How to Revise English Literature (Tips, Techniques + Essay Writing) – How I Got an A* | Jack Edwards



it's about to get less English Lit hello my name is Jack Edwards and welcome to what is quite possibly my most requested video of all time you may know if you've been following this channel for a little while that last year I took my a level exams and I came out with three a stars one of them being in English literature I'm now studying English at the University of Durham which is the top English department in the UK so hopefully I am well equipped to give you kind of some tips and tricks and hacks as to how to potentially get an A star in your English literature a level for the sake of your sanity I'm going to be dividing this video up into sections so I'm going to be doing general tips revision essay writing and then I'm going to speak a little bit about unseen extracts so I'm going to pop the x up for those different sections here in case you want to skip ahead bugs if you're still here that means that you want to listen to some general tips from me so let's get started my first tip for any revision is to make a plan revising content for an exam can seem like an absolutely mammoth task a mountain to climb and it just doesn't need to be that way and you can divide it up into tiny little chunks and tick things off as you go and you feel so much more productive by doing things like that so when I was revising for my a level I tried to do a one week per text and by doing a whole week's worth of varied revision on one text and just focusing completely on one text for that time I think make sure it stimulates ideas a bit better because you're in that headspace to be thinking specifically within the boundaries of that text obviously you can still mix that up so you can do lots of different styles of revision but just focusing on one particular text for the whole week I think just makes it a lot easier come up with better ideas and then in the week or two coming up to the exam that's when you start to revise everything all in one go and kind of cram a little bit my next general tip is that over the year or two that you're studying your a levels you should read each text four or five times I know that seems like a lot but so if you read it once before you start studying it you then read it again in class as you study it you then read it once more after that and then maybe again as you're revising that's four times that's four cover-to-cover reads of the text I think one of my English teachers once said to me that you can only fully appreciate and understand the text once you've read it four times so that's what I would recommend also try to look at other versions of the text for example a film adaptation that seems like a lot of fun and it can be but just seeing it visually I think is like a rereading it's you know you get to see all of the things the sequence of events actually this is the story from my real a level exam we had to analyze in Othello by Shakespeare this extract and I had watched the film version of Othello the day before and it's this scene with a fellow and Desdemona and I remember watching in the film and seeing that Emilia was still on the stage and I was like oh that's interesting that Emilia is still on the stage so I checked in my copy of the play and she was in the original version too and I thought oh that's really interesting I'd never noticed that before that she was on the stage and sometimes when you're reading a text you kind of forget what else is going on at the same time but seeing a visual version of the play I think it you can almost visualize it then in your head as you read it so when I read that extract immediately I thought Emilia is on the stage and so I wrote a whole paragraph on that in my essay and I feel like that was quite a unique point that maybe not everyone would have thought of and so it really does help so that's that's my evidence that's me corroborating the fact that watching films does help also read as many critics as you possibly can so critical articles listen to what other people in your class think listen to what your teacher says I think that reading other people's perspectives really helps you to actually come to terms with your own perspectives and so the wider variety of things that you can come into contact with is the better also class discussion is one of the most valuable resources you will have so if you have an idea in class do not be afraid to put your hand up the worst thing that's gonna happen is your teacher is gonna be like mmm I don't think so I don't like you've lost nothing from that putting forward your ideas is interesting and sometimes you come up with the most bizarre idea and then your teacher is like that is incredible I never thought of it like that you know that's the way that you kind of validate your ideas and grow more confident in the things that you think about text if you are too shy to speak in front of the whole class or you're a bit this you're like this idea is a little bit rogue this might be a bit far-fetched email you'll teach you you know that's what they're there for they're there to help you so don't worry and think oh god they're gonna judge me I'm stupid like no they they want to hear your ideas and they'll be just excited that you want to learn as much as they want to teach also it's really important to revise the kind of established critical theories and critical approaches to all literature so for example feminist theory post-colonial Marxist you know all of those things and then learn the key words as well so you know verification in Marxism just sounds impressive andrew centrism in feminism you know that big technical words that have really simple meanings but at the same time they also prove that you fully understand a concept that you've revised and researched a concept I think all in all your examiner is going to be impressed if you use those technical terms in technical vocabulary as long as you know what they mean don't make your language too ornate if it's inappropriate you know remember that this is an exam and you should only use words that you 100 that know the meaning of that that's one of the complexities of the English language is that there are so many different words but they all have such specific meanings and if you use a really complicated and over-exaggerated word there isn't necessary at all you're going to look like an idiot and that's worse than just using normal vocabulary you can get your point across much more concisely and you know exactly how you mean it if you use the words that you thought of it with so that would be one of my tips is try to expand your vocabulary but don't force it okay so now we are moving on to the revision part of the video if you've just joined us because you skipped ahead welcome to the fun train next stop they star I hate myself too so the first thing that I came to do which might sound a little bit daunting and this is the first thing I did when I first started I sing for my a-levels was I went through each text with a notebook and wrote down absolutely everything that came into my head as I read through it so for example here is my copy of The Handmaid's Tale I went through this cover to cover I wrote down all of the quotes that I thought were interesting and all of the ideas that I had and all the things I could remember chapter by chapter I made little like subheadings within the notes and just bullet pointed everything that came to mind I'll put a close-up of the book but basically if you can see I've kind of underlined all of the important bits I've added little notes and annotations in there too I even looked at the EPI graphs and things like that you know the names of the different chapters that's quite an important thing that that's structurally quite important yeah so this book is absolutely knackered because I've just worn it to death but I really love this book and then what I did after that was I looked through the notes I'd made and I I made a quote Bank so I made a big table in a Word document and set mini headings so themes of violence or women's rights and things like that and then I also made one for different characters side one for themes and one for characters and then I'd go through and put each quote into the different word banks under the different categories and if I got to one knows like actually I've got one that's quite similar to that and it's not that versatile then I just cut it out because I knew that I'd never remember it but by making a quote Bank you can reduce a whole text like this into three for a false pages and it just makes it a lot more manageable then with the quotes Bank I looked at every single one and I thought right which of these quotes are the most versatile which ones can cover multiple themes can i bring up in every single essay i ever write about this text and i highlight them and then i put them into Quizlet now Quizlet is a website where you can make revision notes for yourself so they can make them into kind of flashcards and there are loads of different games I'd put either half the quote on one side of the flashcard and the other half on the other side or make one side of the card say worry about women's rights then on the other side it would have the quote so it was one of those ways that's how I learnt quotes as well and the really important ones that were quite versatile and also learning quotes that are versatile is really really important because you cannot learn every single quote there's no way you're gonna learn all of that so learning the quotes you have to play the game a little bit I think so learning the quotes that are going to be most useful in your arsenal of knowledge those are the ones that you need to get up here other ways of memorizing quotes without using Quizlet or online resources and I've got these like flashcards on rings these are quite useful and/or you can get bigger ones and these are quite good for learning like key widgets of information and that kind of thing some ways I use it flashcards was that I get my mum to read out the first half of a quote and then I'd finish it and that helped to kind of learn them but one way that you can do it when you don't have another human to help you um is if you write down half the quote on one side of a flashcard and the other half on the other and then line your stairs with flashcards and so every time you go up or down the steps you have to get all of them right before you can go up the next step if that makes sense so you get to the first step you have to get the first flashcard right before you can go up to the second step and if you get one wrong you just go all the way back to the beginning and that's quite a good way of kind of integrating it into your lifestyle I speak about this the stairs straight and every revision video I do but it really works for me moving on from quotes now other really important things to revise for the exam are themes and motifs that feature within the text so in case you know motif is a recurring image or idea within a text so you know the idea of fire or all birds that that kind of thing try and as you read through and identify what the common themes and ideas are the the prevail from the start to the finish of the text or whether they start halfway through or you know and the difference between those things so one really good way of getting structural points is to talk about how a key theme or idea is used towards the beginning of the novel and then at the end of a novel and why that changes there and at what point what pivotal moment does it change what I would do was just make mind maps so it put burnt imagery in a little bubble and then just put off all the little examples and Google things as well to see you know was certain birds or all things represented and that's a really good way of doing it okay we've made it to the big section three essay writing oh boy first things first plan your answer this is so important you do have time to plan in fact planning saves you time later on I don't know about you but I was always told by my teachers that when they were marking scripts from exams and they opened up a paper and they saw someone who written a plan even if it was crossed out they would immediately be thinking this person is going to write a good essay because they thought it through they've got a clear plan they're they know what they're doing firstly it helps you because it just helps get your ideas onto paper straight away and then you kind of know way where you're approaching what your paragraph themes are going to be and secondly it helps the examiner immediately think hey this guy knows what he's doing next up introductions now starting an essay was always the thing that I found unfathomable I was like I can't do it I don't know how to start what I realized was that you can literally plan your first one or two sentences before you even step foot in that example all you need to do is memorize the kind of phrase or first sentence to get you started so I would always make a really general statement that showed that I had thoroughly researched the text beforehand for example with the hermit's tale Margaret Atwood once wrote a critical response about this novel called aliens have taken the place of angels and in that she describes this novel as speculative fiction that is the perfect way to start an essay those first sentences that you can make in which you can tailor to sound quite clever and prove that you've thoroughly researched the novel are your gateway into a brilliant answer that kind of gets the ball rolling get literally the the gets the ball point rolling if you know what I mean and then you in your introduction hone in on the question and the details of the question to find the key points and the key areas of the question only talk about what's in the question title assign post your answer so that the examiner clearly knows what you're arguing from the get-go that was a more general point for writing the essay evaluates to explain you don't need to explain what a quote means the examiners going to be a very intelligent person they already know and it should be obvious anyway while you're using the quote so don't explain what's going on don't describe the events evaluate it explain why that's important why does that happen so what why are you using that quote what does that mean what does that signal what what's involved in that quote what literary devices have been used within that quote you know you're talking about implications connotations denotations not this means she is not happy get it I think just always keep the question title in mind keep using the key words of the question as well when you're answering she need to always be introspective and ask yourself is that particular sentence answering the question and if it's not don't write it and you're going to hate me for saying this but past papers or practice questions are the way to go I mean if you're doing the new linear a level like I did there are no past papers really say ask your teachers for practice questions or come up with your own that was a really good way of doing it for me I thought and lastly this is quite particular to the module that I did but my module was called political protest in English literature so my teacher said be political you know the the topic is politics so be political we had this one and text was called harvest by Jim Crais which is all about isolationism and it was written at the time where euro skepticism was really coming into the political agenda and so I wrote a whole paragraph in my essay about the politics in the context and and the idea of like leaving the EU and that kind of thing and and I feel like that was quite well received but definitely you know bring in the theme the genre the the main idea of the module as well because that's you know that's why you're studying the text and so always think about it with within that framework within the parameters of this is a political Texas the tragic text remember the genre of what you're studying and why it conforms or why it doesn't conform to the genre and then explain why and how and finally the dreaded unseen extract now I say dreaded the it was my favorite bit of the whole paper and I'll tell you why so you are viewing the unseen text as part of a module that has a specific title as I said mine was called a political protest or political fiction so you view that unseen extract within the framework of political fiction or tragedy or like I said before whatever you're studying the unseen Texas is there for a reason and that's because it is part of the genre that you are studying identifying early on and this is helpful for your exam – the key terminology themes ideas of your module and and the the genre that you're researching is the key to success particularly when it comes to the unseen extract for example key ideas in political fiction were who is the oppressor who is being oppressed is there a power imbalance is there corruption or democracy identifying the key words and then when you look at a text immediately in my head I had almost a checklist is that corruption is that democracy as there an oppressor you know all of that that kind of thing you come into it with that lens and it makes it so much easier to enough analyze and gosh that was that was a tricky one for me to say that if worse comes to worse literary devices that's one thing as well I'd say it is important to revise just before the exam is just go over literary devices you know like similes metaphors adjectives nouns verbs it sounds so much more clever to say this verb implies rather than this word implies the examiner does not know you like your teacher does so you're trying to impress them and you're trying to make them think hey this guy knows what's up so yeah with the unseen if in doubt just revert to the really standard and basic literary devices that you know also last things speak about on the unseen extracts is they give you the context they give you the year one really important thing in my one was it was Fahrenheit 451 and the context was the the year that it was written which was just after Nazi rule it was all about book burning which obviously the Nazis did so it just tied in so reading the year that it was published for me was like ah this is about the Nazis that just makes it a lot easier you know if you can recognize some kind contacts and they give you quite a long description of the the text so you use that to your advantage as well they given it to you for a reason what one thing to remember is that every single thing they have given you they've given you for a reason so if they tell you where the author was from that probably has some kind of meaning or subtext yeah I think that's all I have to say sorry that this video has been a bit rambling and I'm quite verbose loquacious good word but yeah um every time I post anything this question like how do I get a starting – literature how do i revise English literature comes up so I thought I'd make a whole video dedicated to it and hopefully unleash some kind of wisdom I hope it was helpful anyway so good luck I hope that your eye level goes well I hope that this video was useful I hope that there are some tips and tricks that you learn from this video don't forget to give it a like if you liked it if you like and subscribe down below if there are ever any other revision videos that you'd like me to make I would happily do that especially in the run-up to exams this year yeah so let me know in the comments below what else you'd like to know if there are any other questions about English literature or studying at Durham I always answer all of the comments so head down below to my crotch and I will be down there very shortly yeah I think that's all I've got to say thank you very much for watching once again good luck with your exams and see you next time bye

38 thoughts on “How to Revise English Literature (Tips, Techniques + Essay Writing) – How I Got an A* | Jack Edwards

  1. Please please do one for a level politics. My a levels are in a month and I’d love to know how you got an A* as I want one too xx

  2. WAS so stressed and essentially resigned to the fact I was going to fail my A-Level English exams this year…However, this video was so fucking helpful and I literally scribbled down notes through it. Thank you so much, I just know this will help me out loads; it already has.

  3. Am reviewing both othello and oliver twist for my lit exams
    It's would mean a lot if you give me some tips about Othello especially

  4. Could you possibly go through a 'how to set out essay' sort of thing with an example question from like Othello or something?? Amazing vid!

  5. English litreture is a hard subject. Credit to u for an A* in it. im about to do my yr8 exam only lol. great tips even just for my exam so my parents can be proud of me.

  6. Please could you do a video on revising for politics? I have mocks coming up and I found this really useful for English so I’m sure a politics one would be really beneficial! 🙂

  7. Hello Jack THANK YOU for the very informative and helpful video. Would you be able to make your notes available to anyone who wants them? This would be great if so:)

  8. Such helpful tips :') A new subscriber here 🙋 watching this makes me want to study even more now so thank you 🙂

  9. Ohhhhhh
    As an American, I initially thought you meant “how to correct English literature” and I was so baffled!
    Now I understand that you meant “study for”

  10. what about poetry??? I'm rly stuck at how to revise it especially how to plan answers for it (for comparison questions)

  11. This was SO useful – thank you!! I'm currently trying to revise The Handmaid's Tale. You're quote bank looks so helpful…would you please consider uploading it as a document to download? I completely understand that it was a revision resource that took time and effort to produce but it would help SO much!! Thanks again.. You're amazing 🙂

  12. Hi Jack do you still have any of your english essays on Othello or Handmaids which you could upload on a blog or something, i need help thanks and to see how to get good marks what to include?

  13. Just a question, I’m currently studying Othello and The Great Gatsby, our Paper 1 is called Love Through The Ages so what sort of context would you advise for me to acknowledge for my exam?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *