Hi! We’re Mikki and Thais, second year students on the English Literature course at the Penryn Campus.
When we began researching for this article, we came up with a few ideas but wanted to reach ten points, so we also polled some of our classmates and moved things around so the points weren’t too repetitive. This is our final list, elaborated on to clarify and give you ideas of our personal experiences.
Disclaimer: we won’t be telling you information about the course that you can read on UCAS or the course research. We think it’s important to do your own research and find out the givens of this specific course, including the reading, modularity, etc.
This may seem like a really cliché thing to point out, but that’s for good reason. When you come to university, you might find that time management is a skill you have to master really quickly, especially because with English Literature you have to read at least two texts every week and write about them with a good, wide range of critical sources, and that takes time!
Another thing is that university flies by fast. Like really fast. One moment it’s Week 2 and your lecturers briefly mentions the formative/summative essays coming up, and the next moment it’s the end of Week 6, your essay is due Monday and you only have 50 words written. A lot of us have gone through that insanely stressful all-nighter where we attempt to write 2,000 words about Foucault’s ideas of power in relation to Percy Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound in a span of 5 hours and trust us, it is not fun.
This is why time management is so important and I know you’re probably thinking ‘nah this is just for laughs, I’ll be fine’, but honestly. Student to student here, time manage yourself and your work well. Even if you don’t want to, sit down and take some time to do essay related work for your next deadline; even if it’s just 100 words or 50 words, because it will save you so much stress and sleep deprived panic before the deadline hits.
Something you’ve probably come across when researching the University and the course is our Study Abroad option, otherwise known as ‘BA English with Study Abroad’. Listen to us and register for it, even if you have no plans to fly halfway around the world in your third year to study at a completely different university in a completely different environment with completely different people. Because when term 2 of second year comes by and you’re thinking – ‘hmm actually, I really want to do a year abroad’- it’s too late, the program is difficult to get on, especially if you decide on it at the last minute.
Register for Study Abroad ASAP – if you don’t want to do it, you can always just drop it and stick to 3 years. Seriously, don’t worry and sign up. (PS. totally unbiased but STUDY ABROAD IS A REALLY GOOD EXPERIENCE AND IS REALLY COOL!!)
The difference between the regular course and the +study abroad course is that, if you chose the +study abroad one, and achieved over 60% average in first year, you are guaranteed a placement. If you are on the normal course and have the average but there are no spots left where you want to go, you may end up not able to go.
We know 9ams are hard, but lecturers aren’t there to hammer information into your head. The hardest thing for them is when students show up and stay completely catatonic for two hours. Participation is key – then you won’t be listening to one person droning on patronisingly for hours on end. It can turn into a debate, there can be performances, hilarious outbursts, and most of the time if you pay attention you could walk out with a whole new understanding of the text or concept. It’s no adrenaline-pumping action movie, but, as with the rest of your uni experience, if you put in what you want to get out, you will really enjoy yourself.
Okay, so you might look at the reading list for the New Year and fall to the ground crying because 1) There are A LOT of books to read, and 2) It will cost £238472 to buy them all. DON’T FRET. Something that everyone on the course finds is that you don’t have to get every single book on the list. It was annoying for us in first year, but hopefully it won’t be for you, because here’s a few things that we’d suggest before you go all out and splurge on the books:
Stuck trying to find obscure information that you just can’t seem to find anywhere or even just need more insight on broad topics?? TALK TO YOUR LECTURERS. Especially if what you’re looking for is in a specific area of study, say 1920s Modernism in Harlem America or the use of science and discovery within the English Renaissance (really, really broad history-ish topics, but this is for historical context’s sake!) Most, if not all of your lecturers are highly qualified and research-active staff who make up one of the leading departments of English in the UK – they also specialise in different fields of research.
One of our lecturers specialises in Romanticism and literary theory; we also have a lecturer who is Greek and loves anything and everything to do with Paradise Lost and seventeenth-century lyrics so if you’re looking for sources to research from, speak to your lecturers. They’ll be able to give you a deeper insight into the topic you’re writing around, and potentially more than you’ll find online!
THIS IS SO IMPORTANT! A common misconception that people have when they start first year is to go into lectures and write down absolutely everything on the PowerPoint slides. I’ve done it. My friend next to me has done it. The guy in the front row to the left has done it.
It’s not something to be ashamed of, but it doesn’t help you much, particularly because your lecturers will more than likely upload all their slides online for you to access after the lecture anyway. But what you miss out on it the actual useful information they are saying (unless they decide to record the lecture but it isn’t something that they do regularly). Listen to what they’re actually saying/explaining and look at the slides as a guide. A tip is to write down the important points they raise so that you can go back over them with the slides open on your laptop – who knows, you might even end up quoting your lecturer in an essay or the exam.
We are lucky to have a wealth of reviewing services at our disposal on campus, but showing up isn’t the be-all end-all. I once went to the Undergraduate Writing Centre with no idea what I was going to write about for my essay, and walked out empty-handed. That’s no good; you must walk in with at least an idea. And beyond that, especially with lecturers, you must have specific questions. It’s fine if all you want is a proof-read, but if you’d like to know whether you’re properly conveying the importance of religious imagery in your argument about grief in X Victorian text, you need to ask that specific question.
Before your appointment, print out your draft or essay plan and sit down for five minutes to write down a specific list of questions about your essay. As mentioned earlier, for example, ask them if there are any important pieces of relevant criticism you should read to strengthen your argument.
You might be tempted to use all 26 of those super-relevant texts you found on JSTOR, and if they’re all perfect for you, then go ahead. But in that case, you’ll need to balance it out with plenty of other context and criticism from other places. An under-utilised resource is your lecturers, as mentioned above: get an office hour with the one whose work corresponds to your essay. You’ll want to ask them for some source recommendations as soon as you have a clear idea of where your essay is headed. Use the library catalogue. If you are working early enough, (because you have great time management!) you could order a book from Streatham campus. Exeter also has an electronic library with plenty of academic journals and databases. Here’s a trick: even if you still use all 26 texts you found on JSTOR, try to find them on other platforms. And above all, try and make sure they’re not all published by the same journal.
Most of us lose vital points because we think we know what a bibliography should look like. Be warned: those are easy points to lose, but even easier to earn. They made the difference between a mid-2.2 and a high-2:1 for me. You simply have to use one of the many resources at your disposal: the MLA guide on ELE, the Undergraduate Writing Centre, the OWL purdue website, and voila! Your sources are beautiful, organised, in Times New Roman size 12, double-spaced, your quotes’ authors are parenthesised and the longer citations are single-spaced and indented, etc. Congratulations. It took you all of 10 minutes!
I feel like this point should be used as clickbait – with a picture of a student in graduating garb with their degree in hand and a bright red banner that reads “LECTURERS DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW THIS”. It’s really not that crazy and you’ll probably figure it out anyway. When I began my degree and started stressing out about the amount of reading I’d have to do during term, my mentor said to me that no one, no matter what they say, does all the reading.
As successful students say, “don’t study hard, study smart”. Focus on a minimum of four readings (from different weeks) per module. Choose ones that you enjoy or, for exams, poems which you can learn by heart so as to quote well under pressure. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t show up to the other lectures, seminars and especially workshops, nor that you should exclusively read these four or five texts at the behest of all others no matter what! There’s always room for a surprise and really, if you’re studying English Literature, then you probably enjoy reading. Just don’t burn out trying to read four 500-page books and criticism in ten days.
Those were our ten points! If you’re a current student, do tell us any other important points you can think of, and if you’re applying, particularly to Exeter, tell us what you think and ask us any questions! We hope to see you join us soon.
Mikki & Thais