Mastering Language & Literature: The untold tips & tricks for Secondary school students

One of the most “feared” subjects and least talked about is certainly English Literature and a considerable bulk of students who struggle to perform well in Literature are also those who struggle with the English Language. There are also some students who are passionate about the subject but are unsure of how to push their grades up.

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There are certainly some fantastic school teachers who do a great job in guiding students through the subject by teaching them the techniques and what not, but it’s not enough to strive for that ‘A’ grade. A good score ensues from the handwork and love for the subject, it cannot be necessarily pursued, especially for a complex subject like English literature.

This article primarily focuses on the techniques that students can follow to master English Literature and along the way, the methods of improving language skills will be discussed as well!

THE STORY

English literature as a subject is based on a novel that the school has chosen for the students. Elective literature students may study 1 novel while students who take up Pure English literature may study 2 novels. Either way, the most important initial step when starting with English Literature is to familiarise oneself with the story. Here’s how it should go:

1) Read the novel once by yourself before your teachers starts lesson.

2) Familiarise yourself with the main characters in the novel.

3) Take note of the minor characters which may have lesser pages of the novel dedicated to their character development, but may play a significant role in influencing the decisions or actions of the main characters.

For example, in Anita Desai’s “Fasting Feasting”, Ramu Bhai was a rather minor character in the novel but was pivotal in showing the wacky, and adventurous personality of Uma (protagonist of the story). Some of the feelings and thoughts buried deep down in Uma surfaces when Ramu Bhai shows up, much to MamaPapa’s disappointment.

4) Analyse the timeline the author has built the story on. Some authors love to travel back and forth in timeline with their writing, so the story certainly does not flow in a chronological manner (This is a challenging writing technique and may be confusing for students as they read the novel).

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The significance of this writing technique is to highlight significant traits of the characters or shine the light on some important events of the story so making your own interpretation and raising some questions in your mind as you read will be useful.

5) Come up with a one-liner as to what the novel is trying to tell its readers. Getting hold of the gist of the story may help you further build the characters upon re-reading and analysing the novel further.

Some examples:

  • George Orwell’s “Animal farm”: Power, Greed and Arrogance births corruption.
  • John Boyne’s “The Boy in Striped Pyjamas”: We are more alike than we are different.
  • Khaled Hosseini’s “Kite runner”: Guilt kills a person from inside out; and redemption is never an easy journey.

By grasping the gist of the story upon reading the novel once by yourself, it gives clarity and when your teachers run through the novel in class, you can move on to the next step of analysing the characters in your mind already.

CHARACTER ARCS

This is of utmost importance, be it for English Literature, or English Language, In English examinations, the comprehension sections require students to infer the motives, the dilemmas, the personality and the possible apprehensions of the characters within a text that only extends up to a page.

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In most cases these comprehension passages are extracted from a novel or some sort of an informative article. This means that students do not have all the information handy and they are unaware of what the rest of the story beholds. It is hence necessary to be able to determine the stakeholders of the story and to decipher a character arc (it maybe a minor one in comprehension passages, if present). Careful analysis of the hidden clues will give rise to ground-breaking inferences.

In English literature, examination questions are based on character arcs for the most part so it is essential for students to track the actions, decisions, motivation, reactions to situations, strengths, weaknesses and worries of the character and build the arc, which will help build great essays to answer exam questions. Picking up on the cues of foreshadowing is also an important skill to develop.

SUBSTANTIATE YOUR ARGUMENT

For every argument made, there needs to be appropriate evidence to substantiate it and that is the only way to sell it to the examiners. In Paper 1 of English Language examinations, argumentative essays undeniably require the statistics and real-life examples to prove arguments made.

For example, an argument about the importance of democracy can be written in two ways:

Argument no. 1: “Democracy provides stability, prevent abuse of power, protects the interests of the citizens, and enables a country’s economy to thrive. Hence, it is essential for a country to function on the basis of democracy, and it’s the only way citizens’ safety and security can be ensured…”

Argument no. 2: “Democracy provides stability, prevent abuse of power and protects the interests of the citizens. The rule of the people ensures that autocracy is demolished and equality is established.

As a case in point, under the administration of Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade (from 2000 to 2012), issues like cronyism, nepotism and corruption was widespread and systemic. Upon his bid to run for third term (which is against the constitutional law), the youth galvanised support to protest against this. They used democratic power to foil his bid to run for presidency once again…”

Argument no. 2 has a solid example from history woven into it, and it is far more convincing as compared to argument no. 1. The example provides credibility and the examiners will buy the argument when presented as such.

This is an important skill in writing essays for English literature examination as well. In order to argue for or against a character, students need to quote lines from the novel to solidify their point. This means students need to memorise specific lines from the novel when they make notes on character arcs and be able to recall and replicate them on paper during examination as well.

GET HELP

Some students may struggle with the basics like grammar and vocabulary and very little can be done to make drastic improvements if the students try alone. This is a sign that the student needs to summon for help. There are various tutoring services and there are many English tuition teachers who can guide with language and literature. Students can opt for private one-on-one English tuition, or group tuition to push their grades up. If help is required, one should seek it immediately without allowing problems to snowball.

BOTTOM LINE

The key to rise above and beyond expectations and to perform exceedingly well is to be consistent with the effort put in to accomplish success. One who thinks he knows best will never be able to improve himself. So, it is essential to put aside your ego and learn with enthusiasm because the journey to mastering language and literature is an arduous one, but also equally (or if not even more) rewarding.

Remember this: A fool thinks he’s wise, and a wise man knows he’s a fool.