How to Do Well in a Literature Class
Unlike most kids I shared class with in high school and the earlier part of college, I actually enjoyed literature class. Taking a book and dissecting it, writing about it, and discussing it was fun and even made me fall in love with books and/or authors. Until I reached a certain level in my education in literature, almost every literature class had a few students that obviously did not enjoy being there or those who just didn't try.
Whether you aren't a big fan of literature classes or are looking at ways to do well in a literature class to improve grades, here are my top five tips to help you survive or improve. While they may not guarantee success, they can be a great improvement if you are one of those who thinks SparkNotes will help you get through any English class.
Do Better Grades Come With Better Attendance?
5. Class Attendance
Whether you want to do well in a literature class or in any other studies, attendance is one key to success. Many studies, such as the ones listed in the article to the right, have proven that students who attend class more, tend to have a higher grade average than those who skip out. This is probably the easiest tip to follow when it comes to doing well in a literature class. All you have to do is show up and pay attention.
Many literature classes are just as dependent on discussions as they are on the outside reading you do for the class. Miss the discussions, and you lose that extra insight you could have used in your essay. Plus, if you did not understand something within the novel, you may have missed an explanation or clarification (or at least the option to ask for it) in the class period you decide to skip.
Of course, everyone misses a class every once and a while due to whatever emergency, illness, or other situation that comes up. Every class and professor has their own policy, usually found in the class syllabus, that concerns how many absences you are allowed before it begins to effect your grade. Make sure you take note of this at the beginning of the term so you know what steps to take when you are unable to make it to class, such as whether or not you are supposed to let the professor know in advance and how soon you have to let them know.
Literature Class Discussions
Do you enjoy talking about books you read?
While just being in class everyday can ensure your grade stays up, actually participating is an even more sure fire way to do well in a literature class. I know that I had a couple of professors who considered a student absent if they did not at least provide one comment or question during class per day (something to definitely take note of in the attendance policy on a syllabus).
Coming to class awake can be one major cause for students to have a lack of participation in the classroom. Making sure you get plenty of sleep or have that cup of coffee before class can really help you stay awake and alert during class. Some students even brought snacks to help them stay focused (be sure to ask your professor if this is okay beforehand). Another way to stay focused is to come prepared with at least one question or point you would like to make in the discussion. In addition, pay close attention to what other students say and add whatever commentary or questions as needed.
While participation is a great guarantee to do well in a literature class, never force it. Believe me, everyone can tell and usually forced statements or questions can lead to a dead end in discussions. Only participate with something that can continue the discussion. If you don't have anything to say, just wait and listen until you do. It is almost a guarantee that at some point the discussion may reach a dead end anyways. This is why, even if it isn't required, it is always handy to come to class with three questions and/or points you would like to discuss.
Books Versus E-Readers
Do you prefer books or e-readers?
3. Come to Class Prepared
The worst thing you can do when enrolled in a literature class is to come without your book. One professor of mine actually had a policy in the syllabus that she could kick you out and consider you absent if you did not have the book with you. While this may sound a little harsh, it made sense, since, without the book, the student would not be able to keep up with most of what was going on in class. Like many other literature classes, we used our books so much in class, reading excerpts and discussing it for almost two hours or more, that you would just sit there lost and bored if you didn't have it sitting in front of you.
What most new literature students or students studying outside the literature realm don't initially understand is that, even if you read the book, coming to class without it in hand can be detrimental to your participation in discussions. Why? Whenever you make a point or ask a question in class, you are almost always expected to cite where the scene you are referring to is or read a quote aloud if necessary. Sometimes, your professor may even start discussions by having a student read a passage out of the novel before asking a question.
There are a few things you can do when you forget the book that day (which you will hopefully realize before you go to class):
- Email your teacher to let them know: Most teachers are kind enough to keep an extra copy or two of the book being discussed and are willing to let students borrow it whenever necessary. If you let them know beforehand, they may just bring you a copy to borrow during class or at least appreciate that you let them know beforehand, rather than show up unprepared.
- Check it out at the library: Some students use library books to save money by checking the required books out there as needed, rather than purchasing them for class. Be aware of this if you want to try and check out the book at your school library before class. Sometimes your best bet is the local public library.
- Use a Kindle or Nook: Yes, there are those literature majors who absolutely hate the idea of an e-reader versus a real book, but, when I switched to using a Kindle halfway through my studies, I found it was impossible never to forget my books at home since they were all in one handy spot. Once I actually forgot my Kindle, but luckily my professor allowed me to use my Kindle app on my phone instead. Proof that nowadays there is almost no excuse not to come to a literature class prepared!
- Ask a friend: If you are lucky enough to know someone who has the book, whether they took this same class before or just love that particular novel, try and see if they will let you borrow it. Some professors are okay with you sharing a book in class with another student. However, make sure and ask them first and don't just show up empty-handed.
Essay Writing Tip
Another tip for improving essays and do well in a literature class is to give yourself enough time to write it. It's difficult not to procrastinate but writing essays in a timely manner allows you to proofread and edit before turning it in (as well as do much more thorough research if necessary), which can greatly improve your scores.
2. Write About What's Interesting
When it comes to understanding how to do well in a literature class, most students are more interested in how to improve the writing portion of their grade more than anything else. The best and most simple advice I ever got from a literature professor was that you should always strive to write essays on something that interests you. Yes, you will be given prompts that can at times be very specific but if you have an idea that particularly fascinates you, arrange meeting up with your professor to ask them if you can write about that instead. Most are very open to new ideas, as long as they are related to the prompt or at least the class.
The best essays are written when the author actually has a passion for the ideas they are trying to share. You may not like literature but perhaps there is an aspect to the novel that is related to your preferred area of study or a favorite hobby. Take time to actually find how you connect with the novel and focus on that as your inspiration for whatever writing topic you might come up with. Writing solid essays are a sure way to do well in a literature class.
Communication with your professor is key if you want to write something that particularly fascinates you but you aren't sure if it follows the prompt exactly. If you go with what you want without informing the professor, you risk a bad grade since they may just say it was a fascinating read but, unfortunately, does not follow the prompt. When you let them know your idea, you may have to compromise but writing about something even close to what you find interesting is much better than writing on a topic that bores you to death.
If you have a hard time focusing on your readings, try pairing up with another student. Reading aloud together can really help you both stay on top of those reading assignments, comprehend what you are reading, and prepare even better for upcoming discussions.
1. Read the Book
The number one piece of advice for how to do well in a literature class is to actually read the book. I'm guilty of surviving a class or two without actually reading one single book but my grades were not that great as a result, even if I did pass. Reading the book ensures that you can actually participate in the class and actually write an in depth essay on whatever topic related to the book. Plus, you want to do well in a literature class, not just survive.
Even if you love literature, you will be faced with a book or two (or a class or two) that bores you to death. I recommend spacing out your reading, rather than trying to do it all last minute. For example, read between classes or in half hour spurts throughout the day when you have some free time. I usually got whole readings done for classes by getting to every class early and reading before they would start (no, I'm not referring to doing the readings minutes before your literature class starts). This meant that sometimes I would walk out of a literature class and immediately start on that night's reading before whatever class was next. If you try and read that whole 100 pages that were assigned in one go, you might find yourself zoning out or, depending on what time of day or night, falling asleep before you can finish. Don't give yourself any reason to give up.
Literature classes can move at a fast pace so you don't want to procrastinate on the readings if you can help it. Some students would actually read the books (or at least start reading them) before the first day of class to make sure they didn't fall behind. Whatever your strategy, as long as you actually read what is assigned to you, you are sure to do well in a literature class.
© 2013 LisaKoski