Preparing to Study English Literature at University


Are you going to be studying English at university? Are you worried about what you should be doing to prepare for your new course? Don’t be!

While doing your A Levels or the IB, you will have spent lots of time cultivating the skills needed to be a successful English student - you’ll be good at reading, writing and analysing texts already. University will be your chance to improve your skills in preparation for the world of work or further study.

Of course, studying English at uni is very different from doing it at A Level or IB. Unlike at school, most of your time is completely unstructured: you’ll spend most of it reading novels and poems, and reading a few critical works to help you come up with things to write about each week. Your tutors might set questions, or ask you to write around a chosen theme - or they might not tell you what to write on at all!

If all this sounds a little daunting, don’t worry - there are a few easy things that you can do to ease the transition from school to university:

  • Familiarise yourself with the structure of the course - what modules will you be doing in first year? Who will be teaching them?

  • Think about how you’re going to be organising your time now that you won’t have a school timetable. Would having a diary with a timetable you’ve made yourself help? If it helped you with revision, chances are it will help you with your first few weeks at university.

  • Think about how you are going to take notes and keep records - will you use exercise books or lined paper? Will you type notes on your laptop? If so, how will you make sure that they’re all backed up? You might find a programme like Evernote useful - it keeps your notes synced across all your electronic devices, so that you won’t ever lose them. Make sure you find and use a method which works for you.

  • Get in all that fun reading! Before you get sent a reading list, enjoy the chance to read whatever you want.

  • That said, take a look at your reading list as soon as you’re given one - has your tutor suggested that you read certain things first? If you can, read longer books in the holidays: it can be hard to rush through a really long novel, whereas you can read a short poem pretty quickly!

  • Do you know anyone else on your course? Getting to know people who are starting at the same time as you can help you work out where you should be at. Freshers’ Facebook groups can be a good place to start, although beware of people boasting (untruthfully) about all the things they’ve done!

These tips will help get you in the right frame of mind for studying English Literature at university, and give you a chance to think about how you will adjust to a new learning environment.

I hope you enjoy the course! But first - be sure to enjoy the rest of your summer.

Ellen Brewster is a DPhil (PhD) student at the University of Oxford. You can find her at @_ellenbrewster on Instagram and Twitter.

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