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The biggest mistake people make in English

By Danielle Barakat on 28 September 2018EnglishNSWblog

Smart people do well and smart people ‘sound’ smart. Therefore I need to ‘sound smart’ to do well. Right?


The HSC is not a contest to see how many overly complex, impossibly confusing, verbose words you can use. Everyone can hit the ‘right click synonyms’ button on Word.

HSC English is about communicating your point clearly and concisely.

Remember, the person marking your paper is a human. HSC markers are grading thousands of papers each day. Seriously, how many Mod B essays could you possibly read before going slightly crazy? So the worst thing you could possibly do is make your essay so convoluted with big words and fancy language that your marker has trouble following your thesis.

Get your marker onside! A nicely structured response that is clear and actually answers the question is like a breath of fresh air in that marking hall.

Trust me, it is really obvious to tell when a student is ‘trying’ to sound smart. Large words are used out of context and end up ruining the point you are trying to make. All the HSC markers I’ve asked have said the same thing.

Obviously I’m not saying ‘never use complex language’ and write in conversational tone. I’m saying write within your means. Make sure you are not jeopardising your thesis for the sake of sounding like a douche. I’ve seen responses get full marks without overly complex language and I have seen the most ‘intelligent’ sounding essays get terrible marks.

Let me show you an example. Here is one of my own original intro’s back when belonging was a thing:

“The inherent nature of belonging is a symbiotic relationship that is necessarily predicated on an individuals establishment of personal identity and the subsequent ability to reconcile this to their social milieu. Indeed it is this dualism that results in a semblance of both acceptance and social ostracism”

See what I mean. That sounds really ’smart’ but it doesn’t actually mean anything! A marker reading that would be so confused that I’m likely to lose marks.

A better response would look something like this:

“A sense of belonging results from an individuals ability to reconcile their personal identity to other people and places within society. This may result in the ability for one to be accepted or lead to social segregation.”

This is much easier to understand and is shorter and gets straight to the point.

Our final thoughts

Don’t worry about trying to sound smart in your responses. Write to a level you feel confident with. If you try to ‘force it’ your markers will notice and give you less marks. Keep it simple, clear and concise.

Focus on the point you’re making. Don’t make complexity the point of your focus.

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