These days, our world is absolutely saturated in electronic and print media. These technological means of communication – television, radio, film, the press, advertising and the internet – tend to be one-way traffic. We sit and consume them. Switch off our critical faculties and absorb all they throw at us. Not great, you might think, for stretching our mental capacities.In fact, it is exactly this characteristic that makes the subject of media studies so interesting.

In media studies you learn to develop what’s known as critical autonomy – in other words, thinking for yourself.

To do this, there are a number of important concepts that you need to master – key theories, debates, research findings and ideas relating to the media. You can’t succeed in this subject without deploying these concepts effectively during exams. And the tool you need to use to ensure that you have the conceptual armoury you need, ready and primed for use? Your memory.

The first thing to realise about the media is that it does not offer straightforward reflections of reality.
What it actually provides are artificially created representations of reality. And these representations are created in their own characteristic forms and languages. In addition to learning how to recognise these forms, you will also need to commit to memory the jargon needed to write critically about them.

Making abstract concepts memorable takes the addition of just one key ingredient: imagination. Take, for example, these key terms vital in analysing media texts:

This simply means the study of signs and symbols, so to remember how to talk about the semiotics of a media text – the symbols in it that represent certain ideas – think about the commonly used symbol of the tick, in this case, a semi-hot one.

Genre                                                                                                        This is a type or style of media text. Think of the general rules for each type of film or feature under discussion.

Denotative meaning
This is the straightforward, superficial meaning of a media text, so think of someone just noting down the text exactly.

Connotative meaning
This is the implied meaning: the one that is not obvious, but is created by associations in our minds. Think of the media institution that has created the text conning the audience or consumer into having a certain reaction.

Sets of critical concepts often surround one particular area of the media or of your study of the media.
In an exam, you need to make sure you don’t leave a crucial critical idea out of your analysis. For this, imaginative mnemonic words or phrases, constructed out of the first letters or syllables of the key ideas, are invaluable. If the ideas should be applied in a particular sequence or form the stages of a process, the order of your mnemonic phrase will be vital. Otherwise, just play around with the order of the words you need to remember until they suggest a memorable phrase. Bear in mind that for ease of memorisation, the sillier, more outrageous or personal the word or phrase you come up with, the better. Using rhyme or other sound effects works well too, and keeping mnemonic phrases short and punchy is vital. Here are some examples to get you thinking:

Media audiences
Some of the key concepts to keep in mind when writing about audiences, whether of electronic or print media, are audience positioning, target audience, scheduling considerations, audience power, size and constituency of the audience, and segmentation of the audience by the media. Position tar in shed for power con-sent.

Key concepts in analysing documentary techniques are selection of material, how editing has been used, the effect of the narrator, the set-ups used and the entertainment function of the documentary. Think of the overall sense of the documentary. The functions of documentaries could be social, informative, educative, political, illuminative or empathetic. Think about your diet: “should I eat pie”.

To remember that a critique of press coverage may need to include considerations such as the dangers of inaccuracy and fabrication, issues of privacy, use of sensationalism, creation of propaganda and an emphasis on personalities rather than news, remember that a fab private sense creates a proper person.

You can see how easy it is to create ridiculous but memorable words and phrases, so that when you
get into your media studies exam you can feel confident that you will quickly be able to bring to bear whatever key concepts are relevant to the question you are asked. And thinking about these media debates and issues is not only useful for exams. In our information society, knowledge of the workings of the media and an ability to think critically is increasingly valued in the workplace.