To memorise their essay, or not to memorise their essay, that is the question every HSC English Advanced student asks themselves at some point. You could memorise that essay you worked on all year, but will it actually work? The short answer, no! Read on to learn 5 reasons why you shouldn’t memorise your essay.
1. It won’t address the question
This is what makes prepared essays the most obvious to markers. You may feel that you were able to tweak your response to suit the question, but this is different to directly addressing it.
HSC questions also usually contain a number of separate parts that all need to be addressed, including:
- the various themes you discuss – often specified by the question;
- specific quotations presented by the question;
- a reflection on your understanding of the module, text, and question. This will need to be discussed throughout the essay for a sustained response!
These different aspects will be very difficult to address fully if you have only prepared a single essay. It is one of the biggest reasons why you shouldn’t memorise your essay.
2. The question might not ask for an essay
As stated in the syllabus: “A student analyses and synthesises information and ideas into sustained and logical argument for a range of purposes, audiences and contexts.”
(Board of Studies, Stag 6 English Syllabus, 2009)
The question may not ask you to write an essay. It could ask for:
- A speech
- An article or review (for a newspaper or magazine)
- An interview
If you have only prepared a single “perfect” essay, instead of a comprehensive analysis, this will be harder to adapt to these different forms.
3. There are better ways to spend your time
A better way of studying English is to pick out quotations and analyse them in terms of techniques and their contribution to key ideas. Memorising these quotes in relation to a number of themes will allow you to provide the type of insightful demanded by the HSC exam. This may sound daunting but it is actually far less time consuming than memorising words off a page.
Read: How To Analyse a Related Text
4. It limits your understanding of your text and topic as a whole
No matter what the question is, your analysis will always have to link back to the key ideas of your text or topic. A memorised essay will only focus on one small aspect which will not provide you with the scope required to take on the HSC exam.
5. It is mind numbing
There is nothing more tedious than writing or reading something over and over again. This kind of study does not stimulate your brain to think creatively and generate new ideas. Plus, this type of preparation will be useless in the exam if you have a mind blank.
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When it comes to the HSC, essays are unavoidable and usually a huge pain in the butt. With so many to draft, write and memorise it can feel like you’re staring down an impossible task and asking yourself ‘How do I memorise HSC essays?’
We’re here to tell you that essays don’t have to be that way – and shouldn’t!
Sure, they’re still going to be long and a little stressful to write, and we don’t quite know how to make essays write themselves yet, but we can help when it comes to memorising HSC essays.
How, you ask? By using key points.
By following along with this article you’ll soon be able to memorise all the necessities of your essays in no time, giving you the know-how to smash out awesome essays based on memorised key points when it comes to the HSC. So what are you waiting for?
Not sure whether or not to memorise your essay? Check out our article on Memorising vs Improvising Essays!
Why Shouldn’t I Just Memorise Essays?
We’re not going to lie, there’s definitely some solid logic behind both sides of the debate on whether or not memorising essays is good. While we think it’s a great way to build up confidence and prepare for your exams, we know it’s not a technique that works for everyone. With that in mind let’s check out some of the benefits and drawbacks of the method.
- Confidence – knowing your essay before you even walk into the exam room reduces any anxiety about not knowing what to write.
- Preparation – in order to memorise your essay you have to study and prepare, so you’ll be setting up good study patterns.
- Time saver – once you get into the exam you won’t end up spending any of your writing time trying to think up an idea or draft a plan for an essay.
- Quotes – it’s pretty much a given that you’ll only learn a certain amount of quotes for one essay, so having an essay pre-planned around those quotes avoids any chance of them not suiting what you’re trying to write.
- Answering the question – many people forget that they have to adapt their planned essay to the actual question, leading to essays that don’t actually suit or answer the question being asked.
- Memory – learning a whole essay is tough! Taking the time and effort to memorise 1000 words just isn’t reasonable for many people.
- Adapting – if the question asked is even a little different to what you prepared for you’ll be forced to adapt your essay, meaning you have to think fast and change things you’ve already drilled into your head.
As you can see the pros are pretty awesome, but the cons definitely present some major drawbacks. So how do you get the best of both worlds?
It’s simple! You don’t memorise a whole essay – just the key points!
Why Memorise Key Points?
You’re probably wondering why memorising key points is going to be any better than memorising a whole essay – and I get it, I do! I mean, where’s the logic in only learning pieces of a whole, right?
Wrong. Here’s why.
It makes memorising easier
There’s no questioning that it’s easier to remember 16 dot points over a full, 1000 word essay. The fact that there’s less content to learn will not only make it easier to get the info stuck in your head, it’ll also cut down on the time it takes to do it. Plus it’s way less daunting than trying to remember 3-4 pages of essay.
It makes adapting easier
As mentioned before adapting is important and can be tricky when you’ve memorised a full essay, but if it’s only your key points you have stuck in your brain it’s pretty simple to adapt how you write about them. It’s just a case of building the essay around the question, using your key points as the bricks and filling in the rest as you go.
You can answer any question
This kinda goes with the last point, but being able to adapt your response easily means you can also make it suit any question. Again you’re avoiding the possibility of getting in there and writing something you know back to front, but doesn’t answer the question.
It prevents rote learning
This is less about the essay itself and more about how you learn, but when you get into the habit of learning a whole response off by heart and just copying it every time you get into the habit of rote learning. Rote learning is basically just learning from memory recall and it can be useful, but it’s not the best way to learn to adapt your knowledge (and essay!) to different questions and situations. Just learning key points helps prevent that.
It gives you confidence
Even though you’re not going in there with a full essay planned and memorised you’ll still be entering your exam knowing exactly what you need to know to formulate a strong response. This will naturally make you feel way more prepared and help avoid any extra panic or anxiety on exam day.
Need Some Help Writing Notes?
If you need reliable notes or simply want to check your notes are right, take a look at HSC-Notes.com.
Their notes are crafted by the 99+ ATAR Club and provide concise answers to the HSC Syllabus dot points with what you need to know for your exams. Diagrams, mind maps, tables, dot points, paragraphs, sources are included to aid your learning.
With these notes you can spend less time rewriting your textbook and worrying about whether your notes answer the syllabus dot points correctly and spend more time learning and practicing your skills knowing your notes are accurate and concise.
Head on over to HSC-Notes to get your HSC subject notes now
How Do I Memorise Key Points?
Memorising key points is actually pretty simple! It’s really just a case of figuring out what the most important elements of your essay, essay plan or analysis are and then studying them. Follow our simple 5 step formula and you’ll have your key points memorised in no time at all.
Step 1: Write an Essay
Okay, before you come with the pitchforks yelling about how this was supposed to be about key points, hear me out. In order to know what your key points are, you actually have to have an idea of what you could write for an essay response. And what’s the best way to do that? You got it; write an essay.
The purpose of this section is for you to figure out what themes you want to work with, how you’re going to analyse your texts, what techniques and quotes you’ll use, etc. The essay you write doesn’t have to be a perfect Band 6, but you want it to have all the features and functions of something you’d hand in to be marked.
You can even use an essay you’ve already written if you don’t feel like writing a new one! In that situation it’s super important that you go through the essay and edit it. Maybe you got some feedback from your teacher you need to address, or you’ve found some better quotes to use, just make sure it’s up to date and of awesome quality.
Step 2: Pull out TTEA
This is where we start breaking down and figuring out our key points so that we can learn them. The best and quickest way to do them is by actually printing out your essay (or just grabbing it if it’s hand written) and highlighting anything that fits the TTEA structure.
What is TTEA, you ask?
Theme – What theme are you talking about and in what way?
Technique – What technique are you analysing?
Example – What is your quote/textual reference?
Analysis – Why does it all matter?
Basically these are the key points you’re pulling out of your essay to start memorising. You’ll have to go through and highlight these in each body paragraph of your essay in order to figure out just what your key points will be. If you feel like there are other things you need to include in your key points (e.g. context, comparisons, etc.) feel free to highlight them too. That said, remember to highlight only the most important elements of your essay – we don’t want to end up with the whole thing coloured in with fluorescent marker.
In the end it will look a little like this.
You’ll notice that in this case there’s also a lot of context in the paragraph, so I’ve gone ahead and highlighted the key parts of that too.
Step 3: Study Your Key Points
So now that you’ve gone and highlighted all this stuff what are you going to do with it? Study it!
In order to get your key points into a study-ready format you’ll need to turn the TTEA things you highlighted into a set of super succinct notes. Dot points are usually the best way to go, and I always found it good to break them up paragraph by paragraph. This means you should end up with 4-5 dot points* per paragraph, making 16-20 dot points overall – way less than what you’d need to learn a full essay.
*Disclaimer: if you have more than one quote per paragraph (which you definitely should) you can also choose to turn each quote into an individual dot point. I did this for the sake of organisation, making each quote + the techniques it included a single dot point, so this did mean I ended up with a fair few more than 4 dot points per paragraph.
My dot point format often ended up a little something like this;
- Theme statement
- Quotes (repeat for each quote, usually 4-5)
- Analysis point
Yours may follow this same pattern or be totally different, it’s up to your personal preference and what you want your notes to look like.
That all said, each set of notes will end up looking something like this.
These are now your key points!
That means it’s time to start studying them and trying to memorise them. Most people like to start by just reading over these notes a few times, but that’s definitely not the only or even the most effective way to learn them.
Some of the best techniques for learning your key points include;
- Flashcards – write your text and theme on the front and the context, quotes, techniques and analysis points on the back. Then only look at the front and try to remember what the back says. If you can remember them all you’re good to go, if not flip the card over and try again!
- Quizzing – you can quiz yourself just by not looking at the notes and trying to recall them, but giving them to a friend or family member to quiz you is way more fun. Just hand over your key points and have someone else ask you questions about them to see how well you remember them.
- Use them – getting some practical study in is always an awesome way to start memorising things, but it’s especially useful when learning how best to use key points. That means you’re going to want to start writing practice responses!
Step 4: Write a Practice Response
I can hear the indignant screams already; “You said this wasn’t about essays!” “This is the second essay you’ve made me write!”.
I get it, I do, but here’s the thing – if you want to be able to use your key points to effectively write an essay in your exam, you’re going to have to practice it at least once first.
Even though you’re not memorising the essay, the only way to test how well you can actually utilise your key points in an exam situation is by doing it. That means grabbing a past paper question and your key point notes, sitting down and getting stuck into it. This way you’re putting your knowledge to practical use as well as teaching yourself how to actually use your key points to develop an essay.
The best way to do it is by giving yourself 5 minutes to create a quick essay plan first. It’s as simple as reading over the question and then jotting down how you’ll fit each of your key themes/texts to the question – the rest should just flow naturally.
Question:Understanding context is essential to understanding a text.
Looking at our notes from before we can pretty much just jot down how we might link it to the question. In this case it’s really important that we had that dot point on context, so by drawing on that we’ll be able to build up a really strong essay around it!
Pro Tip: If you feel like the question isn’t really suiting your key points you can always twist it by playing devil’s advocate! Check out this article on how to do it well.
I always recommend keeping your notes on hand the first time you try to write your essay based on your key points, just to give that sense of security, but if you feel super confident with your knowledge then give it a try without them!
Step 5: Rinse and Repeat
You know what they say – memory comes through repetition. That means you have to keep doing these things over and over to really get those key ideas stuck in your brain.
While I recommend doing at least a few practice essays (even some timed to make sure you’ll get everything down in the exam time limit) how you choose to study is up to you. If you’re the read and re-read type or the kind who loves to be quizzed every other night then go with that – it’s all about what works for you!
Just keep practicing and before long you’ll know every key point and quote at the drop of a hat. You’ll be ready to write those band 6 essay responses in no time!
Now you give it a try!
Remember that the big takeaway from this is that by knowing your key points you’ll be memorising enough information to get you ready for an essay, but the amount of effort you put in is always going to influence your final outcome. That means that if you write 5 practice essays and study your key points every day for a week you’ll probably get a different end result than if you write your notes out once and then let them collect dust on your desk.
The effort that you put in is the results that you’ll get out, so get out there and start studying those awesome key points!
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Maddison Leach completed her HSC in 2014, achieving an ATAR of 98.00 and Band 6 in all her subjects. Having tutored privately for two years before joining Art of Smart, she enjoys helping students through the academic and other aspects of school life, even though it sometimes makes her feel old. Maddison has had a passion for writing since her early teens, having had several short stories published before joining the world of blogging. She’s currently deferring her studies until she starts her Bachelor of Communication at UTS in the spring.