Studying literature is rewarding but challenging. Maybe you are required to take an English class in high school or maybe you are going to try a literature class in college. Language classes can be challenging due to the demanding workload, complicated texts, and essay writing. However, by doing considerate and diligent work in and out of the classroom, you may come to really like these classes.
Method 1 of 4: Participate Effectively in Class
Step 1. Take detailed notes
In class, take note of the most important points your teacher emphasizes. Write down your questions, points about the plot of the book, your opinions, those of your teacher and the comments of your classmates. Take note of the main and important points without being overwhelmed with details. Put together all your notes for your literature class in a notebook or section of a filing cabinet so that you can stay organized. Here are some ways you can organize your notes:
- the topics of the class in general
- your own thoughts and questions
- interesting points from class discussions
- the themes and symbols of particular books
- your teacher's opinions about a book (this will be more common in college lectures than in high school class discussions)
- important notes on the plot
- details about the historical context of the text
Step 2. Listen and respond to other students
In case the class is based on discussion, you should pay attention when the other students speak. Watch the student speak and practice active listening skills, including nodding toward the person, absorbing what they say (and not preparing a response in your head), and turning to them with open body language. Ask questions to make sure you understand what he means. You should respond thoughtfully to the ideas and opinions of your colleagues, whether or not you agree. Everyone will like the class better if the students are respectful and interested.
Step 3. Interact with your teacher
Express your opinions and thoughts in class and ask questions. Visit your teacher during his office hours and talk more about the readings as a way to show him that you want to be successful. Come to class prepared to discuss the readings and listen to your teacher's opinions. Stay after class to ask a quick question or comment on a point that you find interesting. In case you have difficulty understanding the material, please contact your teacher. He will be happy to help you with complicated material.
Step 4. Ask good questions
When asking a question in front of the class, you should speak clearly and loudly. Look the person you are talking to in the eye.
- Don't interrupt an answer to your question.
- Use open-ended questions and not questions that answer "yes" or "no." A good open question might be "How do race and politics interact in this novel?"
- Ask shorter, more specific questions rather than long, general questions.
Method 2 of 4: Prepare for Class
Step 1. Do the readings before class
You must go to class prepared. Consult the class program and take note of the texts that you should read before each class. Make a schedule for the amount of text you will read each day. It is important that you do the readings before class so that you can understand the lecture or discussion as it is happening rather than being confused and off-guard in the moment.
Step 2. Read and reread the assigned texts carefully
As you read, you should take notes in which you summarize in your own words what is happening, write down the unfamiliar words and write your opinions. Reread a text if you find it dense or confusing the first time. Teachers sometimes opt for challenging texts that deserve a second look. If you want to maximize your productivity, take a 10-minute break for every 15 minutes of reading.
Step 3. Use external tools to help you better understand tasks
Have a dictionary handy for you to study in and make notes of the names and definitions of unfamiliar words you come across. If your teacher allows it, you can use websites like Sparknotes, Shmoop, and BookRags to get plot summaries and character name reminders. However, these sources should only be a supplement to your basic knowledge of the assigned texts. All your ideas and thoughts for your essays should come solely from you.
Step 4. Talk about the assigned texts with the people in your class
Maybe you have a good friend in class that you can chat with over coffee or want to organize a weekly study group. Talking in a group about the assigned texts can help you acquire new understandings about the text, answer your questions and enjoy what you read even more. If there are exams in your literature class, your study group can help you review the plot points, details, and important themes of the assigned texts.
Method 3 of 4: Write Good Essays
Step 1. Give yourself enough time to write and review
Be careful to allow yourself enough time to do an outline of your essay, review the book, write the essay, ask for feedback from others, and review your essay.
- Create a schedule for the period of time within which you will perform the essay.
- Set internal deadlines for yourself to be accountable to someone else. Saying "I will send a draft of my essay to my peer review partner by Thursday" is more effective than saying "I will finish a draft by Thursday."
- Reward yourself for finishing tasks on time with smaller breaks and rewards. For example, if you finish the sketch on time, you could go out for ice cream with your friends.
Step 2. Come up with a thesis statement that is original and argumentative
Every effective literature essay includes a thesis statement or a specific argument that you want to prove in your essay. The thesis statement must be biased, original and relevant to the literary work. It should not constitute a factual statement but should be a debatable opinion.
- Here's an example of an ineffective thesis statement: "In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry's wand is unique to him." This is an ineffective statement because it is only a fact. One could write a lot of interesting things about the fact that Harry's wand is exclusive to him, but no one can dispute that this is true given that it is a fact.
- Here is an example of an effective thesis statement: "In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry's wand represents his passage to maturity through the power of the wand to give him greater will through magic, his bond with his past and his future, and his unique physical form. " This is a thesis statement that works well because it is debatable. Someone could argue instead that the wand represents Harry's duty to the wizarding world or that the wand more represents his identity as a student. The thesis statement has facts and opinions, so it seems biased, although not outlandish.
Step 3. Use direct quotes from the book and also your own analysis
If you want to back up your thesis statement, you should look for quotes from the book that illustrate your point. For example, if your thesis statement argues that rain represents hopelessness, you could find a passage from the book in which there is a character crying in the rain. Then when you have an example, you should analyze it in your own words.
You need to integrate the citations well into the text of the essay itself and then analyze them further. For example, you could write "When Romeo says, 'But stop. What light does that window shine on?' / 'It is the east, and Juliet, the sun' (Shakespeare 2.1.44-45), establishes a comparison between the sun that rises from the east and the beginning of the relationship between the two lovers "
Step 4. Review and correct extensively
Ask your friends, relatives, and your teacher to read your essay and incorporate their feedback into your edits. Read your essay for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. Don't be afraid to make a lot of changes between the first and second drafts, as your essay will improve with each thoughtful revision.
- When you finish your essay, read it out loud to yourself as a way to check for clumsy formulations and small mistakes.
- You can also try to start with the last sentence and move to the first.
- When submitting your essay and receiving feedback, save it for the next time you write an essay.
Method 4 of 4: Take Literature Tests
Step 1. Determine the format of your exam
Literature exams can be found in widely different formats depending on the class and the instructor. They differ greatly from math or spelling tests. If your teacher provides you with the exam format, you should be careful to understand what each component of the exam entails. Understanding this will help you during the study process. Here are some common components of Literature exams:
- definitions of literary terms or phrases
- identification of citations (you are given the quote and you must explain who said it, in what context, in which literary work and by which author)
- fragment analysis
- short answer questions
- Essay questions, either about one work or linking multiple works
Step 2. Make flashcards about important literary words and terms
In case your class is focused on literary terms (for example, "symbol", "anaphora" or "free indirect speech"), you should be careful that, in addition to being able to define the literary term, you can provide examples of it in the class texts. Challenge yourself with these flashcards and look for more examples in the assigned texts.
Step 3. Reread your class notes
In case you have taken good notes in class, reading them will refresh your memory as to the important points that have been made during the class. Take note of the important ideas that were presented in class (for example, "coming of age" or "man vs. nature"). Ideas that stand out from your notes could appear on the test. Create a condensed study guide in which you collect the most important ideas from your notes. Use the "read, receive, and review" method: read your notes, recite what you remember about them, and then review and evaluate how much you retained.
Step 4. Reread the confusing parts of the assigned texts
It is essential that you understand all the material for a Literature test. So now is the time to go over that confusing piece of Faulkner that you didn't understand in class. In case there is an analysis on a fragment of one of these confusing sections, you will feel good to have reviewed it.
Step 5. Consider the symbols and themes
If you need to write an essay for the exam, you should review your notes and texts for possible essay topics (for example, dreams, motherhood, or nature). Make a note of these topics for possible test questions where you need to talk about symbols and topics in various texts studied. Symbols and themes are often the focus of literary discussions, and you will prepare even more for the exam if you understand the underlying meaning of the assigned texts.
Step 6. Use your study group
Ask them about the confusing snippets. Discuss what each of you considered to be the important ideas over the course of the class, as your opinions may vary. Ask them to read, recite, and review their notes with you. Listening to different opinions and points of view about the texts in a literature class will help you consider the works in a more holistic way.
- Reading for pleasure is a great way to keep your skills sharp during the summer.
- Everyone reads at their own pace. You don't have to worry about reading slower than your friends.
- If you read a book for school that you really like, you can ask the librarian to recommend other books that you might like.
- When writing essays, be careful to use the correct form of reference (for example, the style of the Modern Language Association or MLA or the American Psychological Association or APA). Your teacher should set them.
- Avoid being put off by thorough feedback on your essays, as this will only help you improve your writing in the future.
- Be careful with sources like Sparknotes that tell you how to analyze or read certain passages, as your own interpretation is just as valuable.
- It is all very well to have discussions with your classmates, but you need to make sure that the ideas in your essays are yours and not someone else's.