We might not have the most contact hours over in the English department (feel sorry for us, our lectures cost more per hour!), but we do have a huge amount of reading to do each week. Here’s everything I’ve done over the last three years that have helped me with my English degree.
Or any other type of summary really (writing your own is super helpful for exams) Don’t use it instead of reading the texts (unless you’re super desperate) but reading a quick summary before, and a chapter breakdown after you’ve read the text can be a great way to solidify your understanding.
An English degree has a lot of books involved. My saving grace when it comes to long, boring books is simply to listen to them. You can find most classics on youtube, or signup for Audible and get one free book. I’ll either read along as I listen, or pop it on when I’m in the gym or on the way to and from campus.
Confused by everyone in Shakespeare having the same name? Try underlining each character’s dialogue in a different colour. I’ll underline or highlight their names rather than the whole line so I can still read the text. I also use sticky notes to highlight key themes or moments in the text so I can find them easily for an essay.
I love chatting to my classmates about the reading before our seminars start. I find I hear from people who don’t like speaking in front of the class, and people are usually able to help if I’m confused about something. If not, we’re usually in the same boat.
Cinematic sound tracks
Boring texts and secondary criticism are so much more interesting when the Lord of the Rings soundtrack is on in the background. The best soundtracks are ones that feel epic and usually don’t have lyrics. Soundtracks for films, and video games especially, are designed to keep your focus. If there are any lyrics, try not to sing along, because you won’t be absorbing what you’re reading fully.
Take a break after each chapter or act to go over what you’ve just read. Try to summarise it in two or three bullet points so you know what’s going on. Go stretch your legs and rehydrate half way through each book or you’ll stop absorbing the words.
My most important advice for surviving an English degree? Read the books!! I’ve made the mistake of thinking I can wing it and then having no idea what’s going on in my seminar. It’s a massive waste of time.