Top 10 Pieces of Advice From an English Literature Student

Sunday, November 12, 2017

It's been quite a while since I last wrote a college-related blog post, but I'm back with a new one that'll hopefully be helpful for many of you. English literature is without a doubt my most difficult A Level, and at times it feels like so much work that it's multiple subjects in one. It definitely requires a lot of effort and it often seems a lot more challenging than other subjects, but if you're struggling with this subject or just want some extra advice, then these are my biggest tips for getting through A Level English Lit and achieving your desired grades.

1 - Annotate your texts thoroughly
There's nothing worse than coming to revise a specific scene or chapter, only to see that your annotations are sparse and all of the analytical points that you thought of weren't written down. I'd highly recommend annotating your texts with anything you view as important, as that way when you're re-reading them all of the information and analysis is to hand. If you have large handwriting or just want to make a lot of notes, I'd also use file paper to write down any further points that you can consult when revising.

2 - Learn quotes sooner rather than later
When your exams are closed book, it can seem like there's an endless amount of quotes that you need to remember. Just picking a few key ones and starting to learn them now will definitely save you some work later on in the year, as leaving all of your quotes learning till the last minute is a difficult and risky game to play. This also applies to critical quotes, as it'll not only assist you when it comes to exam season but you'll also be able to apply these interpretations to your classwork throughout the year.

3 - Get feedback whenever possible from teachers
As English literature is an essay-based subject, it's important to get as much practice as possible with writing. I'd definitely say that it's not the same as writing essays for other subjects, and English literature essays are definitely a difficult skill to master, one that I'm still fine-tuning. However, the only way to make progress is to practice and get feedback on how you can improve. Whenever there's an opportunity to have your work marked or an assessment, make sure you try your hardest and see where your true areas for improvement are, rather than corrections being made just because you didn't put full effort into the essay.

4 - Use online resources to help
There's a variety of websites and videos online to help with your revision, and so I'd definitely make the best use out of these whenever possible. You don't want to rely entirely on websites like Sparknotes and Shmoop that may not be the most detailed and are better for providing a summary, but you may also occasionally come across a hidden gem of a website that is really helpful. Academic articles are also extremely useful, especially when it comes to doing your coursework.

5 - Watch the film
I know that some teachers will advise against doing this, but I definitely think it'll be beneficial if you're struggling to understand certain elements and want a more visual representation of the book. Definitely do this with caution, choosing a production that stays close to the original story whenever possible, and don't do this as a substitute for reading the text but instead as a way of enhancing your knowledge or understanding of it. You can also make brief references to these in exams, placing an emphasis on how the director has made visual choices based on specific words, stage directions or techniques used by the author.

6 - Write your notes in a way that works best for you
If a certain method of revision doesn't work well for you, don't think that you have to use it just because everyone else does. I've discovered over the past few months that typing my notes is much more efficient for me, as I can type quickly whereas I spend too long making my titles look pretty and colourful when I'm writing notes. I've started typing up all of my poetry notes after a lesson, and have recently found flashcards to be the best option for learning quotations for the plays that I study. Whatever works best for you, find your preferred methods and stick to them.

7 - Attend extra lessons
When it comes to upper sixth, the topics that you covered in class last year can seem like a distant memory. If it's possible and your teacher allows it, ask if you can attend lower sixth lessons for revision purposes. I've been doing this for the past few months and it's definitely one of the best decisions I've made, as it's helped incredibly with revising topics from last year and provides a much more enjoyable and productive revision environment.

8 - Practice your exam technique
It can be easy to just focus your revision on learning quotes and revising context, but exam technique plays an equally important part. Not only should you know exactly what you're asked to do in each exam and the weightings of each assessment objective, but you should also be aware of how to structure your essays and paragraphs. No matter how much you revise, if you're including comparisons in an exam where it's not necessary or spend too much time on one section, it'll hinder your results.

9 - Be independent in your learning
As English literature is such a heavy-going subject, it's important to further your work outside of the classroom and be independent in learning. It's also great to have points and critical quotes that other people may not, as it'll make your essays stand out more to an examiner and be less generic. There's definitely a lot of reading and revising to do for this subject, so make sure you understand this and be independent in your work.

10 - Remember to balance your other subjects
With a subject as demanding and intense as English literature, it can be easy to focus all of your energy onto this lesson and start to forget about your others. Make sure that all of your A Levels are prioritised equally and that you don't neglect the others due to the huge workload of English lit. Although it may be necessary to spend more time on this subject than your others, you should still ensure that there's a balance between them.

I hope that this advice was useful for some of you, and if you're studying English Literature then I'd love to know what you're biggest tips and preferred revision methods are. Thank you very much for reading and I'll see you next week with another new blog post!

Love from Daisy x

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