Here at QuickLits, we know just how overwhelming a closed-book English Literature exam can be! Having to learn quotes by heart is no easy task but, don’t worry, we’ve been there and we’ve got you covered! Follow our step by step guide for guaranteed quote success 🙂
Step One: Get Ready
It may seem an obvious one but if you haven’t read your English Literature set texts, do it now! Whether it’s Shakespeare or Steinbeck, having a familiarity with the text you are studying will really help you when it comes to learning quotes.
Step Two: Ensure Maximum Quote Efficiency
When we talk about maximum quote efficiency, what we mean is choosing quotes that have more than one purpose. It might be a quote that provides an example of two different themes, or a quote that contains a theme and a literary device, or a quote that provides character analysis along with a theme. Whatever book you’re studying, select quotes that have multiple dimensions to them. Why? The higher your quote efficiency, the fewer quotes you need to learn!
Step Three: Select the Quotes
Now that you’ve read all of your set texts and understand the principle of quote efficiency, you can start actually choosing the quotes you want to learn. At this stage, you’re probably wondering how many quotes you should choose for each book. That’s a good question and there’s no right or wrong answer here. Some people will go for 10, others for 20. Some ambitious students might go for even more. QuickLits recommends focusing on quality, not quantity. You want to select quotes that highlight a key theme, a literary device, and maybe an important character trait.
If you’re really struggling here, don’t forget that QuickLits can help you here. Our quote-based study guides contain every important quote in a book, leaving you free to select which ones you want to learn. Take a look at our study guides page for more information.
Step Four: Write Them Down
Whether you type them on a Word document or use pen and paper isn’t important. What is important is that you write them all down. Use one document or sheet of paper per book.
Step Five: Remove the “Fluff”
When you’ve got your list of quotes, you need to remove the “fluff” from each one. What we mean here is that you don’t need to memorise lines and lines of a quote, just take the most important part. Here’s an example from Act I, Scene IV of Macbeth when King Duncan has just named his son, Malcolm as his successor. This quote is from Macbeth and links to themes of ambition and of violence (thereby maximising quote efficiency):
“The prince of Cumberland! That is a step
On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap,
For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires.
The eye wink at the hand, yet let that be
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.”
Do you need to memorise this whole section? No, you don’t. What you need to know is that A) Macbeth describes Malcolm as a “step” to overcome, and B) this part:
So by taking away the “fluff,” you reduce one quote down from six lines to two. That makes a huge difference!
Step Six: Use Flash Cards
Once you’ve removed the fluff, take some index cards or small pieces of paper. On the front, write the quote. On the back, write a brief description of why this quote is important, e.g. “it links to the theme of …”
Step Seven: Read. Cover. Write. Check.
To help memorise the quote, take one card and read it. Then, cover it up with your hand and try to copy it on another sheet of paper. Check to see how well you did. Ideally, you’ll want to practice this as much as possible. The more you work with these quotes, the more likely you are to remember them.
Step Eight: Get Tested
Give the flash cards to a friend or a family member and ask them to test you. Make a note of any quotes that you are finding particular tricky to remember so that you can dedicate some extra time to these ones.
Step Nine: Post-It Notes
To really familiarise yourself with quotes, write them on post-it notes and stick them in places where you’re most likely to see them. Think bathroom mirror, fridge, bedroom wall, back of your front door. Every time you see a quote, make a point of reading it. Close your eyes and try to repeat it from memory. The more you practice, the better you’ll become.
Step Ten: Join the QuickLits Facebook Group
Did you know that we have a revision group on Facebook? You’ll find quotes, quote analysis and past paper questions on there, so if you’re struggling with learning your quotes, come and join us! Head to our Facebook page @quicklits
Step Eleven: Record Your Voice
Another way to learn your quotes is to record yourself saying them and to listen to it as much as possible. Most phones, tablets and computers have a voice recorder that you can use.
Step Twelve: Don’t Panic
No matter what book you’re studying, you’re not expected to know every single line of it, so don’t worry. The most important thing is that you demonstrate skills of analysis and understanding – not skills of memorising pages and pages of quotes.
Remember that it’s okay to paraphrase too – to put the quote into your own words – if you can’t remember every word.
We hope that you find this blog post useful in learning quotes for your exam. If you have any tips to add, please leave a comment below. We’d love to hear them!
We also have more revision/study posts here