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Features | Tips for Studying Books


Continuing with the 'back to school' theme, today I thought I'd share a few little tips I've picked up over the years for studying books. When I was at school I found studying classic literature really difficult. Yet, for some reason, I chose to continue doing it at university. I wasn't always great at it but from my mistakes I have picked up a few things that might help if you're currently worrying about how you're ever going to understand the books you've been assigned for your English class this year.

1. Watch the film.
If you can find a good, somewhat loyal adaptation of the book you're studying, then by all means watch it! A lot of the time with classics, the language itself can be what's holding you back from understanding the themes and the story. So, if you can find a film or miniseries that accurately follows the story line and themes of the novel, then that could absolutely help you to understand those things, which will probably make the language of the novel seem like less of an obstacle. If you're really struggling then I would even suggest watching the film before you attempt the book, so that you always at least kind of know what's happening in the novel. This is also particularly useful if you're studying a play text because, of course, those things are intended to be seen.

2. Read the book.
I know this one seems obvious but I also know that once you've found that faithful adaptation, the temptation to just watch the movie instead can be pretty great. I know. I've been there. Take it from me, you don't want to show up to a seminar only to discover an hour in that Great Expectations has two alternative endings and the one in the edition of the book that you were supposed to have read uses a different ending than the one that the BBC used in the miniseries you watched last night. Just trust me on this. Read the book.

3. Download the audiobook.
If it's actually taking the time to sit down and concentrate on the novel that is holding you back, then try and find an audiobook. Plenty of the older classics you'll study at school or university are available for free as audiobooks because they're no longer copyrighted. If it wasn't for the free audiobook that I downloaded and listened to on my way to and from lectures, I would never have read North and South.

4. Read the SparkNotes.
Now, again, just like with watching the movie, this should be a supplement and not a replacement. Use websites like SparkNotes for what they were actually intended, read the articles along with the novel or play you're studying and they will definitely help you to understand the text. Just don't be tempted to just read the SparkNotes and have done with it. You will miss things. Remember: supplement, not replacement.

5. Look for discussions online.
Chances are whatever book you're studying, other people have already studied it. Look for discussion videos on YouTube or podcasts about the book. Start with the Crash Course literature videos but if you can't find what you need there, just do a search for the book. Hearing other people's discussions might show you different ways of thinking about the story that you hadn't thought of, or it might reinforce the things you had already noticed. Either way you'll be extremely prepared when it comes to discussing the text in class!

Now, use these tips and get better grades for your english literature assignments than I ever did!

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