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Advanced English Essay – Should I Memorise, Improvise or Both?

Ash who achieved a Band 6 in Advanced English has shared her story and tips with us.

Advanced English is a tough subject. It’s really about developing your skills constantly throughout the year for those final essays. Whilst this may seem like a while away now, it’s good to nail how you’re going to tackle the exam to set your mindset for the rest of the subject.

I’ve found that there are three main ways to prepare; memorizing an essay for each module, improvising from knowledge or a little bit of both. There are pros and cons for all methods, but the final decision really comes down to how you study and learn best.


The first option can be considered the easiest, if English is not your strong suit. One way to memorise an essay is to create and perfect an ‘ultra-essay’ that packs in all of the potential points you could think of, backing it up with evidence. But I can safely predict that any English teacher would suggest against this idea. Whilst it can provide a sense of security, because you’re covering a large chunk of what they could ask, it’s messy and takes away from a clear, sustained argument. The marker, who reads through your essay at most twice, would get lost. I advise against this as a way to get a good mark, but for those struggling in the exam, it can be a way to get through.

The other way to memorise for the exam is by creating a solid argument for each module. Whilst this could be a great stand-alone essay, it’s risky. Even with a broad topic, you would have to be EXTREMELY lucky to get that exact topic.


The other extreme is completely improvising on the day. This could be the method for you, if you’re great at English- given you’ve studied your texts thoroughly enough. I tried this approach during my trial exams, because I felt I really knew my texts inside and out – especially Citizen Kane (Mod B). I had studied some main ideas I thought were really substantial, did some practice essays, and went in to the exam open to writing anything without any solid notes. This preparation is not without its faults.

Depending on the type of person you are, this can be a disorganized and messy way to study for the final exam. I found this leading to the HSC. I had a really firm grasp of the concepts in each module, with plenty of techniques, and I could repeat quotes until the cows came home; but I felt there was nothing solid I could refer back to to review all I had learned. It leaves all the pressure on you in the exam. I remember thinking in my trial exam that I had written some great explanations of concepts in previous essays, but I couldn’t remember how I worded them. As a result, my ideas became clouded as I attempted to do it all by myself on the day. My teachers were frustrated because they knew I understood everything, but couldn’t communicate it effectively because of my study method. I had treated my practice essays as a quick way to test myself, keeping them and reviewing the marking criteria to make blanket-statements on my writing. But these documents, especially when marked by teachers, can hold some really valuable information that can relieve some of the pressure on exam day.

Memorising + Improvising

Once the trials were past and my assessments finished, I found a nice balance between these two methods to achieve a Band 6 in my exam. By the end of my studying, I felt I was adequately prepared with my memorization, and I had exercised my improvising ability enough that I could write an essay on a given topic on a text within the 40 minutes given.

How do I do this?

In order to create an effective balance between memorizing and improvising, you should have a solid set of study notes on your texts. I tried so many visual aids during the term to try and nail down my ideas, and found the best ways to accurately organize my thoughts were mind-maps for topic sentences and a table for techniques. Don’t forget the quotes!

Once you have your notes organized, start writing timed essays with your notes in front of you. I would recommend hand-writing them then typing up for analysis. During this process, you can start to learn your notes. Take a little longer to more comprehensively plan, too, to select the best pieces of evidence. Through writing and planning these essays, you start to use improvisation to explore ideas under time pressure. But don’t feel restricted to the clock; if there is something you don’t quite understand or need to develop your thesis on, take the time to do it.

After writing a few practice essays, polish them to your desired Band (5,6). I don’t suggest changing them too much; if you need to drastically restructure your essay then just re-write it fully. Print these polished practices out, take a highlighter, and go to town. Get to know specific sentences and the wording of concepts. For instance, to explain the American Dream in Mod A, I often wrote;

The hedonistic attitudes of the 1920’s sparked Fitzgerald to critique his milieu’s devotion to the American Dream. It was not the Dream itself, but the empty idea of happiness through wealth that society chose to strive for. These unrealistic ideals inevitably lead to failure.

Then in the exam, you relieve a lot of the pressure to come up with an incredible thesis or grand statement that truly kicks ass. With this method, you aren’t going to the extent of memorizing whole essays or totally relying on yourself; you’re integrating them to an achievable standard. Keep practicing once you’ve got your polished essays, because every new perspective deepens your knowledge of the text. 5 minute essay plans are a great way to study leading up to the exam!

For questions or tutoring inquiries, please contact ash.negrone@gmail.com

Author: Ashlee Negrone

Ash studies Pre-Medicine at the University of Technology Sydney. She gradutated in 2016 with an ATAR of 95.3 with the subjects Biology, Adv English, PDHPE, English Ext 1, Design and Technology and Studies of Religion 2U.
Contact ash.negrone@gmail.com for tutoring inquiries.

Ashlee Negrone

Ash studies Pre-Medicine at the University of Technology Sydney. She gradutated in 2016 with an ATAR of 95.3 with the subjects Biology, Adv English, PDHPE, English Ext 1, Design and Technology and Studies of Religion 2U. Contact ash.negrone@gmail.com for tutoring inquiries.

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