Different learning styles: (from left) Tom Falkner, Daniel Trent and Tom Green. Photo: Ben Rushton
The first HSC questions will not be revealed until 11.20am on Monday, but many students already know almost exactly what they will write for their English exam.
''I memorise my essays for all my English exams, except the comprehension part, obviously,'' said Christina, a student at a Sydney high school who asked that her surname not be used. ''All my friends in my class do … the questions they ask are very easy to predict - they all follow the same topic.''
In her trial and practice exams, Christina used the same Hamlet essay twice, tweaking it only slightly. ''Both times I got a top band mark,'' she said.
Almost 70,000 students will sit English exam paper one or an ESL (English as a second language) exam on Monday morning, the first paper of the 18-day exam period.
The subject unites all students as the only compulsory topic in the Higher School Certificate.
But students are divided in their approach.
Tom Falkner, 18, has memorised 25 to 30 quotations for his English papers but resisted rote-learning essays. The Newtown High School of the Performing Arts student said he preferred to work on the ''scaffolding'' for each area and to build a response around it.
''It comes down to your learning style,'' he said.
Tom's approach is in line with the advice of both the Board of Studies and most English teachers.
''[Memorising essays] doesn't work and that's why teachers don't advise them to do that, but it's the kids' choice in the end,'' said Lisa Carmody, English head teacher at Bankstown Girls High School.
''They're really easy to spot because they're great essays but they don't answer the question.''
Christina said the intense time pressure was part of the reason she memorised responses. ''It's not easy to write a 1200-word essay in 40 minutes if you have no idea what you're writing about,'' she said.
Last year several English teachers said the English papers had become too difficult, with a greater volume of reading material than was realistic for the average student in the comprehension section.
Ms Carmody agreed.
''The kids will tell you all the time that English is the most difficult because … English is so open. They can't go in there confident they're going to be able to fully address the question.''