What's the best way to memorise quotes for a closed-book exam?

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Learning quotes for a closed-book exam can seem like a very daunting task, especially when you've studied a text in detail for an entire year. But it is an essential task as examiners are looking for good understanding and reference to the text. 

Quotes to remember should be short, multi-significant and, unsurprisingly, memorable.

Short: a good essay integrates quotes and ensures the quote doesn't digress from the point you're making. Short quotes are also a lot easier to remember, so no more than a sentence ideally.

Multi-significant: you can memorise lots of different quotes or a few which you can pull apart and apply to several different questions and themes. A good example is colour symbolism - red can symbolise love, death or sexuality.

Memorable: there's no point choosing a long-winded quote you can't remember. When you're under pressure in an exam you want a quote you can pick off the top of your head. So if you're memorising shakespeare or poetry, choose a quote which rhymes. If you're studying the Gothic, choose a quote which is bloody and dark.

So you've chosen your 'killer quotes', as my teacher used to call them, now you need to memorise them. Everyone has a different preferred learning style but, as with learning a language, little and often is the key. My technique was to make flashcards with a prompt on the front and the full quote on the back with reasons why it was significant. Then I would go through them and leading up to the exam I did this a couple of times a day. It really worked and to this day I still remember the quote from Macbeth:

"Stars hide your fires, let not light see your black and deep desires." (Notice it rhymes and fire, light, dark and deep all have multi-layered meanings).

Another technique you can try is look at past exam questions and when brainstorming how you would approach the question, attach a quote(s) to each point. This is a great way to practice applying your memorised quotes.

I hope this explanation helped, and good luck!

Eleanor C. A Level English Literature tutor, GCSE English Literature ...

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is an online A Level English Literature tutor with MyTutor studying at York University

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