How to memorise English Essays effectively and adapt them to ANY question

Struggling to see how you'll write a whole essay in only 40 minutes? Not sure whether you should memorise an essay or go in blind? We got you! Here's our fool proof step-by-step guide to memorise essays that you can adapt to ANY question.

5 months ago   •   4 min read

By KIS Academics
Photo by Super Snapper / Unsplash

Should I have a pre-written English Essay?

The answer to this is yes and no. NO you should not know have only one essay mindlessly memorised word for word that you just regurgitate back onto the page. But YES you do want to have several essay plans with quotes and analysis imprinted in the back of your head that you can call upon under pressure.

If you’re memorising an essay word for word, you’re giving yourself no room to adapt. Subsequently, your essay won't be relevant to the question, rendering all your hard work futile. Furthermore, you won't be able to tackle curveball questions that they are known to give, asking you to reference a certain theme or even worse, a certain scene or character.

In essence, you want to have a few template essays that you can quickly mould to perfectly fit any question.

What you should be doing

Step 1. Form opinions and ideas about the text

First is to actually have a thorough understanding of the text you are studying. Most importantly you need to be able to formulate original arguments and opinions regarding the essay.

I recommend starting by finding three practice essay questions and just having a think about how you would approach answering them. What themes or characters would you maybe reference? Where do you stand with the question, do you agree or disagree and why?

This will give you an idea about which themes or aspects of the text interest you and you can focus your analysis down on that.

Step 2. Study by theme

Pick four themes to focus your study efforts on. These themes will make the basis of your essays. Try to pick themes that somewhat relate together so that you can form a cohesive argument.

For example, you believe the composer uses their text to expose the fragility of human motivations by exploring notions of love and pride. You are examining two separate themes but they lead to the same argument, human motivations can be easily manipulated or changed.

For each of your four themes have a set of quotes and their analysis memorised. Even better, memorise a few possible topic sentences that you could pair up with these quotes.

Step 3. Break it down

Once you've collected your themes and quotes it's time to see how they all piece together in an essay. Find a practice essay question and spend some time creating a well-crafted essay. This will test how well your quotes and analysis work in an argument to an essay question.

When you finish try to get feedback on your work from either a teacher or tutor. You want this essay to be as well written as possible because this will form the base for future essays.

Once you are happy with your essay deconstruct it. This could be by highlighting key bits of analysis and quotes or turning them into dot-point summaries - chuckable portions that are easy to memorise. I found the best way was to use a table but you can experiment with what works for you (flowcharts, flashcards, dot points). By deconstructing it like this you aren't mindlessly memorising an essay word for word but actively visualising the inner workings of your words and imprinting key ideas into your mind.

Below are some examples of how you can format it. You will want to customise it based on the type of essay or module you are tackling.

Essay planner example
Essay planner example for HSC common module essays 

Step 4. Practice, Practice, Practice...

This last step is the most important. Although it seems time-consuming and quite a pain, the only way to train your brain for under-pressure essay adaption is to write essays over and over again until it becomes instinct.

Use your above planner to do another practice essay under timed conditions and see how you go. You may find yourself short on time and struggling to compose your ideas. You may even come to find your first essay plan is rigid and your themes don't at all work with this new question. No biggie, go looking for some new quotes to add to your essay planner and edit your ideas to make them more adaptable.

Once you finish that essay, you guessed it, you'll attempt another one! You will want to do this at least three more times before your exam, practising using your quotes and ideas against new essay questions. If you get tired or are short on time you can just brainstorm how you would tackle the questions by dot-pointing your paragraphs. Eventually, this will become instinct and you'll do this effortlessly.

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