Memorisation: Everything you know but need to hear again

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Memorisation: Everything you know but need to hear again

The HSC involves a lot of content to remember. Sure, some subjects (e.g. languages) are heavier on the memorisation than others (e.g. maths), but no matter what your subject selection, you’ll definitely have to face the problem of how to remember everything.

Understand, don’t memorise

The most important thing to realise is that rote-learning does not work. Sitting down and properly understanding the content is more work initially but will make your life much easier in the long run.

The best learning comes from interacting with the material. The more you read, write, think, talk and explain, the easier it will be to remember the content.

Preparing study notes

This need for interaction with the material is also why you MUST prepare your own study notes. START EARLY. In fact, ideally you would start on day 1 of Year 11 Term 4, then write and edit them as you go.

Yes, it’s quicker to borrow a friend’s notes but reading alone is a very passive endeavour. You need your study to be active.

It’s great to collect lots of other sets of study notes, but make sure you find a copy of the syllabus and put together your own summaries. Spend time on them and make them your pride and joy. They are an investment that will return a strong profit when exam time rolls around.

Memory prompts

While preparing those study notes, think about memory prompts for the bits and pieces that you ‘just have to remember’. Can you link a word or phrase with something else that’s familiar to you? Can you construct a mnemonic to help you remember a list? It doesn’t matter how ridiculous it is – if it helps you remember something, then it’s excellent.

As a biologist, one of my favourites is ‘Happy Quokkas Vote for Presidential Candidate in Private Garden Event’, a mnemonic for ‘hygiene, quarantine, vaccinations, public health campaigns, pesticides, genetic engineering’. They’re the syllabus-listed strategies for prevention and control of infectious disease. I just love the image of a cheerful little quokka placing a vote in the ballot box with his adorable little paws, surrounded by a lush green garden and mystical fairy lights.


You’ve heard it a million times but I’ll say it again. Do not leave your revision until the last-minute!

You need the information that you are learning to deposit itself in your long-term memory, safe and secure in that high-security chamber. BUT you also need to check in on it regularly and bring long-buried concepts and knowledge to the surface. It’s like a healthy compost heap – safely hidden in the garden but regularly turned so that all of it can catch a breath of fresh air every now and then.


Remember what I said about interacting with the material? Practice questions are a good way to do this. These will help you consolidate your knowledge and reveal any gaps that you need to fill.

A lot of the time, even old syllabus papers are helpful for this. For example, the bane of any chemistry student’s existence is memorisation all the ion tests (seriously, why do so many sulfate precipitates have to white?). Now, a large proportion of these tests were also part of the old syllabus. So to consolidate your ion test skills, you could always scroll through the last two decades’ worth of papers and pick out the relevant questions to do. Then rinse and repeat for everything else.

So yes, there is a lot of content to learn in the HSC. But it isn’t about rote-learning, not at all. It’s about putting in the miles to fully understand the content and thinking up memory aids to help with the parts that you ‘just have to remember’. Remember to always study smarter, not harder.

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