): Bachelor of Nursing @ Monash Clayton

Work: PCA in residential aged care


  • Forum Regular
  • **
  • Posts: 50
  • Respect: 0
  • School: St Marys Senior High School
  • School Grad Year: 2016
Re: [Guide] How to Improve Your Vocab and Expression in HSC English
« Reply #1 on: June 18, 2016, 03:53:12 am »
Brilliant ideas thank you so much!


  • Adventurer
  • *
  • Posts: 21
  • Respect: 0
Re: [Guide] How to Improve Your Vocab and Expression in HSC English
« Reply #2 on: June 19, 2016, 03:46:03 pm »
How do u motivate yourself to read


  • ATAR Notes Lecturer
  • Honorary Moderator
  • Great Wonder of ATAR Notes
  • *******
  • Posts: 8814
  • "All models are wrong, but some are useful."
  • Respect: +2575
Re: [Guide] How to Improve Your Vocab and Expression in HSC English
« Reply #3 on: June 19, 2016, 04:01:07 pm »
How do u motivate yourself to read

When I was studying Metropolis and Nineteen Eighty-Four I basically just spared myself enough time to properly watch the film. The book was actually a good read though - Once I got past part one I actually wanted to read 30+pages a day by myself.

When I was studying Why Weren't We Told that was brutal. But since I used the holidays to read it, eh it wasn't impossible. Made myself read 10 pages on two-three occasions every day and it worked.

The former - I was motivated because I liked it. The latter - I forced myself. I.e. I had a good work ethic.

Do allow other students to provide tips though.
« Last Edit: June 19, 2016, 04:04:24 pm by RuiAce »


  • Honorary Moderator
  • Great Wonder of ATAR Notes
  • *******
  • Posts: 10150
  • The lurker from the north.
  • Respect: +3108
Re: [Guide] How to Improve Your Vocab and Expression in HSC English
« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2016, 04:21:09 pm »
How do u motivate yourself to read

Hey! Try setting yourself little increments to read it in small chunks. 10 minutes a day to read a single chapter. Having a timetable of small workloads is way better than trying to get it all done on one Saturday afternoon, at least in my opinion  ;D a chapter or two a day is very achievable!!  ;D


  • Adventurer
  • *
  • Posts: 21
  • Respect: 0
Re: [Guide] How to Improve Your Vocab and Expression in HSC English
« Reply #5 on: June 19, 2016, 04:22:00 pm »


  • Forum Regular
  • **
  • Posts: 87
  • Respect: 0
Re: [Guide] How to Improve Your Vocab and Expression in HSC English
« Reply #6 on: September 12, 2016, 10:49:34 am »
thankyou so much this helped me a lot!


  • Forum Regular
  • **
  • Posts: 52
  • Respect: 0
  • School: Riverside Girls High School
  • School Grad Year: 2017
Re: [Guide] How to Improve Your Vocab and Expression in HSC English
« Reply #7 on: March 27, 2017, 02:22:43 pm »
How do you find time to read in the HSC?


  • Honorary Moderator
  • Great Wonder of ATAR Notes
  • *******
  • Posts: 10150
  • The lurker from the north.
  • Respect: +3108
Re: [Guide] How to Improve Your Vocab and Expression in HSC English
« Reply #8 on: March 27, 2017, 02:27:06 pm »
How do you find time to read in the HSC?

This could even just be your texts in English! Or your friends Creative writing pieces! You can integrate reading in lots of small ways ;D


  • HSC Lecturer
  • Honorary Moderator
  • ATAR Notes Legend
  • *******
  • Posts: 3236
  • "Hey little fighter, soon it will be brighter."
  • Respect: +970
Re: [Guide] How to Improve Your Vocab and Expression in HSC English
« Reply #9 on: March 29, 2017, 01:27:47 am »
How do you find time to read in the HSC?

Outside of the prescribed texts, which I would allocate time to read in my normal study time, I tried to make the most of little pockets of time. Like, on the bus, recess, free period, and after dinner when I'm too tired to study anything else. It's definitely not easy, I only read short stories and no novels during the HSC. It is my greatest excitement that I get to read whatever and whenever now the HSC is over for me! Maybe short stories are the way to go for you? :)
Not sure how to navigate around ATAR Notes? Check out this video!