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Essay Writing for the HSC Drama Exam

Essay Writing for the HSC Drama

Writing under examination conditions

When you write a response for the HSC drama written paper there are a
number of essay writing principles you should follow, for example:

Analyse what the questions asks of you and then answer the question
Develop a line of discussion in answer to the question
Back up your line of discussion with quotes from the texts set for study
Express your ideas clearly and write with your own voice
Write a well structured and informative response that encapsulates
your learning experiences
Engage the reader of your essay with your practical dramatic
knowledge of the texts set for study and give each of the texts
equal value in your response
Remember that it is a drama and theatre essay, and therefore it must
express not just what you know about the texts, but more
importantly what experiential and experimental learning you have
undertaken. In other words, what you have actively ‘done’ in the
HSC Drama classroom.

Revising for the exam

It is important to ‘rehearse’ your essay writing skills so that you will be

confident how you express yourself when you sit for the external
examination. To achieve this you could:

Draft and re-draft the relevant ideas you have developed from your
class workshops and performance experiences
Decide what points or aspects of argument may need to be made and
backed up by evidence from the texts
and then:
Practice planning and writing the essay from old exam papers
Keep timing yourself to make sure you can write everything you want
to in the 45 minutes time slot.

Writing from your classroom experience

When ‘rehearsing’ or actually writing for the HSC Drama exam there are
a number of points to keep constantly in mind:

There should be a real sense of your classroom workshops, personal

explorations and performance experiences in your individual drama
essay. This means you can write from the first person (I or my),
your groups’ perspective (we or our group) and from the audience
perspective (they or as an audience member, I). For example, in
appropriate places in your essay you could begin a topic sentence
with the following and then complete the sentence and paragraph:
Our group improvised a scene which . . .
My workshop experiences into the topic area . . .
We worked with each other to create . . .
When we experimented with . . .
When I became a . . .
My character’s tone of voice . . .
I explored my character’s body language by . . .
My workshop experience . . .Or in the body of a paragraph you
could state:
The audience reacted with laugher when . . .
We explored our performance through . . .
In a class workshop the students created a . . .
We worked with each other to create . . .
We used our bodies to try to . . .
In class we explored language activities that . . .
We improvised a number of cultural and social concerns that were
similar in both plays by . . .
As an audience member I found myself . . .
If you have not had much practice writing from your learning
experiences it is worthwhile going back over your logbook entries to
refresh your memory of the workshop activities you have undertaken
that were pertinent to your understanding of the texts. For example,
what improvisations, physical learning, problem-solving activities,
characterisation workshops, rehearsals, performances, have you
recorded, described and reflected upon that helped you actively to
understand your area of dramatic study. How can you use these records
and your memories to discuss dramatic meaning and audience
engagement in your essay?
Dramatic elements in your essay

The elements of drama

The elements of drama are the features that give your topic area its
unique shape and form, and can help you to create a written language to
discuss your ideas. The elements can be expressed in the following way:

Role and character are directed by focus driven by tension, made explicit
in time, place and situation through the use of structure, language,
sound, movement, rhythm and moment to evoke atmosphere and
symbol, which together create dramatic meaning and audience
engagement (7-10 Drama Syllabus 2003, p.14).

Each topic area set for study is grounded in the elements of drama. Of
course some topics may have a greater focus on such areas as
character, tension and/or symbols while others may have a greater focus
on place, situation and rhythm but ALL focus on creating dramatic
meaning and audience engagement so in your essay it is important to
use the language of the elements of drama to help you discuss your

The rubric

Each topic area has a description of what you have to study and this is
called the rubric. The essay question you will answer will be based in
part on this rubric. For example, part of the rubric in Topic Areas 1 and 2
Australian Drama and Theatre (Core Study) asks you to investigate how
different Australian practitioners use dramatic forms and performance
styles and the various ways in which artistic, cultural, social, political and
personal issues and concerns are reflected in different contexts.
Therefore it is important to understand the terminology in your rubric in
practice and try to use it in your response. For example you could

How the play’s dramatic form (insert the dramatic form) increased the
theatrical sense of . . . or
How a workshop enabled you to understand that the performance style
of (insert performance style) deepened the engagement with the
audience as . . .or
How an improvisation you experimented with explored the social and
personal issues of the topic by . . .or
How the audience’s reaction to the meaning of the play was deepened
by the performance style because . . .or
How the dramatic meaning of the performance was made clear to you
as an audience member, by . . .
Note: If you don’t have a copy of the rubric ask your teacher to give it to
you and spend some time explaining how it relates to the topic you have

Write about drama and theatre

Remember that you chose to study drama and theatre; this is an artform
that lets you explore the world around you through enactment, and
therefore practical activities and exercises should be referred to (it is
important to keep in mind that your essay should not be written, nor is it
examined, like an English HSC essay). As well as providing a well-
substantiated response that is engaging to read, let the language of
drama and theatre come to life in your essay.


NSW Office of the Board of Studies, Australia, 7-10 Drama Syllabus,

2003, p.14.