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How to survive an English Literature degree

Emily Moffett is a third-year English Literature student.

Welcome, first years, to the world of an English Literature student. My name is Emily and I’ll be your guide today. Don’t worry, only a couple of years ago, I was in your shoes. I was nervous and intimidated. But now, I’m comfortable and confident when I walk onto campus. After my tour and handy tips, your long reading lists and seemingly all-knowing tutorial mates (probably the ones with posh London accents…) should seem a lot less daunting. Listen to me, and you will be fully equipped to conquer this course. 

First of all, lectures are meant to be helpful, not a hindrance. Take notes quickly and efficiently by focusing on key words, and don’t worry about writing down every detail or immediately understanding every concept. Reviewing lecture recordings, asking questions, and further reading will assist your eventual full understanding. Also, the reading lists may seem massive, but make sure to carefully schedule your time, and the reading is doable. If you struggle with one text, take a break and move onto another. Work smarter instead of harder and know exactly what texts are most important for tutorials and essays. 

For tutorials, ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail,’ is my favourite adage to contribute. Be considerate of your tutor, and do not waste their time by arriving unprepared. As long as you have read and carefully thought about the week’s text, they will be happy to have you in the classroom. Most importantly, do not be afraid to speak up; have courage! I promise no one will make fun of you for any seemingly silly theories. I was terrified in my first tutorials, afraid of saying something ‘wrong,’ until I realised that the tutors are happy to hear and interact with any idea. Everything you have to say is valid and valuable, and the worst tutorials are always the awkwardly silent ones. Collaborating and sharing interpretations is essential. 

Essays shouldn’t be scary. Just remember, procrastination is not your friend. Secondary research, however, most definitely is. Read widely in the area of your essay title and accumulate as much knowledge as possible. The key to always achieving firsts, in my experience, is to have a clear argument that is uniquely yours. Asserting your own opinion is essential. Interact with other experts’ ideas, and do not be reluctant to refute them. In fact, challenging others’ arguments with relevant evidence is the clearest way to show you have delved deep into a topic. An essay is your chance to proudly display your clever and critical analyses, and convince your reader as to why you are right. 

But don’t just take it from me. I asked fellow coursemates for a few more tips, and they had lots of helpful advice to impart. One student, Jessie, recommends reading in advance, and ‘when you fall in love with one of the texts, complete some deeper research and take notes on your impressions.’ Another, Dimitrije, advises you to ‘create your own little community of friends on the course’ in order to ‘share concerns, talk about texts, and peer review.’ This course, at its heart, is about learning to communicate and is a wonderful opportunity to build relationships with your peers. 

Now, go forth and start working on that reading list! You’re not just going to survive English Literature, you are going to flourish.

Image: Patrick Tomasso via Unsplash