If you are tackling an essay question about IDEAS, try to explore the idea in some detail.  Avoid reducing it to one word such as relationships, power, war, courage, the human spirit etc.
E.G. A student might identify LOVE as an IDEA in Romeo and Juliet.
But WHAT about love? That love...can be superficial and fleeting?  That love...can be a violent and over-powering force?  That love...can be passionate and romantic?
Placing the word ‘THAT’ in front of your idea will encourage you to expand on it.  It’s a very simple strategy but it works 😁👍
Here’s an example using an examination style question:
“Discuss how Text 1 and Text 2 construct different IDEAS ABOUT IDENTITY”
Some IDEAS could be:
👾 that our identity...is heavily influenced by our society
🤖 that our identity...can be controlled by technology
👽 that individuality...can result in isolation within a society
🇦🇺 that the Australian identity...is built upon the values of freedom, equality and respect for all
Here’s another examination style question:
“Explain how language and aspects of construction are used to explore IDEAS ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS”
Some IDEAS could be:
🙈 that relationships...change over time
🙉 that relationships...can provide a support network for us
🙊 that relationships...can be filled with fear and violence
Of course the next step is to offer the ANALYSIS in these questions – the HOW part. You can see an earlier post on our page about how to do this 😊
Comprehending, Responding

EXPLAIN – how do I do this?

This instructional verb is used a LOT in the ATAR English examination papers.  For example:

  • EXPLAIN how your response to this image has been affected by the arrangement of visual elements. (2017)
  • EXPLAIN how the use of setting shapes the construction of one of the characters in this passage. (2016)

EXPLAIN means to give reasons for, to relate cause and effect, to make the relationships between things evident.  You have to make the marker understand something by giving reasons for both ‘how’ and ‘why’ things are as they are.

Here are some useful phrases you can use 😊

  • To understand the …… it is useful to think of….
  • … works by …
  • Because… then …
  • When… then …
  • … is/are caused by …
  • Whereas…
  • In the same way …
  • … results from …
  • The effect of….
  • The main reason for …
  • Taking into account …, it is clear that …
  • … interacts with …
  • … affects …
  • … causes …
  • … influences …
  • …predicts …
  • … leads to …
  • … informs …
  • … emphasises …
  • … demonstrates …
  • … impacts on …
  • … supports …


Your essays should predominantly be written in the present tense – is, shows, explores ideas about, purpose is to….

However, QUOTATIONS don’t always fit smoothly in our essays when a novel or article is written in the PAST tense.

That’s when these little guys [  ] come in really handy.  They tell a marker that you have CHANGED or ADDED something in the quotation.


In the opening of his dystopian novel, Orwell states that “it [is] a bright cold day in April, and the clocks [are] striking thirteen” as a way of signposting that all is not normal in this futuristic London.

The actual quote is “It was a bright cold day….the clocks were striking…”

My marker can see  [  ]  that for the purposes of grammatical correctness, I have amended the tense.

This tells them - I know how to use verb tense and punctuation properly.  Reward me!  😊


Orwell shows how serious the surveillance in Airstrip One is when he says “they [thought police] watched everybody all the time”.

It may not be clear to a marker who “they” are – so I provide the context for my marker using the square brackets.  I need my marker to be able to follow my argument

AND THAT’S IT.  TOO EASY!  Be careful though – you can’t use [    ]  to change the writer’s meaning to suit yourself.  And don’t use these ones (  )  -  that would be wrong. 😊



What's the difference between these two instructions? 🤔
If you are DISCUSSING an issue or idea, for example, you do not need to arrive at a decision or recommendation. However, you may provide points for or against. This means you would need to engage with the topic from different perspectives.
If you are ARGUING about a topic, then you should be taking a stance and making a bit of a case for or against a particular point of view.
DISCUSS is the instructional word more likely to appear in an ATAR examination.
Our next post will give you some terrific sentence starters and connectives to use in your essays when tackling a DISCUSS topic 👍