When it comes to memorising English essays… well… I memorised every single one of my English essays for both Advanced and Extension 1.

Shock. Horror.

Now I want to tell you my techniques to help you with memorising your English essays.

HSC Markers, tutoring institutions, your peers, your teachers – they all have an opinion on memorising English essays. The argument against memorising English essays is that your response may seem detached from the question asked in an exam. Fear not! It is definitely not impossible to get really high marks with a memorised essay. In fact, I credit my mark of band 6 in Advanced English and E4 in Extension 1 English to my prepared essays. Memorising English essays isn’t easy, but I found it to be very worth it!

What are the benefits of memorising English essays?

When you enter an exam room, you are expected to write something that is quite lengthy, quite analytical, with sophisticated language, with plenty of evidence, quite quickly. Preparing an essay – whether this is fully memorised or just partially – ensures that you are meeting the required length, writing quickly, using sophisticated language, being analytical and giving plenty of evidence. You can prepare all of these things! Except, the pace of writing. Hopefully adrenaline is your friend in an exam. All that’s left for you to do? Think clearly and make a thorough effort to incorporate the essay question seamlessly.

My experience of memorising English essays

First of all, I want to tell you the level of memorising and planning I did for two different essays so you can see how it really isn’t as simple as memorising an essay then throwing it on an exam paper. Each module requires something different of you, so I prepared each essay differently. It is also worth noting that what you’re about to read is my level of preparation for the FINAL exams. The entire HSC year was spent preparing, changing, adding to, editing, re-reading, re-writing, occasionally screaming at and often ferociously scribbling all over my essays. The entire HSC year is an opportunity to continually improve your work. It wasn’t until days before my HSC exams that I felt like I had essays that were both strong and versatile enough to confidently take into my exams with me.

Area of Study:

You can download my Area of Study essay for free here.

Introduction: Completely memorised.

This includes the thesis statements, the way I would introduce the texts and the sentence I would use to complete the introduction and tie it all together. My first two thesis sentences were broad enough that I could integrate the essay question easily. Else, I could give the essay question its own sentence. The essay question is all I had to embed here. This is the easy part.

Body Paragraphs: Completely memorised.

I had the introduction to each paragraph planned. I knew all textual references off by heart and their accompanying analysis and technique(s). The only part that I had to change was consciously incorporating the essay question. My evidence and original thesis statements were broad enough that this wasn’t difficult to do. However, I was so confident in knowing my texts that I could whip out extra textual referencing that supported the essay question very easily.

Conclusion: Prepared but not memorised.

The conclusion should never be undermined. It needs to be strong and it needs to tie everything you’ve said together really well. This is why I was comfortable writing it on the spot and not from memory: everything I needed to say in it had already been said above in the essay. All I had to do now was make sure that I had coherently linked everything and I was leaving the marker with a taste of just how much I know about discovery!

Module A:

You can read my module essay for free here.

Introduction: Prepared but not memorised.

I had a “sentence bank” built up from the various assessment I had done on Module A throughout the year. This meant that I knew a couple of good, universal phrases, sentence and words that I could easily whip out and apply at any moment. I knew how I wanted to open, I wanted to talk about the inaccessibility of Shakespeare to a modern audience (I studied King Richard III and Looking for Richard). From then, it was going to be totally directed by the essay question.

Body paragraphs: Prepared but not memorised.

I had quite a few pieces of evidence that were direct scene-to-scene comparisons between Shakespeare’s work and Pacino’s. I made sure that as many of these textual references as possible were UNIVERSAL. This is the key to picking quotes. They should be able to be used to apply to many different arguments. I used mnemonics here (discussed further on).

Conclusion: Pretty well off-the-cuff.

As I mentioned in the AOS conclusion: this part is so much a summary of everything above. If you remember everything to discuss above then you will not have a problem when it comes to the conclusion. Keep it strong, keep it sweet, don’t over think it. Don’t undermine it either.

The methods that I used to memorise English essays!

  1. Re-writing. Writing again.
    I do this when I can’t spell a word properly (for so long, plagiarism was this ridiculous word that I could spell) and when I need to remember something word for word. I must have written out a total of 40+ quotes to be memorised during the HSC at least the length of a page each. I would continually write out every single word of the quote so that I would memorise it. By the end, I wouldn’t even have to check the sentence above, I would be writing the quote straight from my mind. That is the sweet sign of success.This technique can be used for the less specific as well. I used it for thesis statements and quotes extensively. However, there were times when I wanted to write out my essay in a timed situation at home to make sure that I could write it out in the designated time the exam gives. Even though practicing in exam conditions at home is my most loathed study technique (it was just so boring L ), the truth is that it helps to memorise things. It is truly testing your memory, but in a pressured environment. Sometimes, in both these practice exams and in real exams, the words don’t come to you. You forget. They disappear in the black hole of your mind. Whatever words do come to mine, grab them, and run with them. You can’t let yourself fall into the trap of being completely reliant on memorising. You have to be confident in giving your essay the flexibility to deal with a brain malfunction.

  2. Mnemonics.
    I <3 mnemonics. If you aren’t sure what they are, I’ll give you an example. I need to remember the following: Metaphor, Symbolism, onomatopoeia, bildungsroman, pathetic fallacy. But, that’s awkward and boring to remember. So instead I take the first letters from each: M, S, O, B, P. Then I make a silly little sentence: Mary slipped over banana peels. This is far more entertaining to remember than the technique’s names themselves. When you know the first letter, you will be sure to recall the technique you are supposed to write about! There are a bunch of mnemonic generators online too! I used mnemonics for nearly all of my prepared body paragraphs!

  3. Speaking out loud.
    When I had no choice but to commit something to memory and I didn’t have a lot of time, I’d recite it old-school style. I’d stand in front of my mirror with the work I have to remember. Then I’d talk. Out loud. Over and over again. I’d be sure to walk around as much as possible to trick my body into thinking I was doing something stimulating and to keep the blood flowing. I’d say things in funny voices and then in silly accents. When it came to memorising my creative writing (a speech) I took on the persona of my oppressed narrator and I’d do the damsel-in-distress thing as I read my work over and over.You get to a stage where just reading it no longer is helping. This is when you need to read the sentence and say it out loud, and then cover it, and read it out loud from memory. Slowly build up a sentence at a time. If I had a week before my exam, I would make sure I memorised at least a paragraph each night so that by the day before, I had every little bit memorised and tested!

  4. Organic memorising.
    As I mentioned above, I didn’t have my essays completely memorised for all stages of the year. By the HSC exams, I was ready! Part of this was because of all of the above techniques and part of it was just organic. By submitting my work to a teacher, receiving feedback, toying with it, putting it away and getting it out again and just being present and interacting with my work, it became memorised. Perhaps it wasn’t memorised in the word-for-word sense through organic interaction alone. However, it was definitely leaving an important print in my mind that subconsciously lingered until I whipped it out in an exam.

  5. Recording myself saying it – then playing it.
    Now, you can choose to make this really creepy and play it overnight so that you fall asleep to the tender sound of your own voice. Some people swear by this. For me, it was a little invasive. My sleep during the HSC was paradisiacal and was never ever going to be compromised for any reason (priorities). I recorded myself on my phone and played it as I was driving to school. Rather than listening to chatter on the radio, I would listen to my recording and try to speak along with it wherever possible. If you catch the bus or train, you could also listen then! You could listen in the shower, while you make lunch or as you clean the dishes. Easy!

  6. Making the essay forever present.
    I used this not just for entire essays, but also for random facts that I needed to know for different subjects (dates for history, legislation for legal, etc). I put my work in a plastic sleeve and stuck it to the outside of the shower door. This way, I could get all kinds of clean while reading my essay out loud. I stuck things that I needed to memorise at the end of the bath tub, on the back of the toilet door, on the wall that I face when I eat breakfast. It sounds crazy and it sounds intense. But, I truly believe that it is so effective to have whatever you are trying to memorise everpresent. These are the kinds of things that you subliminally take note of even when you aren’t actively studying. Studying without actually studying? Always a win!

Want a little more help studying for English?

If you’re not really the English type, click here.

If you want some tips and tricks for studying for English in general – have a look here!