English is a particularly tricky subject, especially if you’re more of a science or math-y person. But don’t let this required general ed course be the bane of your GPA. If reading and writing aren’t your thing, or that 500-word essay is keeping you up all night—let me (the English major, total book nerd, and professional writer) help you out with some ways to overcome college English.
1. When assigned a reading, break it down into chunks.
It can be mentally exhausting to try to read an entire novel in one day—so don’t overwork yourself. Give yourself several days to complete a reading assignment, especially if it’s a lengthy one.
The trick to this is to schedule specifically. Instead of giving yourself 20 minutes to read each morning, tell yourself that you’ll finish through Chapter 3 before you start your day, so you won’t fall behind. You have to give yourself deadlines and stick to them for this to work, but if you do, you’ll retain a lot more information and have to do a lot less studying for the exam.
2. Read actively.
Have you ever “read” a passage, but your mind was wandering elsewhere? Not only did you not remember anything you read, but you were wasting valuable study time!
The solution to this is to actively read. This practice is different for everyone, but overall, it involves putting your entire focus into comprehending what you’re reading. For most people, this means you can’t just sit down with a book and magically retain all of the information—especially if you’re a kinetic learner, try doing these things as you read:
- Make notes in the margins. Whether you’re writing questions to ask your professor, predictions for the future of the novel, or comments about the plot, making notes will help jog your memory about what you read later and help you stay aware of what’s going on as you’re reading it.
- Highlight important passages. If you do this, when you go back to study, you won’t have to re-read the whole section—just the important parts. Color-code your highlighting for an even more interactive learning session!
- Take notes. Keep a notepad (or your laptop) close by, and after each section, synthesize what you’ve read. Answer any questions provided in the textbook, develop your own questions to answer, or even just summarize the passage. All will help you read actively and retain the information!
3. Divide your essays up into steps—do not try to do it all in one night!
All-nighters are most certainly not for essays (although that seems to be what they tend to be used for). I tell my fellow professional writers the same thing when they’re struggling with time management: you cannot try to do a whole paper in one night. You’ll be a lot more productive (and a lot less tired) if you divide the work up over several days, or even weeks. Set your own deadlines for research, first draft, revision, and final draft—and hold yourself to them! Dividing the work will make you more productive (and more sane)!
And if you can’t seem to find any time to do these things, try these real tips that professional writers use:
- Set aside specific time for writing. Like dividing up the essay into steps, this tip only works if you hold yourself accountable!
- Write when you feel like writing. If you are in the mood to write your essay, don’t hesitate because you already scheduled biology study time! Don’t be afraid to rearrange your schedule, because if you’re in the mood to do something, you’ll be a lot more productive at it.
4. Visit the writing center, or find a writing tutor, for personal help.
These services are here for you, and are generally free-of-charge! Whether you’re brainstorming topic ideas or you need one final read-through of your term paper before you turn it in, making an appointment with these specialists is simple and vital for personalized help with your essays. You’re already paying for their services in your tuition, so don’t waste the opportunity!
5. When it comes to preparing for English essay tests, you can’t just study and memorize.
You have to be proactive when it comes to preparing for English exams. Go back and read your notes and highlighted passages, or even consider checking out the SparkNotes or CliffNotes summaries to remind yourself of what happened (it’s not cheating as long as you don’t copy what they say or read it instead of the book—it’s just a resource!).
Remember, the test isn’t going to ask you what happened—they’re going to ask you to analyze what happened, to develop your own opinions about it. As long as you have an opinion and can articulate it, you can pass the exam even if you only know the gist of what went on during the story. Don’t second guess yourself—just argue for your own beliefs and you’ll be fine!
For a lot of people, English can be one of the most dreadful classes of their first year of college—but it doesn’t have to be. With these tips, you can make it out of literature class alive (and perhaps even pass with flying colors).
What are you reading in English this semester? Let me know in the comments so I can give it a look!