VCE English: Preparing and using quotes

VCE English: Preparing and using quotes

This week, Insight writer and English teacher Helen Wallace outlines how to choose, memorise and analyse quotes to use in your writing.

When it comes to preparing to use quotes in your analytical writing, a common belief is that you need to learn as many as possible. This is a daunting task when you have at least four texts to study throughout the year. Is it really feasible to review every conceivable quote from each text? And what should you do once you’ve chosen them?

Below are some tips on how to effectively select, memorise and analyse quotes in preparation for sitting your SACs and the end-of-year examination.


Categorising by theme

Before you begin reading, prepare a list of each text’s key themes. By having these in mind, you will be more attuned to finding relevant quotes. Allocate a different coloured highlighter to each theme and highlight quotes according to the category you feel they best represent. When you come to revise, your quotes will be highly visible and colour-coordinated according to themes. Below is an example of how to colour-code using the key themes in Anna Funder’s Stasiland.


Finding ‘multi-tastic’ quotes

Once you’ve identified your quotes, you can decide which ones should be added to your bank of key quotes. You should ensure you have a variety from across the text.

You should then identify any quote that relates to more than one key theme. ‘Multi-tastic’ quotes like these can be used to respond to a range of prompts. Below are some examples from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.


Memorising quotes

Now that you have a bank of multi-tastic concise quotes, you can start to memorise them. Remember to aim for quotes that are no longer than a line of handwriting to make them easier to memorise. This quote from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, ‘Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt’, is multi-tastic, as it is applicable to a range of themes such as justice, treason, morality, appearance and reality, and faith. However, it can be shortened to ‘our doubts are traitors’, which is just as effective.

Below are some other helpful techniques for committing quotes to memory.

  • Flashcards – Write the quote and its themes on one side, and key words to prompt your memory on the other. Guess, connect, flip and repeat.
  • Visuals – Try adding an image to your flashcards or your notes. For example, to memorise the quote ‘It is no shame to have a dirty face – the shame comes when you keep it dirty’ from Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, you could sketch a simple drawing of a dirty face. Pictures can work as well as words to prompt your memory.
  • Interactive quizzes – Create and share quote quizzes with your peers to test your knowledge. (Writing quizzes is as helpful for memorising as participating in quizzes.)
  • Repetition – Type your quotes into Notes on your mobile phone or record yourself verbalising them; re-read or replay them when you have downtime, for example, on the train or the bus.
  • Sticky notes – Write quotes on sticky notes and post them by things you visit and use regularly at home – a desk, light switch or computer, for example. Look at them regularly and repeat them out loud.


Analysing quotes

Almost everyone can pick good quotes – once you’ve spent nine months with a text you will understand the key moments well – but they do not guarantee that you will write a high-level essay. In fact, if you don’t clearly unpack or analyse the quotes you use, they can detract from your writing.

As you memorise your quotes, you should practise writing about them analytically. Try building your analysis following these three simple questions.

  • What? – Identify key words or techniques that create impact in a quote. Which words or literary devices, if taken away, would remove the power of the quote? In this example from David Malouf’s Ransom – ‘To rattle about like a pea in the golden husk of my … dazzling eminence’ – ‘rattle’ and ‘dazzling’ could be identified as the powerful words.
  • How? – Explore the ways in which key words or techniques create ideas. In the quote from Ransom, for example, we have juxtaposed ideas – ‘rattle’ suggests feebleness and impotence, while ‘dazzling’ creates an idea of glory and great status – and the two combined create a contradiction.
  • Why? – Explain the writer’s intentions, the views and values behind their choices and what impact they hope to make on their audience.

Combining What, How and Why together might look like this:

When Malouf juxtaposes the words ‘rattle’ and ‘dazzling’, he creates an image containing the contradictory ideas of feebleness and glory. These conflicting ideas link to King Priam’s frustration with his lack of connection to his people, and the image as a whole broadly suggests the restrictive burdens of leadership.


And finally … practise, practise, practise!

Writing essays is the ultimate way to commit your multi-tastic quotes to memory. By repeatedly writing out your quotes and practising your writing by responding to different prompts, you will improve your knowledge and skills, and find that you can produce polished essays in your SACs and in the exam that show the sum of all your efforts.

Need a comprehensive overview of the Year 12 English course? Purchase Insight’s English Year 12 2nd edition by Robert Beardwood. With definitions and explanations, models, step-by-step guidelines, annotated sample responses and numerous activities, this textbook develops students’ confidence in writing, analysing, and presenting a point of view, providing the tools for success in Year 12 English.

English Year 12 2nd edition is produced by Insight Publications, an independent Australian educational publisher.


Photo Credit: HelloRF ZCool/Shutterstock

Annotating a text

May 11, 2020

Adding finesse to your writing

May 11, 2020

Leave a Reply