How to memorise quotes for your closed book English exam

If you've got a closed book English exam coming up this summer you're probably daunted by the need to memorise quotes. No doubt there are loads of quotes you've underlined in the text as being really important and it just seems too much for your poor brain to take.

Today I'm going to give you some tips and suggestions about how to memorise quotes for your closed book English exam in a manageable, and maybe even a fun (!) way.

How to memorise quotes

How to memorise quotes for your closed book English exam

Prefer to watch a video? I've got you covered. Scroll down to keep reading…

1. Don't try to remember too many at once

Pick out five quotes at a time to work on. Trying to memorise too many all at once is going to addle your brain. As your first five choose the ones you mostly likely to come back to and use time and again – basically the most important ones.

Use my free Top Quotations download sheet to help you to streamline which quotations to learn. Sign-up for it below.

2. Choose quotes for the main characters and themes

If you're studying The Tempest by William Shakespeare (like I did for A-Level) you'll have heard this quote:

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.

This is one of the most important Shakespeare quotes out of all his plays, it was said by the main character Prospero and it supports many of the main themes in the play. It's a very good place to start your learning.

Whatever text you're studying start by learning the quotes that you seem to use most often.

Use the free Top Quotations sheet to identify which quotes are useful for which themes and characters. Fill in your details in the box below and I'll sent it to you.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Top Quotations summary sheet to help you streamline your quotation learning

Your personal data will be treated with respect. View my privacy policy here.

3. Make a flashcard for each quote

My very favourite revision method for memorising facts and information is using flashcards.

If you haven't got any already click here and order some right now. (That's an affiliate link to Amazon – if you click on it and buy I'll get a teensy bit of money to thank me for linking to it!).

Once you've got them, write your quote on one side. On the other side write the key words from your quote. So, for the quote from The Tempest I used above pick out these words: we, stuff, dreams, made, little, life, rounded, sleep.

When you first start trying to memorise the quote look at the side with the full quote on and read it out loud to yourself several times. Then, flip the card over and use the key words to prompt your memory. Finally, hide the card and see if you can still remember it.

You can carry your index cards around with you for the quotes you're currently focusing on and if you get a quiet moment e.g. on the school bus or while you're waiting for a lesson to start you can quickly go over them.

4. Make sticky notes and stick them where you'll see them

Many people swear by this. You can put sticky notes above your desk, on the back of the loo door, around the mirror where you do your hair and make-up or on the fridge door. Read over them whenever you see them.

I just want to issue a word of warning with this revision technique though…. Often when things are on the walls in your environment you stop noticing them. Are there pictures on the wall in your bedroom that you haven't looked at properly in ages? Just beware of becoming immune to your sticky notes because they've blended into your environment.

5. Draw cartoons or sketches to help you remember

If you're a visual learner drawing pictures, cartoons or dingbats to help you remember will probably help. There's a blog post written by an English teacher about this here: Memorising quotes through pictograms.

6. Act them out

If you're a kinaesthetic learner (someone who learns by doing) then act out the quote. Get into charcter and ‘be' the person saying that quote.

Alternatively, you could come up with an action for each of the key words.

7. Read, cover, say and write

I did a lot of my learning by reading outloud, covering up the information and then saying it as I wrote it out again and again and again.

You could use your Top Quotations download for this too.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Top Quotations summary sheet to help you streamline your quotation learning

Your personal data will be treated with respect. View my privacy policy here.

8. Analyse each quote

You're memorising these quotes to support your arguments in English essays. That means you've got to know what they signify and mean. To help you with this write the quote in the middle of a piece of paper and create a mind map where you're brainstorming everything you can think of about the quote. For example:

  • What it says about the character
  • How it demonstrates or expands on a theme in the text
  • The use of language in the quote
  • The rhythm, meter, rhyme or other plays with language such as assonance, alliteration or sibilance and what this says about the affect the writer was trying to achieve

Understanding is the very first step to remembering so this is important stuff – and it will also help you to access higher marks in your exam.

9. Visualisation

For each of the key words in a quote think of a visual image that ties groups of these words together.

10. Little and often

Whatever you do, don't sit down one Saturday morning with the target of learning 100 quotes in six hours. That ain't ever going to work!

Instead, focus on one quote for 3-5 minutes at a time up to five times per day. This way your subconcious mind will have time to absorb the information. You'll be amazed at how well you can remember a quote that you started learning two hours ago if you have a break in between!

11. Start early

Start to memorise quotes as early as possible so you've got time to learn five quotes per week using the little and often method. Whatever you do, don't leave it until the day before the exam to start learning them!

A well thought out revision plan will help you to make sure you've got time for all your revision for all your subjects.

12. Rinse and repeat

When you've learnt a quote keep going back to it to remind yourself of it. So, don't learn a quote this week and then forget about it until the week of the exam. Instead, make sure you read it through 2-3 times per week to keep it fresh in your memory.

13. Use them in practice essays

You're learning this quotations so that you can actually used them in your exam essays. So, once you've learned some, do a practice essay. The revision power hour is the most effective way I know to do past papers and rapidly improve your marks in any subject.


Don't forget to download your free Top Quotations cheat sheet. Just fill in your details and I'll send it to you.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Top Quotations summary sheet to help you streamline your quotation learning

Your personal data will be treated with respect. View my privacy policy here.

How to Revise English Literature GCSE with Mr SallesAre you looking for more help with revising GCSE English Literature? If so, check out the How to Revise English Literature Masterclass with Mr Salles, inside The Extraordinaries Club. Mr Salles has been an English teacher for 26 years, has a YouTube channel with tens of thousands of subscribers and has written three books helping students to raise their English GCSE grades. Find out more about the masterclass and sign-up here.


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