Something important I have learnt during my first four weeks at university is that, as English literature students, we lie. We pretend we have done ‘literally, no reading at all this week!’ and then proceed to offer our seminar tutor a well-researched analysis of the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. We claim that we have finished the weekly translation tasks when we have barely started. We are a group of narcissistic, yet desperately insecure students (paradoxical, I know). Perhaps this is due to being thrown into an environment where we are suddenly surrounded by some of the most talented students in the country, having to grapple with a new learning style that can result in imposter syndrome. Are we really smart enough to be on this course? Is everyone else handling the workload easily whilst we are struggling?
This can lead many of us to feel very alone, as if we are behind in our studies and the only student in the lecture hall who cannot reel off complex Middle English vocabulary. I assure you this is far from the truth.
To prove this to you, I will expose myself and say that I am currently behind on my reading. I have two books of The Iliad still to annotate and have yet to start the critical reading for my seminar in three days’ time. We all fall behind sometimes, so if you have clicked on this article hoping it was written by the ‘perfect’ student who holds the secret to maintaining productivity, then I am very sorry and must warn you that, sadly, this student does not exist.
It is best to have done the majority of the reading for all modules than to have one literary cupboard left completely bare
However, in these few weeks since joining Warwick, I have found a few methods which help me, a mere, flawed English student, to (mostly) keep on top of my reading.
Do not try and cover one module at a time
Doing this will inevitably lead to one module being severely neglected as you keep promising yourself that once you finish your Modern World Literature reading you will definitely tackle that stack of Middle English translation. It is better to have done the majority of the reading for all modules than to have one literary cupboard left completely bare.
Set yourself a number of pages to read per day
Lengthy texts such as Middlemarch can appear exceptionally daunting at first and seem as if they might never end. A little bit of maths is required here (a foreign language to us English students, I know): seven days to read the text, and let’s say the novel in question is 500 pages, that works out at around 70 pages per day. Divide that number into two, that’s thirty pages read in bed with your breakfast, fifteen in the library before lunch, and fifteen before you head out to POP! on a Wednesday night. Simple.
Discover where you work best
Now, this varies for everyone; personally, I work best in my bedroom as I often switch between modules whilst I am studying and it would not be feasible to bring all my first term texts to the library. However, a friend of mine told me that, bizarrely, she works best in the kitchen because, if she can hear her flatmates chatting from her bedroom, she feels as if she is missing out and often abandons her reading.
I would recommend choosing one book to support each set text, sitting down for thirty minutes and collecting a few relevant quotations which can be used in future essays
Try and approach the supplementary reading as if it were a set text
This is perhaps the hardest academic pill to swallow: reading a book that you know you will neither be examined on nor most likely even asked about in a seminar. I would recommend choosing one book to support each set text, sitting down for thirty minutes and collecting a few relevant quotations which can be used in future essays (trust me, you will thank me later).
Lastly, do not panic
Don’t worry if Chaucer reduces you to tears, for I am certain that Faust, which you sped through in a week, has done the same to another of your classmates.