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How I ranked 1st at Cambridge University - The Essay Memorisation Framework - Ali Abdaal

How I ranked 1st at Cambridge University - The Essay Memorisation Framework - Ali Abdaal

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The Essay Memorization Technique

The Essay Memorization Technique

There are two stages to this method:

  • The creation stage: the objective is to generate high quality essay plans for every possible title that you could receive in an exam.
  • The memorization stage: transfer all of these essay plans to memory by methodically using active recall, spaced repetition, spider diagrams, and flashcards.

Benefits of this technique: you will be able to memorize so many essay plans by the time your exam is due, that a lot of these will come up at the exam anyway (or similar ones, so you'll have the possibility to compile bits of the memorized information to generate great essays from scratch).

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Essay Memorization: The Creation Stage

There are aspects questions to keep in mind at this stage:

  1. How you decide what essay titles to choose and prepare.
  2. How you plan the essays.
  3. How you make sure your essay plans are high quality.

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Picking Up Essay Titles

  • Explore the subject and find essay titles that cover the entire breadth of the syllabus.
  • Keep in mind past essay titles.
  • After you've covered those up (and gained a deeper understanding of the subject), put yourself in the shoes of the examiners and imagine what they could ask you.

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Designing The Essay Plan

  • Start with a question.
  • Use Google to get as much information as you can about that particular question (articles, review papers, everything that could answer your question). Keep all the information in a research document.
  • Create the plan and start developing its sections.
  • Look at the lectures and recommended reading list and finish your essay.
  • Give yourself one day to do this for each essay (keep in mind Parkinson's Law: work expands to fill the time you allocate to it).

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Making Sure You Have A Good Essay Plan

The three things that count:

  1. Structure
  2. Actually answering the question
  3. Adding your personal touch, the elements that spice up the whole thing.

The introduction is the essential part because you are signaling to the examiner that you are doing all these things.

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The Essay Memorization Stage

The objective of this stage is to transfer all your essay plans into your brain so that you can use them later during the exam.

Useful techniques:

  • ANKI flashcards
  • Spider diagrams
  • A retrospective revision timetable.

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ANKI Flashcards

  • These flashcards are blocks of content that can insert into the essays you have planned. They also work for essays you have not prepared in advance: you have blocks of knowledge in your head that you can put into your new essay.
  • Everything that is in your ANKI is going to get uploaded into your brain.
  • Use them to memorize the paragraphs of your essays.
  • Use keywords at the front of the cards: for example, the title of a paper you are going to discuss in your ANKI, a theory, or a concept.

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Spider Diagrams

  • Using the memorized content blocks of the ANKI flashcards, you can build spider diagrams.
  • You have the whole structure of the essay and the keyword in your diagram.
  • Follow the same process for all your essay title. Put a date on each page.
  • Use 1 page for each essay.
  • You have to draw your essays from memory; if there are things you don't remember, actively work on those.
  • This is a great way use active recall to ensure you know everything for the exam.
  • Before the exam, you can browse through your diagrams.

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The Retrospective Revision Timetable

This is the last step towards effective memorization and it involves systematic spaced repetition. You can do it by using a retrospective timetable.

This technique involves creating a spreadsheet that starts with a list of subjects, topics or essays that you have put together and then inputting the dates on which you study those areas as well as color code the system to provide a visual representation as to which areas we might need to cover again.This method will give you an image of your progress and an overview of how well you know your essays.

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