Memorising Content: The Key to Success

By Jake Silove in Study
22nd of July 2016

To all HSC battlers out there, I’m sure you know by now that memorising specific, accurate, relevant and detailed examples is one of the most important keys to your success. There’s nothing worse than making a really solid point, but having absolutely nothing to back it up. Conversely, if you have no idea what you’re doing when answering a question, but have spent time memorising content around the study area, being able to pull out statistics, facts, names and dates is a great way of gleaning a few marks out of what would otherwise have been a hopeless situation. In short, no matter what subject you’re doing, memorising information is as important as understanding the concepts. That’s really unfortunate, and I don’t really agree that you SHOULD have to memorise as much as you do, but at the end of the day the HSC is a game, and playing it correctly is the best thing you can do for yourself. If you’ve got any questions about how best to deal with this game, why don’t you head over to the Atar Notes forums, where I offer free online tutoring?

So, I’ve just drilled in the importance of memorising information. That’s all well and good, but how exactly can you do that? You’ve studied so much content throughout the year, that by now a lot of difficult concepts will have cemented themselves into your brain. You probably know a lot of details that you can pull out in an exam already, purely as a product of past study, repetition, and listening in class. But, going into trials, that isn’t enough. You need to be spending time SPECIFICALLY memorising information. That’s the difference between a 15/20 and an 18/20 in an essay, a 3/5 and a 5/5 in a short answer question. In short, it’s super important. But it isn’t possible without some sort of memorising technique. This technique, I believe, is how I got an Atar of 99.80.

I did Modern History in Year 12. For those who do it as well, you’ll know that throughout your Modern History journey, there is one thing that is absolutely certain: you will have to memorise literally hundreds and hundreds of specific, accurate, relevant and detailed examples to back up any point you make. Modern history is nothing without statistics, and whilst I personally think it is silly that you have to memorise them as opposed to having an open book exam, that’s just the situation you are in! The method I developed to deal with that subject was totally applicable to ANY subject in which you need to memorise content!

The technique I used to memorise statistics was work sheets. Basically, I would write out my own worksheets with blank spaces, photocopy the worksheets a hundred times, and fill out the worksheet 5 times a day for weeks and weeks. Sounds simple right? But I bet most of you haven’t thought about it, and none of you have implemented it. And seriously, it is the best thing you can do for yourself to memorise content. Amazingly, it works. It almost doubled the number of statistics I remember for my Modern History HSC.

So, how do you use this method, and what exactly does it look like? Firstly, I would seriously recommend starting by writing a set of ‘super’ notes.

Super Notes

The paper is in front of you. You’ve got a beast system for using colours when you write out your super succinct notes. All of your pens are those fancy ballpoint ones, and you’ve got a decent set of notes in front of you. A hush falls over the crowd, and the cramming begins.

You need a complete set of notes for the subject. Whether you’ve written them yourself, got them off a friend, or downloaded them (TOTALLY FREE!) on Atar Notes, you definitely need a set of notes. I recommend just reading through the notes on each dotpoint and writing out only information that is absolutely crucial. I’m talking about stats, facts, and things you’ve never even heard of. Stick to your colouring system. Use subheadings. These notes need to be absolutely beautiful.

Don’t put down information that you could, conceivably, make up in the exam. Things like advantages/disadvantages, things you’re fairly confident with but not 100% on; just leave them out. When you cram, you’re trying to get as much of a wide range of material into your head as physically possible. You don’t need everything to be super detailed, and you definitely shouldn’t be writing out sentences. Headings, and dot points, that’s it. If you can summarise the ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL information in a dot point into one sentence, do it. And do it with colour.

Here’s a bit of a pro tip: swear at yourself. When I write my cram notes, I will literally right things like “Not that you’re ever going to [email protected]&%ing going to remember this, but Einstein’s paper came out in 1905”. I swear at the curriculum, at myself, at the content. For me, for some reason, it genuinely helps: It may not for you, but this is just something I like to do!


Writing out the notes is the best way to remember things. When cramming, some students tend to just read over past notes. THIS IS NOT VERY HELPFUL! Writing the notes, identifying your weak points, using colours and other memorisation techniques is the best way to improve your mark in the upcoming assessment.


Now that you’ve identified which areas of the curriculum you are struggling with the most, and specifically what information you need to memorise, it’s time to write up the worksheets.

For each section (dotpoint perhaps?) I would write a worksheet with ONLY the absolutely crucial statistics that you are planning to remember. That means maybe 10-15 statistics per subtopic, max. Make a worksheet for each topic, and use it throughout the year to help you learn what you need to learn! Basically, you want to be writing out a summary of your ‘super’ notes, leaving out the crucial information and putting in a blank space/underline. Photo copy the document (or print it) a hundred times, and fill it in 5 times a day, for a week. I promise you that you’ll see results seriously quickly. Use this in conjunction with palmcards, if you’re into that kind of thing, and you will absolutely smash any knowledge section of any exam.


If you want a complete set of worksheets, with answers included, for the WWI section of Modern History, click here!

You can do this for any subject, and I would recommend doing it for every subject. Use it to memorise your English quotes, or Maths formulas; whatever you like. But don’t diss the method because it sounds simple. I attribute my Modern History mark purely to this technique.

So, create your worksheets now. Fill them all out a few times a day, and I promise you will receive a better mark in your upcoming Trials. I wish I had been given this technique of memorising information; hopefully it helps you like it helped me! I can’t overstate the importance of memorising information, such as dates, quotes and statistics. It impresses the marker, but also just lends strength to any argument you make. So, to put you on the path to success, start creating worksheets now. You won’t regret it!

For more tips like this, or to ask any question you can think of for virtually any subject, why don’t you check out my free online tutoring service?