Death, taxes, and Year 12 students complaining about the first English paper of the HSC exams.

New South Wales high school graduates began two-and-a-half weeks of final exams on Wednesday with the first of two dreaded, mandatory English papers.

Like clockwork, once the first paper was finished, students took to social media to vent their frustrations, surprise and horror at what unfolded in the “nightmare” 90 minute exam.

One student, Lara – or “thatspicypisces444” on TikTok – was one of thousands to take the English test on Wednesday, and unloaded her frustrations in a video that has gone viral.

“Okay rant with me about English paper 1 because what the hell was that?” she started.

“That was just like, a nightmare, it really was.”

Lara was on struggle street from the moment she tried to grapple with “atrocious” stapling holding the booklets together (which was a massive gripe for last year’s students, too).

The first paper required students to answer five short-answer questions in response to unseen texts, followed by writing a long-format essay about the prescribed texts they had studied throughout the year.

Unlike previous years, the 2023 English papers did not use an image as one of the writing stimulus this year, much to Lara’s shock.

“No, like I was rooting on the image getting me through. I was like, if in doubt the image will ace me out.”

Instead, this year’s papers just featured five written texts: a poem, prose, feature articles, nonfiction, even an excerpt of a memoir by Aussie media personality Kate Langbroek.

The hits came thick and fast for Lara, who was confused from the very first question – asking her to respond to an excerpt from Debra Dank’s book We Come With This Place.

“I though it was about the human experience, not gravel and dirt!” she said of the piece.

Then she was left bitterly disappointed to discover a five-mark question referring to the work of a “Dahl” was not meaning the iconic children’s author, but a feature article by his granddaughter Sophie.

“I got pretty excited when I saw in the question it was like Dahl. I was like oh, damn, is my man Roald Dahl up in this thing? If it’s about Roald, b*tch, I can write,” Lara said.

“No. Sophie Dahl … Who the f*ck is Sophie Dahl?! Not that it matters, but still that was very misleading.”

Lara was also thrown by the time frame they had to finish the exam, which was half what they were allowed in their trial exams.

“What was that about?” she said.

“Because I think that’s another very misleading point, the trials being three hours but then this being an hour-and-a-half … for my entire exam. It was crazy.”

She described the whole experience as “traumatic”, a sentiment that was shared by every student that took to social media in the hours after the exam.

Many were equally as irate about being “robbed” of a visual stimulus, and having to fight the stapling during their exams, while others made memes about the texts or about the mistakes they now realised they made.


“No because I literally ran out of time I started my essay at 40 mins left but I still had to do one more unseen text,” another wrote.

Another major source of confusion and stress for Advanced English students was the inclusion of a poem by acclaimed New Zealand writer Vincent O’Sullivan in their paper.

“WHO DECIDED TO PUT THE APRICOT AND WHATEVER POEM IN [the Advanced English] PAPER,” one user wrote.

Others ran out of words and simply posted emojis of bees and apricots alongside crying faces.

They also poked fun at how much “Italy content” there was in the paper – a reference to the inclusion of an excerpt from Kate Langbroek’s memoir Ciao Bella! which delves into the experience of moving to Italy with her family.

The English 1 Paper is perhaps the most notorious of the HSC exams and each year it triggers hilarious bursts of rage from the students who survive it. Like clockwork.

Sometimes the rage is healthy, and a cathartic shared experience for the students, other times not so much.

In 2016 students’ rage made headlines for all the wrong reasons; after viciously hitting back at journalist Rachel Corbett for writing an opinion piece about their “whingeing” for news.com.au.

A year later, Year 12 trolls targeted award-winning poet Ellen Van Neerven for stumping them with her poem Mango when it was included in the paper – in what has become known as Mango Gate.

Thankfully, this year’s TikTok generation are leaning into memes and the brutal comedy of the English exam questions, which seems to be the best way to recover from cramping hands.


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By Rahul

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