Cryptic HSC Exam Question: What Does It Mean?

October 21, 2020

Artist Julie Paschkis’ painting left thousands of students befuddled during their HSC English Paper 1 exam across NSW on Tuesday. Students were presented an interpretative question paired with a painting of a man rowing a boat with a pencil in blue waters. The waves were detailed with a variety of different words. Students were then tasked with explaining how the painting explored creative ideas employing a variety of language forms and techniques.

The artist herself, Julie Paschkis, explained that the image focused on ‘savour[ing] language” and allowing students free reign to craft a variety of open-ended answers. Paschkis’ criteria for selecting words in her painting weren’t excluded to the meaning of the words but also considered the sound and look of the words. Her dynamic and playful approach aimed to foster ‘room for open-ended exploration’.

Many students across the state expressed that the open-ended nature of the question left them confused more than inspired with a student from Bradfield Senior College sharing with the Daily Telegraph that, ‘The words were so odd – some of them I had no idea what they even meant, some more simple words like sun and honey were very, very random but some of them I had never even seen before.’ The student went on to express confusion in regards to whether the focus should be on the images or the words.

​Every year, HSC English Papers never fail to spark conversation and controversy with the unseen stimuli. This year is no exception, with many students finding no consolation even after the artist has spoken up to explain the painting’s intentions. This sentiment was shared across various HSC Discussion Groups on Facebook where students also empathized that the question was more confusing rather than encouraging of open-ended answers.

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