How to be the perfect Lit student

Although I’ve studied English Literature for pretty much the entirety of my academic life, I turned up at university last year with little clue on what I was doing for my degree. After two years of my qualification and a number of tears, lots of sweat and perhaps a tiny bit of blood, here are my top tips to succeed.

Choose your modules wisely


Not choosing my modules carefully was certainly my biggest downfall of my second year. I jumped straight in, looked at the list and pulled off the modules I thought I’d be most interested in, thinking I would get better marks in subjects I actually enjoyed (after hating every second of first year).

I was along the right lines, however I didn’t consider two other main things: deadlines and reading load. I accidentally chose completely novel-based modules so at times I was having to read four 500-page novels in one week (ridiculous and impossible). I also didn’t look at the deadlines before applying to my modules, so ended up having to write 17,500 words over the Christmas break (equally as ridiculous and impossible).

Conclusion: choose a nice mixture of reading loads in topics that you’re interested in, but check that the deadlines of your modules all fit together well. Otherwise you’ll end up in a bit of a pickle!

Prioritise and plan

The fact is, when you take an English Literature degree, you will never be able to read everything. Unless you’re lucky enough to possess a time-turner. So instead, you need to plan ahead!

For example, if you’re pushed for time one week and know that you only have to write an essay about two books, and you’ve already read three, it probably won’t matter if you skip a week. Plan ahead so that if you have an essay due the following week, you know you probably won’t get all your other reading done, so read extra the week before or in the holidays to catch up. Even better: give reading the longer ones a go in the summer before your year starts. You’ll be laughing when everyone else is struggling through Bleak House and you’ve already finished it!

It sounds dull, but when you get your timetable plan your entire year ahead, so you know when you can schedule things like going home for the weekend and extra-curricular activities. That way they won’t interfere with your deadlines; you can thank me later.

Know your tutors

Unfortunately in English Literature, things are never standardised across the board, from style to referencing. Therefore – with a risk of sounding like a total suck-up here – get to know your tutors. Learn what they love. For example, I had a tutor who adored talking about “bodily experience”, so I chucked it in my essay, and boom: extra marks. Also learn what they hate. If you have a tutor who loves Marx, I’d probably recommend avoiding slagging off Marxism in an essay, unless you have an especially strong argument to wow them. Sneak in subtle questions about referencing so you can adapt to their individual style.

Be unique

When writing an essay, try and come up with an argument which is different to everyone else’s. If a question leads you to answer “yes”, try and say “no”. Don’t be afraid to be a little different (unless you are that student who tries to slate Marx to a Marxist). If you possibly have time, try and do some secondary reading around the topic, so you are more prepared for your seminars and essays in terms of context.

So the above certainly wasn’t exhaustive, but follow these tips and you’ll surely be en route to get a first… Maybe!

Do you have any more tips for English Literature students? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes / Flickr

Chief blog editor. UK. Journalist and editor.
Contact: sian.elvin@careercamel.com.

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