I do an English Literature degree - AMA!

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octo
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#1
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#1
Hey everyone! !

I'm octo, and I'm a third year student studying English Literature and Creative Writing (joint honours). The lovely barror1 has Linguistics covered, so I thought I'd start a thread for the Literature side of things!

If you have any questions about studying English Literature, the transition from English Literature A-level to degree level, or anything that's on your mind, ask away! <3

This AMA uses a tag system! You can either ask a general question or tag in one of our fantastic volunteers (listed below) if you are looking for something more specific.
octo - Third year English Literature and Creative Writing (joint honours), Royal Holloway
barror1 - First year English Literature and Linguistics (joint honours), York
Lit-Lover - Graduate, English, Birmingham --- Postgraduate student, English, KCL
Kaylee Frye - Graduate, English, Cambridge
DauntlessKilljoy - English, UEA
SixteenHundred - Graduate, English, Cambridge
skittish - Offer holder, English, Cambridge
sparkypreston - Offer holder, English

---
This AMA is part of the 'Ask a University Student 2.0' initiative. If you want to find out more about other courses or universities, please check out the main list of threads:
https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php?t=6431108
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the bear
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#2
what is the longest book you have read ? :holmes:
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octo
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(Original post by the bear)
what is the longest book you have read ? :holmes:
Definitely Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. There's a reason why the fandom refers to it as "The Brick". I think my copy was around 1200 pages!
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the bear
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#4
(Original post by octo)
Definitely Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. There's a reason why the fandom refers to it as "The Brick". I think my copy was around 1200 pages!
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username5246756
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I’m looking to sign up to a degree in English Literature after discussing whether to do the Language and Literature combined. I found that Literature is my true passion compared to Language.

I’m planning on signing up to my degree this evening but do you sign up for the course first and then apply for the Student loan?

I’m looking at joining the Open University.
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sandytablet
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How many paragraphs do you usually write in a 2000-word comparative essay?

In High School, I was taught that I should write as quickly as possible and shove as many concepts/themes down the marker's throat. I've been replicating this in uni but I've discovered it's definitely the wrong thing to do. I've been told that I'm always too descriptive/have great ideas but never delve deep enough into their concepts because I'm too quick to move onto something else. I'm going into third year of English Lit at Edinburgh so I really want to try work things out to help my grades. I feel like they've never actually taught us a particular structure to the essays.

Also, do you follow a certain structure when writing comparative/close reading essays?

Thanks!
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octo
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(Original post by TEXT)
I’m looking to sign up to a degree in English Literature after discussing whether to do the Language and Literature combined. I found that Literature is my true passion compared to Language.

I’m planning on signing up to my degree this evening but do you sign up for the course first and then apply for the Student loan?

I’m looking at joining the Open University.
Hey! I'm pretty sure this is the same between OU and in-person universities, but not 100% sure -- normally you need to confirm your place by receiving and accepting either an conditional or unconditional offer before you apply for Student Finance. I'd recommend doing it as soon as you can!
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mangosorbet
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Hi, I'm an A-Level student and an currently taking part in an essay competition for English literature. In the guidance, I am told to ensure I reference all sources, include a bibliography and to include footnotes and appendices. What does this mean? And where can I find critical responses to texts as well as academic writing about the text I've chosen, is there a particular site that is useful for this?
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username5246756
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(Original post by octo)
Hey! I'm pretty sure this is the same between OU and in-person universities, but not 100% sure -- normally you need to confirm your place by receiving and accepting either an conditional or unconditional offer before you apply for Student Finance. I'd recommend doing it as soon as you can!
Hey!
Well it says I pick my module but doesn’t say I pick my whole course then I go to student finance (sorry I just found the page on the website) do you pick a module at a time and then keep going back to student finance I’m confused lol
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octo
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(Original post by Lilli22)
How many paragraphs do you usually write in a 2000-word comparative essay?

In High School, I was taught that I should write as quickly as possible and shove as many concepts/themes down the marker's throat. I've been replicating this in uni but I've discovered it's definitely the wrong thing to do. I've been told that I'm always too descriptive/have great ideas but never delve deep enough into their concepts because I'm too quick to move onto something else. I'm going into third year of English Lit at Edinburgh so I really want to try work things out to help my grades. I feel like they've never actually taught us a particular structure to the essays.

Also, do you follow a certain structure when writing comparative/close reading essays?

Thanks!
Hey!! First off, I love your Ib icon! That's one of my favourite games haha

I'd say (this is a personal thing, not necessarily how the guidelines/mark schemes might put it at your uni) I normally try to have about 500-700 words per major point -- but major points are made up of several smaller points. I try to make sure that the concepts and themes have enough room to breathe (you might have been taught PEEEL at your secondary school, which is Point - Evidence - Explain - Evaluate - Link --- I genuinely still think about this when I'm writing! You have to make sure you're giving each thought the space it needs, and linking them all together for a cohesive thesis.

So, for example, here's a sample paragraph from a Frankenstein essay (2500 words) I wrote in second year:


Spoiler:
Show
The miniature of Caroline, too, is a way to control her legacy. The existence of the smiling miniature in itself receives more attention than the living mother, due to its use as an incriminating token of sin. This beautified, aesthetically pleasing miniature’s ‘lovely’ (100) smile also serves as a one-dimensional, deliberately reductive facsimile of the complex woman that Caroline was, again reducing her personality and life experiences to her beauty. It quite literally miniaturises her. But the miniature’s purpose in the text is equally passive; it means much to those who see it, but never with any true understanding of Caroline herself. For the creation, he sees only her beauty--’it softened and attracted me’ (100)--which at first is ‘attractive’ to him, but then enrages him, as he believes that this mysterious woman would be ‘disgust[ed]’ (100) by him, fueling his rage. But the miniature remains passive, merely a representation of a joyful mother; the creature’s hatred is self-fuelled by his own passionate thoughts. The romanticising, the miniaturising, and the disguising of Caroline are all notable attempts to minimise and neatly compartmentalise the identity and heart of the mother.

I'm introducing a lot of ideas and quotes, but they all build together to support one cohesive thought: we're discussing the miniature and how it affects our perceptions of Caroline as a character. It is more important than her; it literally reduces and miniaturises her. This is about 200 words, and can easily feed in next with either another point about Caroline or a similar situation with another character (I went on to talk about how Caroline feeds a cycle of maternal dependency into Elizabeth, and also into Victor in a "i make people out of corpses" kind of way, lmao).


And honestly, I wish I could help more than saying "I just plan in bullet points and scream", but that's kind of what I do tbh!! Here's what the start of that paragraph looked like in the planning phase:

Image

I kind of make bullet points on the subject (so this essay was on maternal absence, so my three points were on the three maternal figures, Caroline, Elizabeth, and Victor) and then try to structure my many ideas in a way that flows and makes sense as a cohesive thought.

I hope this makes sense! If you DM me, I can link you sample essays and try to give you some better advice. I am terrible at this, but I really hope it helps!!!
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sandytablet
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#11
(Original post by octo)
Hey!! First off, I love your Ib icon! That's one of my favourite games haha

I'd say (this is a personal thing, not necessarily how the guidelines/mark schemes might put it at your uni) I normally try to have about 500-700 words per major point -- but major points are made up of several smaller points. I try to make sure that the concepts and themes have enough room to breathe (you might have been taught PEEEL at your secondary school, which is Point - Evidence - Explain - Evaluate - Link --- I genuinely still think about this when I'm writing! You have to make sure you're giving each thought the space it needs, and linking them all together for a cohesive thesis.

So, for example, here's a sample paragraph from a Frankenstein essay (2500 words) I wrote in second year:


Spoiler:
Show
The miniature of Caroline, too, is a way to control her legacy. The existence of the smiling miniature in itself receives more attention than the living mother, due to its use as an incriminating token of sin. This beautified, aesthetically pleasing miniature’s ‘lovely’ (100) smile also serves as a one-dimensional, deliberately reductive facsimile of the complex woman that Caroline was, again reducing her personality and life experiences to her beauty. It quite literally miniaturises her. But the miniature’s purpose in the text is equally passive; it means much to those who see it, but never with any true understanding of Caroline herself. For the creation, he sees only her beauty--’it softened and attracted me’ (100)--which at first is ‘attractive’ to him, but then enrages him, as he believes that this mysterious woman would be ‘disgust[ed]’ (100) by him, fueling his rage. But the miniature remains passive, merely a representation of a joyful mother; the creature’s hatred is self-fuelled by his own passionate thoughts. The romanticising, the miniaturising, and the disguising of Caroline are all notable attempts to minimise and neatly compartmentalise the identity and heart of the mother.

I'm introducing a lot of ideas and quotes, but they all build together to support one cohesive thought: we're discussing the miniature and how it affects our perceptions of Caroline as a character. It is more important than her; it literally reduces and miniaturises her. This is about 200 words, and can easily feed in next with either another point about Caroline or a similar situation with another character (I went on to talk about how Caroline feeds a cycle of maternal dependency into Elizabeth, and also into Victor in a "i make people out of corpses" kind of way, lmao).


And honestly, I wish I could help more than saying "I just plan in bullet points and scream", but that's kind of what I do tbh!! Here's what the start of that paragraph looked like in the planning phase:

Image

I kind of make bullet points on the subject (so this essay was on maternal absence, so my three points were on the three maternal figures, Caroline, Elizabeth, and Victor) and then try to structure my many ideas in a way that flows and makes sense as a cohesive thought.

I hope this makes sense! If you DM me, I can link you sample essays and try to give you some better advice. I am terrible at this, but I really hope it helps!!!
Oh this is so lovely! Thank you so much for your help! This definitely helps. We did PEEL in school, too, but I think I sort of forgot about it when I went into sem 2 of first year
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octo
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#12
(Original post by mangosorbet)
Hi, I'm an A-Level student and an currently taking part in an essay competition for English literature. In the guidance, I am told to ensure I reference all sources, include a bibliography and to include footnotes and appendices. What does this mean? And where can I find critical responses to texts as well as academic writing about the text I've chosen, is there a particular site that is useful for this?
Hey!! SO referencing and footnoting is something you're going to encounter a lot more at uni. Referencing and footnoting means that you're sourcing the critical responses and theoretical texts you use. Footnotes are the little numbers that look like this:

Image

They go at the end of a sentence where you've quoted something, after the full stop, and they make a little bit down the bottom in the footer where you source the original quote.

There are different styles of referencing, which will impact how you format and phrase your footnotes. I use MHRA, so my footnotes for texts look something like this:

Mary Poovey, ‘“My Hideous Progeny”: The Lady and the Monster’, Frankenstein: Second Norton Critical Edition, ed. J. Paul Hunter (USA: Norton, 2012), p350.

This is me sourcing a critical text, so that goes:

AUTHOR NAME, 'NAME OF CRITICAL ESSAY', WHERE TEXT WAS PUBLISHED WITH EDITOR IF IT'S A BOOK (PLACE OF PUBLICATION: PUBLISHER, DATE) PAGE NUMBER(S).

As for finding critical texts, I recommend using things like Google Scholar! I've found some surprisingly good sources just by Googling what I'm looking for.

A bibliography is a part after the essay where you compile all your sources together in alphabetical order, just for easy reference of everything you've used for the essay.
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octo
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Hey!
Well it says I pick my module but doesn’t say I pick my whole course then I go to student finance (sorry I just found the page on the website) do you pick a module at a time and then keep going back to student finance I’m confused lol
From what I can tell, it looks like you need to select all of your modules and make sure you tell the OU that you're applying for a student loan -- then you apply for your student finance as a Part Time Tuition Loan here.
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phatdaddyrice
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Do you still enjoy reading! I’m
Going to do an English lit degree in September and one of my biggest fears is getting so overwhelmed by the required texts I lose my love for reading!!
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octo
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(Original post by phatdaddyrice)
Do you still enjoy reading! I’m
Going to do an English lit degree in September and one of my biggest fears is getting so overwhelmed by the required texts I lose my love for reading!!
Honestly, I've lost my drive a lot -- but I'd already lost it during my A-levels, so my degree definitely didn't do that to me single-handed! If anything, I really enjoyed being exposed to brand new texts and discussing ideas around them, even if I didn't have time to actually read all of them. I discovered one of my favourite books (Room by Emma Donoghue) in my first year; I'd say my love for reading is recovering thanks to my degree more than anything. I've discovered a vicious love for poetry, even where my love for reading is still fragile. But it's absolutely a your-mileage-may-vary kind of situation.

I guess my best advice is to ... it sounds bad, but don't worry about reading all the recommended reading. If you read even half the texts, you've done a damned sight better than I did. The best thing you can do is to read up on the texts beforehand, determine which ones interest you, read those -- and with the others, do some secondary reading on them. Make sure you have a plot summary and an understanding of some of the themes, and try to link it with something you already know and love, so you have something to mention during the seminar. You can learn so much from the people around you even before you've read the texts at hand. I didn't read The Day of the Triffids in time for my seminar on it, but I'd done enough secondary reading to be able to compare it to both The War of the Worlds and 28 Days Later, and I ended up writing an essay on the shared themes between those three that got me a very high First!

Try to be kind to yourself. If a text is really not jiving with you, don't force yourself to read it. Consider why you dislike it as much as you do, and think of how you can use that in analysis. I hated Pamela by Samuel Richardson because of how much of a misogynistic boring product of its time it was, and only made it about 4 chapters in -- but discussing that gave me an angle I could easily use to discuss it in the seminar.

ALSO audiobooks are your friend, take up a hobby like drawing or knitting and listen to your books while you're doing those if you literally can't bring yourself to read. I did that a lot, and my First in my Frankenstein module is basically down to the free audio recording I found of it on YouTube.
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octo
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It's not as bad as you might think, especially now that you don't have AS levels so you have 2 years of practice and rehearsal. I know the GCSE syllabus has changed since I was doing then (2015!!! eeek!! im shrivelling into dust as we speak HOW WAS THAT 5 YEARS AGO!!!) but I'd say the biggest difference between GCSE and A-level is learning how to engage with critical texts for the first time. You learn how to do proper close reading and thematic analysis (so basically taking the Of Mice and Men pathetic fallacy of "the sun is setting as Curley's Wife is killed" and really teasing it out and figuring out how that ties into more and more stuff) and you learn how to think about what other people are saying about the texts, too. You really start learning that your work is part of a centuries-long conversation about the text and that your theories and ideas about the text are just as important as anything anyone else has said about it. I wish I could help you more, but my memories of Year 11 are a complete blur! I'm old!!
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skittish
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(Original post by phatdaddyrice)
Do you still enjoy reading! I’m
Going to do an English lit degree in September and one of my biggest fears is getting so overwhelmed by the required texts I lose my love for reading!!
I'm in the same position as you; since getting into Cambridge I've felt overwhelmed by impostor syndrome and I worry that I won't enjoy my degree. However, I've been trying to use lockdown and the cancellation of A-Levels to get excited about reading again. It's a little intense, but I set myself the challenge of reading a modern classic a day for a week. I'm on day 2 right now, having read Slaughterhouse Five yesterday and To Kill a Mockingbird today. I'm not trying to preach, but I honestly think that investing in self-care and taking the time to remind yourself of why you applied for English in the first place is really important. Maybe try taking a look at some of the required texts in advance if possible?
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skittish
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I found that the biggest difference was comparing texts (although this may vary with exam board) rather than talking about each in isolation, but I agree with octo that critical material plays a much larger role too
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Lit-Lover
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(Original post by the bear)
what is the longest book you have read ? :holmes:
Not sure about page numbers, but my Lord, Middlemarch felt like the longest! I enjoyed it in the end, though
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Lit-Lover
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(Original post by Lilli22)
How many paragraphs do you usually write in a 2000-word comparative essay?

In High School, I was taught that I should write as quickly as possible and shove as many concepts/themes down the marker's throat. I've been replicating this in uni but I've discovered it's definitely the wrong thing to do. I've been told that I'm always too descriptive/have great ideas but never delve deep enough into their concepts because I'm too quick to move onto something else. I'm going into third year of English Lit at Edinburgh so I really want to try work things out to help my grades. I feel like they've never actually taught us a particular structure to the essays.

Also, do you follow a certain structure when writing comparative/close reading essays?

Thanks!
Ooooh, treat yourself to this little gem: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Essays-Diss.../dp/0582089778 (go for this old version, it's cheaper and more thorough than the updated one). Writing an essay is all about having an argument throughout the essay, not making some points and picking a side in the conclusion, like it was at A-Level. Think of it as being a lawyer defending a client (your argument), and what you're being tested on is your selection of evidence to defend your argument, the coherence of your points to support your argument and things like referencing, style and presentation.

I'd also suggest having a look to see if your department and/or library run essay writing sessions, where a graduate student can look at your essay and give you hints/tips. Also, check if there's an essay writing guide from your department, and check-in with your personal tutor/a module tutor to see where you can improve. I did that at MA and it really worked to pull me up from low sixties to mid-seventies, as the penny dropped and I understood what made an essay good quality.
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