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How can I prepare for a literature exam?

Although English literature exams can seem daunting, there are plenty of revision steps you can take in order to set yourself up for success.

After you have familiarised yourself with your key texts, gather important quotations and practise writing about what they mean. A really handy way of doing this is to create a three column table. In the first column write out your chosen quotation, in the second write where it is located in the text (e.g. chapter, act and scene, page number), and in the final column write a couple of sentences explaining the quotation. Be sure to include any literary techniques the writer uses such as foreshadowing, alliteration or pathetic fallacy, and most importantly the effect the technique creates. Does it create a certain mood or atmosphere? If it is dialogue, what does the quotation reveal about the character? Does it prompt any questions? And if you get stuck start by asking yourself what the quotation means to you, and go from there.

Another really helpful exercise is creating mind maps. Even if you’re not a fan of this kind of revision, creating a mind map for each major theme, character or section of your texts is a fantastic way to prepare for your literature exam. It means that whatever essay questions come up in the exam, you will simply be able to think back to the mind map you made on that topic and remember the chapters, characters and quotations that relate to it. Getting a friend or relative to test you on your mind maps is also a great revision exercise. You’ll probably be surprised by how much you can recall.

Of course, the best possible way you can prepare for a literature exam is to practise, practise, practise. Yes, this means completing lots of practise papers. Not only will this help you become accustomed to the time constraints of an exam, but it will also help familiarise you with the structure and layout of the paper itself so that you don’t panic when it comes to your real exam. After you complete an exam paper, be sure to ask your teacher to mark it for you and then have a discussion with them about any areas for improvement. Your teachers are there to help you so never hesitate to seek guidance or feedback.

In general be sure to re-read your texts (and watch any faithful film adaptations!), ask questions about anything you’re unsure about and most of all don’t panic. You’ve got this!

Freya J. A Level English Literature tutor, IB English Literature tuto...

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