First things first, yes you really should read your prescribed and related texts for English. Does that mean we want to do it? No, not particularly so let’s make it as easy as possible. Basically, we want to be able to 1) read the text as quickly as possible, 2) get as much out of the text the first time to avoid having to go back over it a million times and 3) understand it straight away so we don’t get totally freaked out by passages like:
Look thou be true. Do not give dalliance
Too much the rein. The strongest oaths are straw
To th' fire i' th' blood. Be more abstemious,
Or else, goodnight your vow.
Okaaaaay, let’s do this.
1. Read the syllabus/module description first
If you go straight to picking up that book, googling that poem or
illegally downloading watching that film, then you’re already making English harder than it needs to be. That was quick… Seriously though, before you even get started on your text, you are going to want to go to our best friend the English Stage 6 syllabus and find out why exactly you are reading that text. If you understand the purpose of the module (or area of study), you will know what to look for in your text. Let’s take a quick look at the descriptions of the modules for Advanced and Standard.
These are the short summaries and there is definitely more information in the rest of the syllabus but even if we just looked at Module A for Advanced we would know that we need to pay super close attention to the historical and cultural context of the text and look for ways that the context comes out in the text.
It’s a really quick little step but it’s going to go a long way.
2. Find a summary or analysis before you get started
How familiar does this sound?
- Read a text
- Think wtf just happened
- Google what it was supposed to mean
- Read the text again to see if google makes sense
Yeah… why not just skip the first read and go straight for a summary or analysis before you get started? If you already have an understanding of the plot, the characters, the setting and some of the big themes, it’s going to be soooo much easier to read your text efficiently and effectively. Shakespeare and poetry can be especially cryptic so for you to actually get any value out of reading the text, start with the summary.
The one warning here is a massive spoiler alert because you’re kind of robbing yourself of that ‘genuine reaction’ you might have to a text (hey, maybe you even discovered something about the world by reading it 🤦🏻) but you know… we reckon you’ll cope.
3. Highlight and bookmark any key points, techniques or examples as you go
Remember how we said that we didn’t want to have to read a text a million times? Well then, this is one of the most important steps and it’s only really going to work if you’ve done the first two stages.
As you go through the text, bookmark any particular techniques, examples or sections that sound like they match up to the overall messages of the text (which you already know from reading a summary) and are good evidence for addressing the module (like a super interesting reflection of historical context in an Advanced Mod A text). This sounds a bit TITF but you should also try and take notes as you go of any ideas that pop up as you read the text. It's going to mean you already have the bones of an essay long before you ever even start trying to write one.
You might think that you won’t know what pieces of the text are important before you study it but hey, that’s what those first two steps all about. It’s all about getting a massive head start really easily and cutting down on the number of times you have to go through your prescribed texts.
4. Have a chat about it
Once you have read that text, it’s time to get on the group chat. Seriously.
Well firstly, you are going to want to rally your mates and peer pressure them to go through the texts as well. Set aside a day or an afternoon that you’re all going to go through it (this is so much easier if it’s a film and you can legit just watch it together) and then have a big chat at the end.
The comments and questions are going to along the lines of ‘wtf did it mean when…’ or ‘that bit made absolutely no sense’ or ‘why did we just do that on our summer break’ but any conversation is better than no conversation 💁 . You can share ideas or key quotes straight away and try to make sense of the particularly random parts together. At the very least, when you start that text in class you will know exactly what questions to hit up your teacher with.
And as a bonus, it’s a whole lot easier to go through your texts if you told your friends that you would and have your group chat date as a casual deadline.
Reading texts in holidays is good. Reading them super quickly and getting tonnes of value out of one read is a lot better. Remember to start with the syllabus, move on to a summary, collect evidence and ideas as you go and finish by having a chat with your mates. Like we said, it’s a lazy way to get ahead so get amongst those prescribed texts these holidays!