A mullet: the ultimate mixed mode response
It's ok to mix modes in your writing. Most speech isn't purely one thing or another: in the middle of a persuasive speech we'll tell a story. Within that story we might give instructions about how to do something.
Mixing modes can help you break the ice in exams. You can respond initially to the prompt in whatever mode feels most natural and then gradually bring it round to something that targets the question.
You don't have to treat a prompt as a first-level text. You can always imagine that a prompt is actually a text within a text, just by putting quotation marks around it. The same goes for visual prompts.
Look at the example from the 2019 HSC Advanced Craft of Writing question:
Twice before, a book had turned him inside out and altered who he was, had blasted apart his assumptions about the world and thrust him onto a new ground where everything in the world suddenly looked different — and would remain different for the rest of time, for as long as he himself went on living in time and occupied space in the world. (Paul Auster)
Students had to 'Continue this extract as a piece of imaginative, discursive or persuasive writing that evokes a particular emotional response in the reader.'
OK, my gut reaction is one of disappointment. This is pretty obviously from a novel, and it's written in the third person. But I don't really want to write in the third person, and my immediate feeling is one of irritation with Auster and the character, who just seems a bit extra. I've been deeply moved by books but I don't go on like this.
So how do I fulfil the question?
Here's the thing. Almost everything changes if you put quotation marks around it. You don't have to continue the text as if you were Paul Auster. That is, you don't have to write something like this:
He was so moved by the book that he went back into the bookshop the next day and bought copies for his wife and his father. If he could just make them see the world as he had seen it, things would get better.
You can imagine that someone has just read this extract aloud, then closed Auster's book and discussed the extract. You don't have to treat a prompt as a first-level text. You can always imagine that a prompt is actually a text within a text, just by putting quotation marks around it. The same goes for visual prompts. Instead of working with an image of a girl in a field, you could imagine that the picture is on the wall of a house you're in. Or that someone is describing that image to someone else.
There are other ways to help you move from one mode to another. Have you noticed how writers structure their work with rhetorical questions? (See what I did there?) This is one of the easiest ways to move things along. For example:
Who is the man being discussed in the extract?
What are the three books that changed his life?
When did he read them?
Where did the books come from?
Why is he so impressed with books - and perhaps not with people?
How does he behave as a result of reading this third book?
And those are only questions which treat the extract as a first-level text: that is, one that we're going to continue 'straight'. We could use the same questions if we threw a frame around the extract and imagined that it was a text-within-a-text.
Who is listening to this extract and finding it an example of poor writing?
What has prompted this reading?
When is the piece being read to them and where
Why do they think this is poor writing?
How do they respond to the person reading it out?
Remember - you ALWAYS have options in the Craft of Writing task. You can mix modes, use a heuristic like the questions, treat the text as first or second level - the possibilities are endless if you keep your head under the clock!