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How to Pass a Literature Test Without Doing the Reading

Updated on November 30, 2012
Sometimes even avid readers need a little help with spur-of-the-moment literature tests.
Sometimes even avid readers need a little help with spur-of-the-moment literature tests. | Source

From an English Major

Although I never advocate skipping out on required reading or homework, I understand how the real world works. Without exposing my true laziness of offending former teachers and professors, I'll share a few key tips for when life gets in the way.

In a pinch? Scroll down for "Day of" instructions!


These tips do not guarantee you will actually pass your test. They should, however, give you a bit more content-related knowledge than you'd have otherwise.

A Note on Procrastination

Skipping readings, when done through procrastination, is no way to take advantage of an expensive college education. If this becomes a common occurrence, study up on more effective ways to complete tasks and meet deadlines.

1. Attend class.

Guess what? Going to class will teach you something about the subject matter. From lecture, group discussion, videos, handouts, and more, you can get a great handle on a specific title or two just by showing up.

Extra perk: You'll learn what the teacher emphasizes and favors. With this knowledge, you can interpret the test and writing prompts with greater ease.

2. Master active listening.

If you can attend class and participate, you're really meeting half of the requirements for scholastic success. If you can milk that in-class time more effectively, you'll find yourself doing even better.

Active listening can be a challenge. Everyone learns differently, regardless of how the course is taught. Whether I'm reading a text or listening to a lecture, I transfer my new knowledge into a different medium. Often, I'll take comprehensive written notes (on the side of the page, etc) or draw a map of what happens in a story (there are lots of highly flourished arrows in my old college notes).

Find a way to make this information more accessible according to your memory, and do this religiously!

4. Research online.

In addition to the other steps, I also recommend doing some research online. Wikipedia is an astonishing asset, especially if you follow the links in the bibliography. Cliff's Notes and Spark Notes can really paint a thorough picture, too.

For more information on which sources I recommend when you're in a rush, scroll down below to my "Day of" tips!

5. Improve reading skill and speed.

Running out of time to finish all of your assigned readings? Consider taking a speed reading course at a local university (often in Continuing Education departments) or through online videos.

Many students learn to read on a very basic level. Sure, they can understand the words and write their own, but they don't necessarily learn how to read quickly or effectively. Without extensive practice or fine-tuned training, you won't get better.

Even highly literate individuals would benefit from speed reading courses.

Just imagine how much easier your time in school would be if you could cut 25% or more from the time required to read, yet you wouldn't lose the ability to comprehend the words on the page.

Think it over! In the mean time, check out this video from Iris Reading to learn how to speed read for free!

Free Speed Reading Course from Iris Reading

Does it feel like time is slipping away?
Does it feel like time is slipping away? | Source

6. Brush up on time management.

Would you have been able to do the reading if you had more time? Learn about the right time management method of you and your learning style through the resources below.

Useful Time Management Resources for Students

What NOT to Do

Think you can watch a film adaptation instead of reading? Think again. Most film versions are rewritten to fit a very specific time frame, audience, budget, and many other concerns. Plus, you'll learn nothing of the literary style. Avoid watching the movie, unless the adaptation is verbatim. Even then, subtle differences can make huge changes!

Oh yeah, and your teacher will know.

"Day of" Slacker Tips!

Alright, so here's how to do this. With about an hour, you'll be as close to read as you're able to be. Follow this closely!

  1. Read the Wikipedia page overview. Learn the "skeleton" of setting, character, and plot. This is where you learn structure. Although there are often some good interpretations on Wikipedia, I tend to use it just to get the big picture.
  2. Read or skim a few analyses to understand why this book matters Look at Spark and Cliff Notes for this. They aren't necessarily college-level, but they do give you insight into what's going on and why.
  3. By all means, re-read class notes and handouts. You now know the basic story, so your notes should make more sense. This is non-negotiable! Read everything your teacher gave you.
  4. Read a page or two throughout the beginning, middle, and end. Look at writing style, characterization, and for anything usual (like specific speaking styles of various characters for quote identifications). This is often optional (or not as necessary), but really can make an enormous difference. If you're in a college or university-level English course, consider making this step required.


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    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 5 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      You've captured several of the strategies I used while attending community college and university classes 4 decades ago. LOL!

      Great hub! I love your reader-friendly voice and style! Thanks for sharing!