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How to memorise essays and long responses

By Lauren Condon on 28 July 2017Study tipsHSIEEnglishNSWblogHSC

When it comes to memorising essays or long responses for your exams, there are three big things to consider.

  • Should you even try to memorise an essay?
  • Do you know how to adapt your memorised response to the exam question?
  • How on earth are you meant to memorise a 1,200 word essay??

🤷‍🤷‍🤷‍

It’s a lot to weigh up but we can help you out here. If you want an answer to the first question, here’s one we prepared earlier. But wait, there’s more! If you’re super keen to read more about question #2, then go ahead and click here.

And for that third point on how to actually memorise a long essay? Well, all you have to do is keep reading...

1. Break it down

Your essay/long response/creative writing piece could be anywhere between 800 and 1,200 words long. Yeah… that’s a lot. So when it comes to memorising the whole thing, it’s a lot easier to break the answer down into logical chunks and work on memorising it bit by bit.

So if you want to memorise your Discovery Essay, you might have something like this:

  • Introduction
  • Theme 1 with the assigned text
  • Theme 1 with the related text
  • Theme 2 with the assigned text
  • Theme 2 with the related text
  • Conclusion

You’re going to want to memorise the paragraphs and pay attention to the structure then you can piece it all together in the exam. Having a killer structure makes it a lot easier to remember the overall bones of this situation and if you’re finding this effective, you can even break those body paragraphs down further like topic sentence > example > explanation > connection to thesis.

2. Use memory tricks

Now, there are lots of different strategies and approaches when it comes to memorising a long piece of writing. Moving in sections, you can try reading it out loud over again (slowly looking at the paper less and less) or the classic look-cover-write-check approach. If you’re really struggling, make some of your own flashcards that have the first sentence on one side and the next sentence on the back so you can test your progress.

You could also enlist the help of some creative mnemonics (memory tricks) to remind you which sentence or section needs to come next. Pick one keyword from each sentence in the paragraph and turn them into a silly sentence to help you remember the structure of the paragraph and to make sure you don’t forget one of your awesome points.

3. Play to your strengths

Not all of us are super geniuses that can just read an essay and then memorise the entire thing but we’re all going to have our own strengths. There’s going to be something whether it’s art, music, writing, performance or sport that just ‘clicks’ in your brain and this is what you want to capitalise on. So for me, I was really into debating and public speaking (hold back the jokes please) and was used to giving speeches and remembering them. So whenever I wanted to memorise a long response, I would write out the essay onto palm cards and then practice it out loud like a speech. Did it annoy my family? Yes. Was I too embarrassed to tell people my strategy? Yes. Did it work? Absolutely. 💯

Whatever your strengths are, find a way to connect them to your essay and come up with a creative way of learning your long response that will be much easier and more effective for you!

4. Start early

So you know how there’s that whole long-term/short-term memory divide? Yeah well that’s going to be pretty relevant when it comes to memorising. You’re going to have a much better chance of remembering your long response if you start early and practice it often, instead of trying to cram it in the night before… sorry.

The good news is, you still have a couple of months before the HSC so try to get your prepared response written, get good feedback from your teachers and then make it perfect so it’s ready to go for the HSC. Then, the next step is to start memorising the essay now and test yourself on it fairly regularly all the way up to your exams. This way, you have plenty of time to really lock it deep into your memory.

5. Test yourself

The final and maybe even most important step is to test yourself. And not with flashcards or the look-cover-check-repeat anymore. Once you’ve got the essay memorised pretty well, you want to spend the weeks coming up to HSC doing past questions so you can practice

  • Having the essay memorised
  • Being able to recall it under pressure
  • Adapting it to any question so that all your hard work will actually pay off

For this to work, you really need to commit 100% to exam conditions (no cheating!) and it’s definitely worth sending those responses to your teacher to get them marked. That way, you will actually know if you’re doing a good job of remembering the core of your argument but also tailoring it perfectly to the question.

Remember

Any subject with essays or long responses can be super daunting so if you want to have a pre-written, adaptable response ready to go then it’s worth making sure you can actually memorise it for your exam. Remember to break down the essay into sections, play to your memory strengths and make sure you consistently test yourself all the way up to HSC. That should do the trick. 👌

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