So while I wouldn’t call my major harder than any other, I would certainly agree that there are aspects that are challenging. And one of those aspects is the tests.
Sure we don’t have to do hard equations, but that often means that our tests are left somewhat ambiguous and therefore the study strategies must be very different from how you’d go about preparing for a test in another subject. We can’t practice equations, memorize a bunch of answers, look off a study guide, or even look through a textbook (or at least in most of my lit classes). Therefore it is important as literature students to figure out some good means to ace those midterms and finals! So here are a few suggestions for how to get through your tests:
1. Read the Text- make sure you have actually gone through the important materials. It can be easy to slack off and get behind on the reading, but this can hurt you later on in the semester. Make sure you at least skim through if nothing else, but for the best results I recommend making sure you look at the assigned material.
2. Take Good Notes- as with many other classes it’s important that you actually attend class sessions and stay focused in on what the professor is saying. Make sure you’re writing down main points, and be sure to review all of your notes before the test. Also, when you’re reading a text (even poetry) make some notes about what you noticed most about the work.
3. Study Sessions- Get together with a group! English is not a one perspective subject, and often it’s nice to have other people’s input on what a text may or may not mean. They also might remember a certain part of a book better than you do. It’s good to have other people to talk your material over with.
4, Sparknotes It- Before English professors start ranting at me I will say that my first rule is to ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS read the actual material first. Read through your assigned texts at least once before looking at Sparknotes. I find this a valuable supplement to remind me of the main points of the book (especially ones I read back at the beginning of the semester and don’t remember quite as well). Sparknotes helps fill in the cracks in your memory. It is not enough information to hold together your entire view of a work.
5. Study Style- often professors will do things like give you a line from a work and ask you to identify where it is from and what it means. As you’re reading each of your assignments take notes on what sets the work apart from others. This is particularly important when covering poetry. How is this writer different from the other poets? Make some flash cards for each writer to help you distinguish.
6. Fish Out Main Points- Often there is an essay section in your tests. As you’re going through the semester keep in mind what points the professor keeps bringing up. My professor stresses how important repetition is in a text, but this also goes for his class. The ideas he keeps bringing up often are the ones he wants you to know the best. Furthermore, try to look for main concepts that tie works together. For example if you’re studying modern American literature know the basic concepts that set this period apart and find examples you could compare and contrast in multiple works you’ve read. Try to pull together the works and see what similarities or differences you can find.
7. Distinguish Themes- As these are often what is mainly discussed in literature class make sure you have a good list of themes from each of the works you’ve read. Keep in mind some specific examples of each in case you have to write about it.
8. Outline- Outline some possible essay topics and how you’d choose to handle them. Also make some brief outlines of plots of the books if you feel this will help you.
9. Email your Prof- If you’re really lost always send out an email (unless your professor is just plain awful). Often professors respect students who ask for help and are more than willing to try to help you with that novel you just can’t seem to understand.
10. Find Your Own Strategies- If you’re an audio learner read things aloud to yourself or find a friend to ask you some questions. If you’re visual make some concept webs or other things you can look at. Fit your studying style to your own personal learning style.
11. Don’t Overwork Yourself- As with all tests keep in mind that cramming is often not the best strategy. Try to prepare in advance and if you’re deciding between pulling an all-nighter and studying less, always go for the latter because sleep helps you absorb more information and function better the next day. Keep a good attitude, eat some snacks, shut off electronics to delve back in.
So, keep your books in hand as you get ready for the test. The main thing is to have confidence in yourself and never give up no matter how hard it might seem. Besides, tests are only a small part of life and they define very little about how smart you actually are.
What are some of your study strategies for literature exams or any other types of tests you might take? What advice do you have for students? Have any good stories of your own study strategies or a test you succeeded in or failed in?