How to Do Well (and Get Good Grades!) in English Literature Class

Updated on February 2, 2018
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Most students hate English Literature classes – it’s a fact. So many essays to write, books, plays and poems to be read and interpreted, boring lectures and classes – the list could go on and on.

However, you don’t have to dread English Lit classes. With a positive attitude, determination and a little hard work, you can do well in this subject. Here are some tips on not only how to survive English Lit classes, but how to get a good grade!

Big ol' stack of books.
Big ol' stack of books. | Source

1) Know what you need to read.

At the beginning of the school year, find out what you will be studying during the semester. Ask your teachers or professors, or look through the class syllabus if one is available. Make a list of the materials that you’ll be reading this year, and keep it in your English Lit class notebook (dedicate a page to it if you think that would be more effective). Separate it into different sections, such as a list of poems, a list of prose pieces, and a list of dramas.

This will help you keep track of your progress, so you don’t end up being confused about whether you read something or not. You can even tick them off as you go along. Keeping a list of reading materials is also very handy for when you need to revise for exams.

2) Read!

This seems pretty obvious, but in order to actually know what’s happening in Literature class, you need to read the books! It may seem like the hardest task in the world, but it will pay off later on - trust me.

As soon as you find out what you need to read, either buy or borrow the textbooks (you can find great deals on used textbooks on the Internet) and start reading. Don’t read just in class - read in your spare time too. If possible, dedicate 30 minutes every day to reading your class books or poems. You can also reward yourself when you finish reading a class selection.

The quicker that you finish reading all of your books, the better. This will give you more time to revise, especially those pieces that you didn’t fully understand the first time.

DON’T leave your reading until the night before the exam. You will only lose sleep and stress yourself out. Also, don’t skip out on reading and just use study guides instead. This is not effective either, no matter how tempting it may seem. Reading the actual book is beneficial, because as you read along, you begin to formulate ideas and materials about the material, as well as collect important quotes that can be used as textual evidence in future essays.

3) Make some notes along the way.

Notes are some of the most important things in a student’s life; especially those who study English Lit. Don’t hesitate to buy some notebooks, highlighters and pens for this class – you’re definitely going to need them. As a Lit student, prepare for a lot of writing, especially in the form of essays, tests, class notes and study notes.

Keep at least two separate notebooks: one for taking notes in class, and the other to make notes while you’re studying. You can put the following in the 'study' notebook:

  • Any interesting things you might have noticed while reading the material (such as important motifs and themes)
  • Any words that you think would be good to include in future essays or exams
  • Quotes from critics’ analyses of the materials (Trust me, teachers and exam markers love when students can directly quote critics! It will score you some extra points, and help validate the point you’re trying to make!)
  • Important quotes from characters.
  • Lists of themes, motifs, characters, and literary devices used.
  • Important background information on the writer (such as events in their life, where they lived, what was happening in the world at the time) and how that would've impacted their work.

It may seem tedious keeping two separate notebooks, but this can prevent your class notes getting mixed up with your personal notes. However, you can still carry your study notebook to school, and use it in the class discussion. When it comes to revision time, you would have much more information to help you, than if you just depended on your class notes. Who knows, maybe you can make a little extra money after the school year is done by selling the notes to new students!

4) Online Study Guides.

An English Lit student’s best friends (besides the textbooks of course) are online study guides. Websites like Sparknotes, Cliffsnotes, Jiffynotes (just to name a few) were specifically made to help students understand school subjects better.

These only guides are chock-full of literary goodness, and have information on almost any book, poem and play that you can think of. Besides summaries, they also have helpful hints, essay tips, Old-to-Modern-English translations and video summaries, just to name a few features.

These websites also often sell textbooks of their own. For example, Sparknotes sells the popular ‘No Fear Shakespeare’ series – on the left page of the book is the original Shakespearean English text and on the right page is a translation into the modern English language.

The information that you find on online study guides can help you understand your textbooks better, which will then reflect in your essays and class participation. Nothing feels as good as being able to participate in class and actually know and understand what the teacher is talking about!

Study session.
Study session. | Source

5) Study Groups are the way to go.

Study groups can be very handy for school subjects, and English Lit is certainly no exception. As soon as possible, try to assemble a group of around seven classmates (too large a group can cause complications and distractions).

The main idea of a study group is to help each other understand and revise together, as well as share any information or knowledge that you may have. In an ideal study group, each member gives and receives information, therefore benefiting everyone. However, if a member is having difficulty understanding, have an extra session that is smaller, or ‘one on one’. Encourage each other, and if you find a helpful website or video online, share it. Everyone should be able to reap in the benefits.

Study groups can work in many ways – you can choose a day to meet at the library or after school once a week (depending on everyone’s schedules), or you can arrange online meetings using programs like Skype or Google Hangouts. You can even create a special private group on Facebook or Whatsapp just for your classmates to ask questions, give answers and share information.

Remember, don’t hold out on helping another person or sharing information – all the members in the group are working towards a common goal.

6) Ask Questions.

Ask questions in class. If you’re not sure about something, ask a classmate or the teacher. Don’t let it pass – how else are you going to learn if you keep your questions to yourself? Even if the question seems dumb, never hesitate to ask someone for help. It’s better to ask the ‘dumb’ question and get the answer there and then, than to never know the answer and end up writing incorrect information on an essay.

If you didn’t get a grade you expected on an essay, you can ask the teacher about it, and how you can improve for next time. Ask the teacher for writing essay writing tips, or how to improve your writing style. The teacher would be thrilled that you’re genuinely interested in performing better, and would be happy to give you some pointers.

7) Do some extra research.

As an English Lit student, you cannot depend solely on the textbook or your class notes for information. Sometimes you might need to do a little extra research in order to fully understand the context of the book.

Thanks to technology, you no longer have to make a trip to the library to do research. Read articles and summaries from experts, historians and sociologists, watch documentaries, and ask questions online. You can also attend special lectures that relate to what you're currently studying.

Look up the period of history in which the book, play or poem is based or was written in. What were the social conditions like? Who was the ruler at the time? What was happening in the writer’s life at this time? Factors like these could’ve had a major impact on the writer’s choice of subject matter.

Source

8) Watch movies and plays.

Sometimes, reading is not enough to fully understand the material, especially if it’s a play (Shakespeare, anyone?). A great way to help yourself understand it better is to watch the theatre or film version!

Most classic books have had movie remakes, and Shakespearean plays have had countless versions acted out both in film and on stage. There are even some modern takes on classics; for example, the popular movie 'She's the Man' starring Amanda Bynes is a modern day version of Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night'. These can be found on Netflix or other streaming services, and some high school versions of the play (which are actually quite accurate!) can be found on YouTube.

Treat it as if you were watching a normal movie – invite some friends from your English class over, pop up some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy! While watching, point out anything that jumps out at you or may seem important.

Watching the visual re-enactment of the book or play can help you remember important scenes. Plus, it reminds you that plays are not meant to stay as words on paper – they were written to be performed by actors on a stage in front of an audience.

9) Know your jargon.

Language (obviously) plays a large role in English Lit: in writing, reading and discussing the texts. There are certain words and devices that are specifically associated with this subject. These can be collectively known as literary jargon. The word ‘jargon’ means the language and vocabulary associated with a certain group, profession, or subject.

Literary jargon would include words such as ‘narrator’, ‘antagonist’, ‘protagonist’, and ‘denouement’ and so on. Knowing and using these will definitely help you understand the reading material. Also, when asked (especially by the teacher or during an exam or essay), you will also be able to describe different aspects of the material better.

Here’s a tip – whenever you discover a new term, try to apply it to something in the book you’re studying. Which character does it describe best? Which scene or event fits the word’s definition?

When writing essays, always include the literary terms and devices you know. Instead of writing ‘the main character’, use ‘the protagonist’ instead. This will make your essay sound much more professional, and will probably score you a few extra marks too.

10) Prove (and validate!) your point.

Look at some English Lit essay questions – most if not all are asking for your opinion on a certain topic related to the reading material. What do you think? Why do you think that?

Always back up what you write with textual evidence – that is, give examples from the book or play that support your views. Don’t just write that you believe something – give proof! If you’re told to list important ideas and themes in the text, write examples of events of circumstances that drive you to your conclusion. If you’re being asked for your opinion on a certain character, give at least four thorough examples from the text. Did you see Richard from the play King Richard III as manipulative? Give examples of how he tricked and influenced other characters in the play. Was Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby shallow and selfish? Provide samples from throughout the book that make you think that way.

Doing this can definitely score your some extra points in your essays. It shows that you know your stuff, and you know how to apply it when needed.

Source

11) Study for Exams.

Last, but certainly not least, study for your exams. This is one of the most important ways you can ensure getting a good grade in English Literature.

Don’t leave studying until last minute; English Literature is a very complex subject, with a lot of information to remember. Instead, start at least four weeks in advance; dedicate some time every day to revising and studying English Lit, and increase these as the day of the exam draws nearer. By the night before the exam, you should just briefly scan through your notes before getting a good night’s sleep. ‘Cramming’ for an English Literature exam the night beforehand will only stress you out.

It may seem like a lot of hard work to get and maintain good grades in English Literature. But it does have many benefits. English Lit opens your eyes to a whole new world, and can enhance your love of reading and seeking knowledge. Plus, it’s always good to develop and keep good study and organizational habits, which will not only help during your studies, but when you enter the workplace.

Best of luck!

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    • profile image

      Anonymous 

      4 days ago

      Is anyone else using proper English and punctuation after reading this?

    • profile image

      saul 

      7 days ago

      nice information and it helped me to pass my literature

    • profile image

      Precious 

      3 weeks ago

      Thanks that was very useful

    • profile image

      sammy 

      4 weeks ago

      continue doing the good job by assisting us to do good in our literature classes

    • profile image

      jimmy 

      4 weeks ago

      thanks dude gotta do my homework.....

    • profile image

      precious 

      5 weeks ago

      that was very helpful to my studies because l got hold to the teachings on your blog and l passed my literature with A grades .thank you

    • profile image

      tatenda 

      6 weeks ago

      thank you for the information oping to get better grades in my english exams

    • profile image

      sehenaj 

      6 weeks ago

      Very good

    • profile image

      taophic 

      7 weeks ago

      thank you very much u guys av helped my life

    • profile image

      Mah 

      2 months ago

      To be honest, before reading these information, I was really upset and I felt like I could never pass my exams; but now, by reading your helpful information, I've planned what I need to do and hopefully I am going to do well. Thank you ever so much!

    • profile image

      Emmanuel Moses 

      3 months ago

      Awesome job, i now have hope that I'll go far and better my English exam, thanks .

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      3 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Cardia -- nice job. Very helpful hub. Keep up the fine work.

    • profile image

      Firomsa umer 

      4 months ago

      this is very helpful thanks

    • profile image

      Shermaine 

      4 months ago

      To score well for literature exams, you have to understand the story. The story behind it, why it happened. From then, you will probably score well and even better.

    • profile image

      Susan 

      6 months ago

      Wow thank you for such, i also believe in asking questions as it helps to have a clear understanding and it applies to all subjects not just literature.

    • profile image

      Yousry 

      6 months ago

      No you layer

      Are you crazy

    • profile image

      Zah 

      6 months ago

      Good points. I do understand the need to study for exams early, but in our morden times with work, children and spouses, I find that movies and plays help me to remember better than studying. If the acting and scripts are good.

    • profile image

      sammatha 

      6 months ago

      How do I memorize Literary jargon so that I can use it in my essays in exams?

    • profile image

      Ayanda 

      6 months ago

      It's true that you need to keep important quotes from characters when marking and grading the exams we look at that. I teach Literature

    • profile image

      Fujie 

      6 months ago

      Great Tips.!!!To add on you must have a positive attitude towards Literature and love the teacher tutoring the subject because your attitude towards the subject and Teacher contributes alot in getting a good grades. Had an A in Literature was studying Romeo &Juliet and MacBeth .

    • profile image

      MYON 

      6 months ago

      Good Tips

    • profile image

      saad 

      7 months ago

      good tips

    • profile image

      Jonas 

      8 months ago

      These are valuable tips that one needs to adapt anx very much

    • profile image

      Erwin Messi Chisango 

      9 months ago

      Thank you very much for sharing your productive ideas with me, l will try my best to follow the because l'm very weak in my english studies.... YOUNG MESSI

    • profile image

      Samruddhi 

      10 months ago

      Awesome!! English need not be boring from now on....

    • profile image

      Sam de silva 

      13 months ago

      Exactly meaning full and motivational

    • profile image

      Aliyaa 

      15 months ago

      It's good but I want to know how can I get an A.Because still I am scoring 66 like the that...???

    • profile image

      Tasnuva 

      21 months ago

      Thank you so much for your fantastic suggestions. Now I hope it'll be easy for me to prepare for the next semester.

    • profile image

      Sam 

      22 months ago

      I know the context. I can re-tell the story. But I don´t know how to link it to AO1, AO2 and AO3. Please what can I do then to better my grades in English Literature? Thanks.

    • profile image

      Best School in Tricity 

      22 months ago

      Nice post

    • profile image

      Deepthi 

      23 months ago

      Very useful.

    • profile image

      Amy 

      2 years ago

      I'd urge against tip #4 as I have read quite a few sparknotes analysis' that have completely misinterpreted works (legitimately. I'm not arguing that it simply differs from my interpretation - it can be flat out wrong). Plus reading those notes makes it harder for you to form your own ideas outside of what they say.

    • profile image

      HENOK BERHE 

      2 years ago

      I found it very helpful, informative and precise . thank you

    • profile image

      zujaja 

      3 years ago

      It's a really old post to comment on, but did so to acknowledge your help. The writer has quite comprehensively described the way one can perform better in English Literature exams. It's by far one of the best resources a literature student can find on the internet. It helped me a lot. Thank you and Kudos!

      Keep working this way, a lot of student await such vital guidance.

    • profile image

      Tamana 

      4 years ago

      I am very satisfied that you posted this article it has helped me so far in english I used to be in the mid 70%s but now I am in the mid 80%s.

    • profile image

      Richard Gilbert 

      4 years ago

      Try affiliating some stationary. Hood hub! Keep it up.

    • profile image

      Sherani Vanburen 

      4 years ago

      Thank you for presenting these beautiful and productive ideas, I'll put my efforts to follow these guidelines, Thank you once again for sharing your ideas.......

    • profile image

      Robin 

      4 years ago

      Excellent article. I'm a secondary Lit teacher looking for something simple for my pupils to digest and this is the best article out there. There is so much bad advice about studying lit -- thank you for producing something thoughtful and relevant.

    • profile image

      Drisha 

      4 years ago

      Wow thanks :) but can you help more please?

    • Cardia profile imageAUTHOR

      Cardia 

      5 years ago from Barbados.

      Muhammad Rohail Hassan,

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment! I am so glad that my article was able to help you with your English Literature studies. Best of luck for the future!

    • profile image

      Muhammad Rohail Hassan 

      5 years ago

      it is very useful, i have gone through it. thanks to Cardia, the person who had make it easy for the readers to understand literature, and i want to appreciate Hub Pages for providing the platform for those people who eant others to understand any subject easily. i am myself a student of English Literature and was having too much difficulties in getting good grades, but now IN SHA ALLAH i'll make my efforts do like this.

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