How to Succeed in your Literature Class

Literature classes can be intimidating, especially if language skills are not your strong point. You may be terrified by the very thought of darkening the doorway of a college literature course. Don’t be. You don’t have to be a literary genius to have a successful experience. The secret to walking away from this course in one piece, with a good grade, and even a new appreciation for fine writing is as simple as following these basic instructions:

1.) Read with enthusiasm. Enter into the course with an open mind. This can be difficult if the syllabus consists of books you hated in high school or strange works by authors you’ve never even heard of. Try to come to each reading assignment without bias and with the intention of engaging in the story. There are two main goals to accomplish when reading a work of literature. You need to keep one eye on the plot, character, and setting (basic comprehension issues) and the other on the look out for larger themes, connections to other literary works, or reoccurring imagery that is specific to the author. Be warned of trying to take the easy way out by using cliff notes, websites, or movies based on the books as a substitution for tackling the actual piece of literature. The entire point of a literature class is to engross a student in the general aspects of important books, to explore many subtle nuances of how stories are crafted, and to train the college scholar to read and digest huge amounts of information. You won’t do well in the course without making a sincere attempt to read and understand every assigned text.

2.) Pay attention to lectures in class. This is the place where the professor will help you understand any troubling issues like archaic language, historical background, or the role of each work in the larger scheme of literary history. Take clear notes that you can refer to when necessary for studying or to help you when reading on your own. Join in class discussions and talk with fellow students often about their take on the reading. If you really don’t like a piece of literature even after doing your best to dissect it, be sure to have an intelligent reason behind this. “This book sucks” is not an intelligent reason. People most often resist literature because they don’t fully understand it. Keep coming back to your text until you have a good grasp on it’s meaning or at least until you can see why people have classified it as a piece worth perpetuating on future generations.

3.) Keep a reading journal. This is simply a diary of your daily reading. After reading a chapter or clearly defined section of a work, stop and reflect in your journal. Write down what seems to be important about the passage. This would be the place to keep straight any confusion about who is who and what is going on. Mark down any questions you have that need to be addressed in class, any witty comments that occur to you, and your favorite and least favorite points. You can make outlines, diagrams, doodles, or write any creative words of your own as you are inspired. A reading journal helps you to have a personal experience with books many people find difficult to relate to at first. This also simplifies the process of keeping your notes organized and will give you a jump on coming up with excellent topics for term papers. Don’t even attempt to write a paper on a topic that does not intrigue you. Use your reading journal to keep track of elements of individual stories that are meaningful and interesting to you. A student jazzed up about a topic can usually write a great paper.

Literature classes can be conquered by students who are willing to read, engage, and commit their best efforts. You might be surprised to find yourself enjoying books and reading in a whole new way when you approach lit class with this strategy.