So it’s that time of year again where most of us who are in some form of education will be revising and reading for exams and assignments in the coming weeks. As an English literature student at university, I for one am no newbie to revising for English exams, and I know how hard it can be to get motivated and to know where to start. So, I thought I would write a post with my top tips for revising English literature, and hopefully help any of you who are struggling!
Getting motivated to revise can be really difficult, especially if it’s for a subject you don’t love. I always enjoyed my English lessons at school (obviously) yet I did find it difficult to revise because I never knew where to start. Because of this, I would always prioritize another subject like Geography or History because I found it easier to revise for that subject. This wasn’t a bad alternative, but it just meant that I wasn’t spending equal amounts of time on all of my subjects.
If I found I had a morning or an afternoon free, I would make sure to would sit down for an hour or so and just make mind maps of the characters of our set text, and I would write down quotes which were useful to remember. It might sound boring, but I always found that once I got started, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.
Giving yourself a certain amount of time to revise for one subject tends to motivate me quite well, because I know that afterwards I will feel like I have achieved something. Also, if you just give yourself an hour, you’re not trying to force yourself to learn too much in one go. And that’s the other important thing: revising is going over the things that you have learnt already, so it’s not like you’re learning again from the beginning. So if you go over things in regular, fairly small time slots, then it should be easier to remember for your exams!
It’s also nice to work with friends, if that’s how you like to revise. Again, you can just spend an afternoon going over notes you’ve already made, and discussing the points you have made in your previous revision. It also means you might learn something else which you may not have picked up before hand.
The final thing that motivated me was making a revision chart. I would write down all of my subjects in a table, and at the bottom I would make a key with different coloured stickers. 30 minutes would be a red sticker, 1 hour would be an orange sticker, 2 hours would be a green sticker etc, and whenever I did any revision, I would stick the appropriate sticker on that subject. Having this on my wall also made me see how much revision I had done for all of my subjects, and which ones I should probably do some more work on.
How to revise for English Literature:
As I already mentioned, for English I would make mind maps of characters, and I would write down key quotes. This was especially helpful for GCSE. A-level English was harder, because there were more quotes to learn and I was just very stressed during this time, so any form of revision was difficult for me, because the amount of stress I was under made it harder for me to focus sometimes.
Again I made a revision chart, but this time I made a timeline on my wall and made cards with each period we had to know about. On the one side I had the era (e.g. Medieval) and on the back I would have the time which it spanned across. This meant that for the exam, when we had an unseen text, I would be able to know which period this poem or text was written in, and then I could include this information in my answer. I don’t know if the A-level English exams have changed in the past two years or so, but we had to know a fair bit on context as well as knowing all the quotes! Plus I was on AQA, so obviously if you are on a different exam board this might be different for you.
This next one may sound really obvious, but re-reading the text, or parts of the text, will really help. You can’t just rely on reading the text once in class back in December and hope that all your notes will help you in May. Even just having a quick re-cap by reading a summary online will help you if you don’t have time to read the whole text, because it’s important to remember as much as you can about the text you’re writing about, especially if you can’t bring it into the exam with you. If you can bring it into the exam with you, it means that you won’t be wasting time reading the text again rather than planning what you’re going to write.
By reading the text again, it will be fresh in your mind, and as you’ll have already read the text, you’ll already know what is going to happen- but this time, you have the chance to read deeper and apply everything you’ve learnt in classes.
One of the best ways I revised was by doing past papers. My teacher gave us past paper after past paper, and so for the actual exam I knew exactly how to write my answers, and I was prepared for the format of the exam. Even last year, when I was in my first year at university, I had one exam and it wasn’t hugely difficult because we were given the question in advance, so we were able to prepare our answer. In this case, I wrote down a draft essay (my exam consisted of two essays) and then re-wrote it a few times until I remembered the structure and my main arguments. I also made mind maps, to help me remember the order of the things I was writing, and I wrote down the main points I was making on cards, so when I was out and about, or just had 20 minutes to do some revision, I would quickly read over them and refresh my memory.
So hopefully these tips will help you all with your English Literature exams. And even if it’s not English you’re worried about, hopefully some of these tips can come in handy for your other exams too! I would say these are probably more useful for essay based subjects like English, History or Religious Studies, so hopefully this will help you with your exams! And good luck!