Studies of Religion HSC 2023: Parramatta Marist High School teacher’s tips for exam success

Parramatta Marist Studies of Religion  HSC 2023
Parramatta Marist High School HSC students Cristobal Corvalan Sotomayor, Shawn Davids and Kevin Drozario, who have completed their Studies of Religion course on an accelerated pathway. Picture: Richard Dobson

Studies of Religion may feel like familiar territory for the many students at faith-based schools who enrol in it, but ironically it’s religious students who are at most risk of missing marks.

Senior HSC marker and Religious Education co-ordinator at Parramatta Marist High School Nicole Denniss said students, especially those in religious schools or from religious backgrounds, must be wary of letting their exam responses hit too close to home.

“Studies of Religion is a humanities subject, which I think people forget – and people who don’t have the knowledge of stage six HSC courses don’t realise it’s not a religion subject as such,” Ms Denniss said.

Catholic school students are required to take either one or two units of Studies of Religion, or if they don’t need – or want – to take the official HSC course, they can take a non-Board-developed Catholic studies subject. Many faith-based independent schools also require their students to take a religious course.

Parramatta Marist Religious Education Coordinator Nicole Denniss
Senior HSC marker and Religious Education co-ordinator at Parramatta Marist High School Nicole Denniss

“HSC Studies of Religion is not about personal opinions in any form, so it’s very important that students don’t write about their own personal perspective in their responses … and often when they’re coming from a religious school, they forget that,” Ms Denniss said.

“The more academic students understand this, but sometimes students will forget and swing back to writing from a perspective of their own religious position.”

As for the age-old question of how to decide which depth study to pick for the extended response section? Ms Denniss said there are “conflicting views across the marking centre”.

While some teachers will recommend picking the religious tradition students most enjoy, Ms Denniss says it’s best to pick the question you can best answer on the day.

Parramatta Marist Year 12s Cristobal Corvalan Sotomayor, Shawn Davids and Kevin Drozario have completed Studies of Religion already, after taking the subject as an accelerated course in Year 11, and all three earned top marks up to 50 out of 50.

“One of the most important values of SOR is that you have to work with your peers. There’s a lot of resources online but you have to be up to date, so working with your peers and collating all that information is really helpful,” Mr Davids said.

Mr Drozario said he found practising with old exams useful for “building confidence”.

“It’s really important to get a wide variety of questions from past papers, or from other resources, and do those past questions under timed conditions,” he said.


Don’t rely on prepared responses:

“The key to performing well is answering the question that’s on the page that day. The difficulty with prepared responses is students often stumble when attempting to adapt them to the question they are being asked.”

Be succinct, specific, and accurate:

“Markers in the marking centre expect to read responses that have integrated quotes, references to sacred texts and contemporary examples. Sacred texts, dates, times, places; that’s what we want to see.” Ms Denniss recommends using flashcards to memorise key points.

Know the difference between ethical teachings and ethical issues:

Ms Denniss says it’s a “common mistake” and often impacts students’ responses.

Know your depth study’s sacred texts:

Ms Denniss says showing an understanding of the religious tradition’s sacred texts can enhance an extended response. Students not knowing sacred texts for their depth studies is an issue she sees “over and over again”.

Use your time effectively:

Studies of Religion is one of the few subjects where students write short and extended responses into a separate lined booklet, rather than onto the paper itself. “Students have to be aware of the structure of the writing booklet, and consider how many lines they need to write to answer the questions. Students should be timing their responses to make sure they can complete the whole paper in the time set.” There’s no sure-fire formula for how many lines are needed for each question, but a three-marker shouldn’t warrant a full page.

Make a judgement:

Students often struggle to articulate a judgement, which can impact their mark, Ms Denniss says. “If required to make a judgement, ensure it is integrated and sustained throughout the whole response”

Work with your classmates, not against them:

Practise past papers, share them with your classmates, and give feedback on each other’s work. “Ranks can’t change, marks can’t change, but you can help each other improve.”

Keep an eye out for current examples

Ms Denniss recommends in the lead-up to the exam, students monitor the news for examples they can integrate into their short answer responses.

Learn from exemplars:

“What I think is really important, and what kids don’t do enough of … is getting on to the NESA site and reading through quality responses from past years. If kids can’t see what a high quality response is, they don’t know how to write them.” Ms Denniss also says students must review the marking criteria for those examples to see what, in every response, is worth a mark.