Applying for English Literature

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Rachael_04
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#1
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#1
Hi I'm in year 12 and I'm thinking of applying for English Literature at uni next year.
I was wondering if there is anything that I should be doing to stand out on my application?
The obvious one is read and I've been trying to get through as many books as possible but is there anything else?
Thank you
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spacingoutagainx
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essay competitions!!
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McGinger
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Look at this suggested reading on this list for Cambridge - useful for all Unis - https://www.undergraduate.study.cam....uggestions.pdf and this guide explains how to incorporate this stuff into your eventual PS - https://www.worc.ox.ac.uk/sites/defa...ular_guide.pdf

These sort of free short online courses are also useful for using as examples of your interests beyond the A level syllabus https://www.futurelearn.com/subjects/literature-courses

And, getting your around 'critical theory' is also useful - you can get cheaper 2nd hand copies of this sort of book on Ebay etc - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Introductio...dp/1138119032/ If that seems a bit daunting, start with this https://www.amazon.co.uk/English-Lit.../dp/0199569266
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Rachael_04
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(Original post by McGinger)
Look at this suggested reading on this list for Cambridge - useful for all Unis - https://www.undergraduate.study.cam....uggestions.pdf and this guide explains how to incorporate this stuff into your eventual PS - https://www.worc.ox.ac.uk/sites/defa...ular_guide.pdf

These sort of free short online courses are also useful for using as examples of your interests beyond the A level syllabus https://www.futurelearn.com/subjects/literature-courses

And, getting your around 'critical theory' is also useful - you can get cheaper 2nd hand copies of this sort of book on Ebay etc - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Introductio...dp/1138119032/ If that seems a bit daunting, start with this https://www.amazon.co.uk/English-Lit.../dp/0199569266
Thank you so much this is really useful!!
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Rachael_04
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#5
(Original post by spacingoutagainx)
essay competitions!!
Yes I've considered this I'm just not sure how to find out about them. I guess I should just search on the Internet?
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spacingoutagainx
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i don’t know if it’s still out there but there’s someone whose @ is like panda something who had a list available

edit:
this is the post but it’s closed now,
https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php?t=6419758

you can still look at the titles and search them up tho
Last edited by spacingoutagainx; 2 months ago
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Confusedboutlife
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#7
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(Original post by Rachael_04)
Hi I'm in year 12 and I'm thinking of applying for English Literature at uni next year.
I was wondering if there is anything that I should be doing to stand out on my application?
The obvious one is read and I've been trying to get through as many books as possible but is there anything else?
Thank you
I'd really recommend watching any In Our Times you like on certain authors/ topics: that's a great way to get clear, relevant information fast. Yale has some free university-standard lectures too, but this might be too much. Introductions in good editions of books (Arden, Longman, Norton, Oxford) are also great. And controversial but Shmoop and Sparknotes are helpful places to start, and Wikipedia has surprisingly great stuff.

Reading is helpful but, course depending, ensure that reading is varied in form and from multiple periods. Medieval literature can be so wonderful: have a look at TEAMS. See if you can link up your reading: maybe you read an ancient Greek tragedy and then a Shakespearean one that uses lots of ideas from it, or you could look at Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis and then read its sources: what does Shakespeare change and why? You could compare a writer's early works, say Donne, to their later works and think about what changes. Those are all highly ambitious ideas: it is also more than enough to read a couple works by the same author, or even another relevant author, and talk about a shared idea between them. While it is helpful to learn theoretical approaches, it isn't essential: you can just consider the impact of a source, the presentation of an image, the discussion of an idea you find fascinating. It can be helpful to consider specific and relevant historical context too: what shaped and constrained the text in front of you? Also remember that when it comes to your personal statement, you won't have space to mention more than perhaps... 12 texts. Max. Preferably less than 10 if you apply somewhere with interviews. Most of all, read what you enjoy, what pricks your interest and turns your thoughts. And read in a way you enjoy: perhaps with a pencil to annotate and underline your favourite bits, perhaps slowly so it can really sink in.

As well as being a wide reader, you want to become a good reader. So keep practicing your close reading skills! It is the skill my Professor at University emphasized the most. Ask yourself: do I agree with this reading? Am I overreading? Objectively, what seems to be going on? You also want to become a good writer, which only comes with practice and is one of the best though sometimes admittedly painful ways to iron out your ideas and precisely discover what you really think. Go the extra-mile with school essays and practice coming up with a really good thesis statement in your introduction (hugely important paragraph), and express why this idea matters: does it challenge a general preconceived notion or deepen our understanding of a pre-existing idea? Then prove this in your essay with each paragraph having an overall point that is summed up in the first sentence, followed by close readings which prove this point and carry forward your argument. Practice planning essays, then writing them clearly and simply. It can also help to learn how to write in the active voice (usually subject, verb, object, passive constructions have the word 'by' in them). These are all skills that many university students are still developing, but being aware of these now is a great start.
Last edited by Confusedboutlife; 2 months ago
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Rachael_04
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#8
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#8
(Original post by spacingoutagainx)
i don’t know if it’s still out there but there’s someone whose @ is like panda something who had a list available

edit:
this is the post but it’s closed now,
https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/sho....php?t=6419758

you can still look at the titles and search them up tho
Fab I'll check it out now!
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Rachael_04
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#9
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#9
(Original post by Confusedboutlife)
I'd really recommend watching any In Our Times you like on certain authors/ topics: that's a great way to get clear, relevant information fast. Yale has some free university-standard lectures too, but this might be too much. Introductions in good editions of books (Arden, Longman, Norton, Oxford) are also great. And controversial but Shmoop and Sparknotes are helpful places to start, and Wikipedia has surprisingly great stuff.

Reading is helpful but, course depending, ensure that reading is varied in form and from multiple periods. Medieval literature can be so wonderful: have a look at TEAMS. See if you can link up your reading: maybe you read an ancient Greek tragedy and then a Shakespearean one that uses lots of ideas from it, or you could look at Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis and then read its sources: what does Shakespeare change and why? You could compare a writer's early works, say Donne, to their later works and think about what changes. Those are all highly ambitious ideas: it is also more than enough to read a couple works by the same author, or even another relevant author, and talk about a shared idea between them. While it is helpful to learn theoretical approaches, it isn't essential: you can just consider the impact of a source, the presentation of an image, the discussion of an idea you find fascinating. It can be helpful to consider specific and relevant historical context too: what shaped and constrained the text in front of you? Also remember that when it comes to your personal statement, you won't have space to mention more than perhaps... 12 texts. Max. Preferably less than 10 if you apply somewhere with interviews. Most of all, read what you enjoy, what pricks your interest and turns your thoughts. And read in a way you enjoy: perhaps with a pencil to annotate and underline your favourite bits, perhaps slowly so it can really sink in.

As well as being a wide reader, you want to become a good reader. So keep practicing your close reading skills! It is the skill my Professor at University emphasized the most. Ask yourself: do I agree with this reading? Am I overreading? Objectively, what seems to be going on? You also want to become a good writer, which only comes with practice and is one of the best though sometimes admittedly painful ways to iron out your ideas and precisely discover what you really think. Go the extra-mile with school essays and practice coming up with a really good thesis statement in your introduction (hugely important paragraph), and express why this idea matters: does it challenge a general preconceived notion or deepen our understanding of a pre-existing idea? Then prove this in your essay with each paragraph having an overall point that is summed up in the first sentence, followed by close readings which prove this point and carry forward your argument. Practice planning essays, then writing them clearly and simply. It can also help to learn how to write in the active voice (usually subject, verb, object, passive constructions have the word 'by' in them). These are all skills that many university students are still developing, but being aware of these now is a great start.
That's great thank you. I hadn't heard of In Our Times but I'll be sure to check it out. I love your idea about comparing a Greek tragedy to a Shakespeare play. I've been holding off reading a Greek tragedy as I've been prioritising "the classics" but I find mythology really interesting and have been wanting to for a while now. Thanks for all your advice about close reading and practicing my writing too! Can't believe how helpful you all are
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spacingoutagainx
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#10
(Original post by Rachael_04)
Fab I'll check it out now!
also, i do recommend looking at jack edwards on youtube. he did eng lit at durham
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Confusedboutlife
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(Original post by Rachael_04)
That's great thank you. I hadn't heard of In Our Times but I'll be sure to check it out. I love your idea about comparing a Greek tragedy to a Shakespeare play. I've been holding off reading a Greek tragedy as I've been prioritising "the classics" but I find mythology really interesting and have been wanting to for a while now. Thanks for all your advice about close reading and practicing my writing too! Can't believe how helpful you all are
No problem! Having a look at a few canonical texts sounds like a good idea, but remember you don’t have to read every canonical text! (That’s sort of what my degree was). Nor do you need to read a Greek tragedy source text, but if you’re doing Shakespeare there’s going to be influences from Ancient Rome and Greece so it might crop up (if you’re doing Venus and Adonis you might look at the relevant bits of Ovid). In my head while applying I imagined every applicant would have read like 60 books a year when I only became interested in literary texts in year 11. When I got to university, much more people were like me than I thought! So yeah, just ensure you’re reading consistently and reading about your secondary reading, so to speak.
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Rachael_04
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#12
Great. Thank you!
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Rachael_04
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(Original post by spacingoutagainx)
also, i do recommend looking at jack edwards on youtube. he did eng lit at durham
Ooh great I've been considering Durham as an option.
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Keele Postgraduate
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I would second what Confusedboutlife has said about In Our Time. It's a great show and there's loads of literature-related episodes available to stream/download from BBC Sounds. I'd also recommend a podcast called 'The History of English'. It's a fascinating chronological look at the history of the English language and takes in the historical events that shaped the development of English as a both spoken and written language.

You've already identified that reading widely is key but, as Confusedboutlife also says, try and practice your close reading skills too. University-level English is about critically analysing the texts we read so try and identify what the book you're reading is doing, and how it is doing it. There's some good tips to get started at https://www.york.ac.uk/english/writi...close-reading/.

That said, bear in mind that your university degree course will almost certainly be designed to teach you how to become a good close reader. At Keele, for example, we have an introductory module called 'Reading Literature' that is there just for that purpose! Most courses will also introduce theory to you gradually so, whilst having a basic grasp of what critical theory is can be a good head-start, it's definitely not essential to know the ins and outs of deconstructionism before you begin your course! Practicing these skills before university is beneficial but don't forget to continue reading for fun and pleasure too!

Personally I think one of the best things that an English Literature student can demonstrate is passion for the subject. Interest and engagement shines through in interviews and classes far more than extensive reading of the 'canon' and, more importantly, will keep you going through the three years of your degree programme. There's no use ploughing through Ulysses on your own if you don't understand a word of it and, more importantly, don't get anything out of it so, whilst it is good to have read and analysed some 'canonical' texts prior to university, don't forget to also keep reading what you love and enjoy.

Hope that helps!

Amy
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Rachael_04
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Thank you! I'll take a look at 'The History of English'.

I also just had another question for anyone who has experience in doing an English literature degree at university. I was wondering if anyone could give me an average on the amount of reading you would have to do per week. I know that it most probably varies but I've heard lots of different things from different people with one person saying roughly one novel or set of poems per week whilst another saying at least 3 books per week! Does anyone have any knowledge on this?
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Keele Postgraduate
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(Original post by Rachael_04)
Thank you! I'll take a look at 'The History of English'.

I also just had another question for anyone who has experience in doing an English literature degree at university. I was wondering if anyone could give me an average on the amount of reading you would have to do per week. I know that it most probably varies but I've heard lots of different things from different people with one person saying roughly one novel or set of poems per week whilst another saying at least 3 books per week! Does anyone have any knowledge on this?
No problem at all, Rachael_04!

In terms of the amount of reading you will do, it does vary both from course to course and module to module. That said, bear in mind that a full-time degree course should be equivalent to a full-time working week (approx. 38 hours). So if you're in classes for 8-10 hours a week (which is about average for an English degree), you're looking at 30ish hours of 'independent study' which, for much of the time, will be reading!

On my undergraduate degree programme, I was reading between 3-4 texts per week in my first year. The type of text varied so some weeks were very intensive because I had a lot of novels to read whereas others were a bit more relaxed because we were reading plays, poems, short stories, or novellas. There would also usually be some additional reading - a critical essay, for example - as preparation for seminar classes, especially as I moved into second and third years.

Other modules may, however, be a little less intensive. I'm currently teaching a second & third year Shakespeare module and I spend two weeks on each text. So we're doing 4 plays across the 12-week module. As preparation for the first session on a text, I ask my students to read the play and watch an adaptation of it. For the second session, I usually set them some critical reading, or ask them to close read a particular section of the text.

If that sounds like a lot, it's because it is! English degrees don't always involve a lot of contact time but that's because much of the work is done independently by reading both set texts in preparation for classes and reading critical texts for your essays and assignments. Most undergraduate courses try to ease you into the reading - so the workload develops as the course progresses - and you'll usually find that you get the reading list in advance to allow you to get a head start as well.

Hope that helps!

Amy
Last edited by Keele Postgraduate; 2 months ago
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Confusedboutlife
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(Original post by Rachael_04)
Thank you! I'll take a look at 'The History of English'.

I also just had another question for anyone who has experience in doing an English literature degree at university. I was wondering if anyone could give me an average on the amount of reading you would have to do per week. I know that it most probably varies but I've heard lots of different things from different people with one person saying roughly one novel or set of poems per week whilst another saying at least 3 books per week! Does anyone have any knowledge on this?
This can vary hugely over the course of your studies but I don’t think 3 novels per week is the norm! I wrote a surprising number of essays just on one primary text, including my dissertation. More primary texts doesn’t automatically result in a better essay, after all! Some of my best essays were just on 3 poems. Occasionally for us, questions stipulated you needed two texts, but never three. In fact, for some of our Shakespeare essays, we were encouraged to just do 2 as adding another text would take up valuable space, although we were encouraged to refer briefly to other relevant primary texts if relevant to our essays. This can take time, or it can just be you reading the end of a play to find and understand that less important quote you need from another text by the same author, another author, a theological text, political tract etc. Some people who were aiming for very high grades would go the extra mile and read more primary material than strictly necessary, even if not to write substantially on them in submitted essays.

That’s not to say there weren’t hard moments. I read a 250 page novel the day before an essay was due, but this was just once. Audiobooks are a fun and efficient way to get through texts, especially if you speed them up. We were set some very long texts (Clarissa, Faerie Queene) but that’s the longest they ever got and we were supposed to read them in holidays. We had double the time on them in term, too, and I *definitely* didn’t finish either but got through most! And it was fine!

Alongside requiring one to two primary texts a week (sometimes read in the holiday), we also had to read secondary literature. In first year I often submitted essays with no critics, but in second year I’d say each 1500-2000 word weekly essay had about 2-4. By third year it was a good idea to have a critic for every paragraph. I’d say after you’ve got a solid understanding of the primary text and maybe noted down relevant quotes, trying to read say 5-6 20 page articles would put you in very good stead for that weekly essay. You can skim read critics articles quite a lot, and reading abstracts and conclusions first can you help in a pinch: I actually did better when quickly reading critics and getting an overall sense of their argument instead of treating articles like text books, noting everything down...

On average, for me, I’d say… 2 primary texts if plays or novels (more for short poems) and 4 articles per week?
Last edited by Confusedboutlife; 2 months ago
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Rachael_04
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(Original post by Keele Postgraduate)
No problem at all, Rachael_04!

In terms of the amount of reading you will do, it does vary both from course to course and module to module. That said, bear in mind that a full-time degree course should be equivalent to a full-time working week (approx. 38 hours). So if you're in classes for 8-10 hours a week (which is about average for an English degree), you're looking at 30ish hours of 'independent study' which, for much of the time, will be reading!

On my undergraduate degree programme, I was reading between 3-4 texts per week in my first year. The type of text varied so some weeks were very intensive because I had a lot of novels to read whereas others were a bit more relaxed because we were reading plays, poems, short stories, or novellas. There would also usually be some additional reading - a critical essay, for example - as preparation for seminar classes, especially as I moved into second and third years.

Other modules may, however, be a little less intensive. I'm currently teaching a second & third year Shakespeare module and I spend two weeks on each text. So we're doing 4 plays across the 12-week module. As preparation for the first session on a text, I ask my students to read the play and watch an adaptation of it. For the second session, I usually set them some critical reading, or ask them to close read a particular section of the text.

If that sounds like a lot, it's because it is! English degrees don't always involve a lot of contact time but that's because much of the work is done independently by reading both set texts in preparation for classes and reading critical texts for your essays and assignments. Most undergraduate courses try to ease you into the reading - so the workload develops as the course progresses - and you'll usually find that you get the reading list in advance to allow you to get a head start as well.

Hope that helps!

Amy
Thank you, that's great 👍
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Rachael_04
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(Original post by Confusedboutlife)
This can vary hugely over the course of your studies but I don’t think 3 novels per week is the norm! I wrote a surprising number of essays just on one primary text, including my dissertation. More primary texts doesn’t automatically result in a better essay, after all! Some of my best essays were just on 3 poems. Occasionally for us, questions stipulated you needed two texts, but never three. In fact, for some of our Shakespeare essays, we were encouraged to just do 2 as adding another text would take up valuable space, although we were encouraged to refer briefly to other relevant primary texts if relevant to our essays. This can take time, or it can just be you reading the end of a play to find and understand that less important quote you need from another text by the same author, another author, a theological text, political tract etc. Some people who were aiming for very high grades would go the extra mile and read more primary material than strictly necessary, even if not to write substantially on them in submitted essays.

That’s not to say there weren’t hard moments. I read a 250 page novel the day before an essay was due, but this was just once. Audiobooks are a fun and efficient way to get through texts, especially if you speed them up. We were set some very long texts (Clarissa, Faerie Queene) but that’s the longest they ever got and we were supposed to read them in holidays. We had double the time on them in term, too, and I *definitely* didn’t finish either but got through most! And it was fine!

Alongside requiring one to two primary texts a week (sometimes read in the holiday), we also had to read secondary literature. In first year I often submitted essays with no critics, but in second year I’d say each 1500-2000 word weekly essay had about 2-4. By third year it was a good idea to have a critic for every paragraph. I’d say after you’ve got a solid understanding of the primary text and maybe noted down relevant quotes, trying to read say 5-6 20 page articles would put you in very good stead for that weekly essay. You can skim read critics articles quite a lot, and reading abstracts and conclusions first can you help in a pinch: I actually did better when quickly reading critics and getting an overall sense of their argument instead of treating articles like text books, noting everything down...

On average, for me, I’d say… 2 primary texts if plays or novels (more for short poems) and 4 articles per week?
Okay thankyou. That's somewhat reassuring.
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