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Is Literature Just All About Reading Books?

Literature is one of the most extensive language-based subjects in Secondary School. Not only does it trains students to think independently and to open their minds to different perspectives, but also teaches them how to be critical readers. The subject teaches them to appreciate and analyse different kinds of texts and the way the author has written – how he/she has chosen certain specific words, a style of writing, and the use of literary devices. Literature also increases students’ global cultural awareness and appreciation as they would be required to study different books, poems and drama texts not only from Singapore, but also from all over the world. As students will be faced with texts coming from differing countries and time periods, the initial issue that some Literature students struggle with is understanding these texts and relating to them. Eg. The language used in William Shakespeare’s work would be much different from that of the modern English language, and thus students would require thorough guidance and help in analysing the text correctly. As Literature is a Humanities subject and it is relatively more subjective as compared to the more concrete Maths & Science, Singaporean students tend to be more afraid in embracing the former. Literature may also be a fearful subject for some as a lot of reading is necessary and may be overwhelming. Coupled by their fear to express opinions and perhaps the lack of of creativity or interest to read, many students find Literature to be a difficult subject to score in. This has therefore caused a drop in Literature students over the years.

Literature books

So many texts! How do I study it effectively?

I’m Interested In This Subject, But Should I Take Up Pure or Combined Literature?

Students can either choose to take up:

  1. Pure Literature, OR
  2. Combined Literature
  Pure Literature Combined Literature
Exam Structure Paper 1 – Prose and Unseen Poetry Paper 2 – Drama Paper 1 – Prose and Unseen Poetry
Duration and Weightage Paper 1 – 1 Hour 40 Minutes, 50% Paper 2 – 1 Hour 30 Minutes, 50% 1 Hour 40 Minutes, 50%*

*The other 50% for Combined Literature is attributed to Social Studies The marking criteria for both Pure and Combined Literature are  very similar. The marking rubrics and skill requirements are the same – the only difference is that Pure Literature students are required to study an additional Drama text. Some book texts which are being tested for both Pure and Combined Literature in 2020 and 2021 are Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451, Kiran Desai: Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard. For Pure Literature, students will be tested on additional drama texts like Lillian Hellman: The Little Foxes, Arthur Miller: A View from the Bridge and William Shakespeare: Macbeth. Paper 1 is divided into 2 sections:

  1. Questions for book text
  2. Unseen passage or poetry

For Section A, students will need to be very familiar with their book texts (selected by their individual schools) as the questions are set based on its content. Students will be given an except from the text to help answer some questions. However, it is still highly advisable to be extremely familiar with your texts and know them inside-out, so as to be able to bring up other relevant excepts or points, to provide a more solid argument and well-encapsulated answer. For Section B, the passage and poetry is “unseen” and will be something that the student is unfamiliar with. The student will be required to understand the author’s writing style as well as the character’s actions. Students will need to be able to answer critically and justify their point of view to be able to answer the questions well. Meanwhile, in Paper 2 (for Pure Literature students), students are required to answer 2 questions on the drama text that they have studied; 1 open-ended question and 1 passage-based question. The requirements are almost the same as the Prose and Unseen Poetry as the student is required to give their thoughts and justify their points on why they think the drama is being written that way. Therefore, to score well for Literature questions, the student must know how to understand  the author’s intend, and why he/she has written it in a certain way. They must also be able to explain and justify themselves on why they believe that the author has picked up this writing style and used certain literary devices. As for questions that are for unseen passages and poetry, the examination is looking out for the ability to comprehend and analyse texts accurately, and able to answer the questions correctly critically with their own interpretations and opinions.

So, Here Are 5 Ways to Study Effectively For Literature!

1. Read and Familiarise Yourself With The Given Literature Text(s)

The 1st tip to score well is to familiarise, and as much as possible, memorise as many quotes as you can from your given selected texts. Memorising quotes and doing multiple character analyses from 1-2 entire books can be mentally draining – how do you ensure that this is done most effectively and efficiently? You can consider dedicating some time to revise 1 chapter of the book every week to constantly keep yourself in touch with the text. Repeated conscious reading helps you to refresh on the exact sentences or phrases used. Do not read on auto-pilot, make a conscious effort to memorise additional bits of it each time you go through your text, as eventually the exam will be a closed-book one and you will not be able to refer to it in the end. Try to relate to the characters’ actions and feelings in the books, this might enable you to better memorise content. This can also help you come up with new opinions to discuss during class or in the examination. Repeated reading helps to train your critical thinking and it also trains to let you see things from a new perspective each time as well. Try not to treat reading as a chore. Try reading your Literature text on-the-go on your way to school or before you sleep. Reading before you sleep not only helps you to sleep well, but it also lets you absorb the information better. Instead of spending time on digital devices before bed-time, one can instead pick up one’s Literature text, delve into the author’s world and unlock your imagination. Remember, the only way to fully comprehend and memorise your text is to start early and clock in as many hours as you can. There are no shortcuts to this so be sure to stay disciplined!

2. Use Recommended Guides and Resources

If you are having difficulty digesting the texts, you can consider using text guides like SparkNotes to help you with studying! SparkNotes has a range of texts online which can assist you with your studies. The website summarises chapters for you and provides comments and pointers for every 2-3 chapters. This can be especially useful for your studying as you can find overviews of the text and quotes categorised by chapter, character, and theme. Amazing! There are also quizzes that you can attempt on to test yourself of your knowledge. You can probably find some points which you have missed out from SparkNotes! You can also familiarise yourself with literary devices such as alliteration, foreshadowing, irony, juxtaposition, satire – these are extremely useful in text analyses and can help to bump up your marks in your answers. Familiarising yourself with literary devices also helps you to answer unseen text questions during the examination as you will be able to write a proficient answer using specific Literature analytical terms. Impress your examiners with your knowledge of literary devices, as this would showcase your ability to understand the author’s intentions well. If you are having difficulty with finding more resources to help you study effectively for Literature, our Secondary Literature Tutor can provide you with more tips and hacks on how to study effectively!

3. Improve On Essay-Writing Skills and Techniques

Having good English essay-writing skills is the cornerstone answering the Literature question paper. A tip that Secondary Literature tutors talk about is to always plan out your essay before you start. Always take time to understand the intent of the question and what it is asking of you. There is no point having your whole book memorised well – regurgitating it without actually answering the question will not score you any marks. Understand that question and plan your essay first. This is a good habit to cultivate as it allows you to check on your essay points as well as the overall essay flow. Also, planning and having a skeleton to refer to prevents you from writing repeated points, helping your essay to look the most coherent it can be. Another tip is to make sure that your essay is written using the PEEL method. This method is widely used by most of the Secondary Literature Tutors and is very useful when it comes to answering essay questions. It helps you check that you are starting each paragraph with your Point, and then backing up with Evidence (quotes from the texts) and then Elaborating on it. Most importantly after this, you will need to Link your answer back to your point to ensure that your main point does not trail away. This will help you to produce more wholesome paragraphs. The above is also required and relevant while answering your English O Level Paper 1 too. Building up these transferrable essay skills will allow you to kill 2 birds with 1 stone, and bring you on the right path to scoring well for both your English and Literature papers!

4. Use Post-it Notes Or Sticky Flags On Your Literature Books

Teenager using sticky notes

Tips from our Literature Tutors: Using post-its is a great way to remember important quotes!

Highlighting your texts with different colours may be useful, but may not be the most effective as it is a more passive way of studying rather than actively writing notes. Instead, consider using post-it notes or sticky flags on your books; this can help you flip and refer to the exact quotes and pages you need, while you refer to your own hand-written notes. Having post-it notes in your book allows you to write down your notes right away, you can also stick it next to the specific quote of interest. You will find it easy to transfer these notes to a notebook later when you want to consolidate them. Try to use different colours for different characters to differentiate them for easy reference. Since the examination does not allow you to bring your books for reference, colours and post-its provide as visual aids and this also helps you to memorise effectively!

5. Seek Help and Hire A Secondary Literature Tutor!

If all else fails, students can consider hiring a Secondary Literature Tutor help them to study effectively. Our local Singaporean Literature tutors can provide students with professional advice on how to write an essay properly. Our tutors are also able to guide you to think critically about the actions and words of the characters, and the meanings and intentions behind them. But do note that it is also important to make sure that your chosen Secondary Literature Tutor is familiar with the literature text(s). Having 1-1 Secondary Literature home tuition may also help your child in voicing out their opinions as compared to when in school. Your Literature tutor confidence will not only be able to clarify doubts, but also help to instil confidence needed in tackling the Humanities. In addition, our Secondary Literature tutors can also expose you to more poetry and literary texts, which can help to train and boost your analytical and inference skills.  Who knows, perhaps one of these texts may even appear in the exam as part of the unseen component! Having more exposure and practice outside of the set texts is always good. Also, they can provide you with practice papers from different schools (utilising the same texts as your own) to expose you to more question types and answering techniques. Once you have your text content locked in, half the battle is won. Our Secondary Literature Tutors will be able to guide you on the necessary skills to win the battle in the exam – how to analyse the questions’ demands, give you feedback on your essay-planning drafts, and how to write a convincing essay that answers the question effectively.

Is Literature Beneficial To Me In The Long Run?

Secondary level Literature is considered to be a more difficult subject for many due to its subjective nature, requiring students to read widely, think critically and to hone a mature appreciation of the English language in their teen years. Taking up Literature would help students to grow holistically as the subject allows the student to empathise with characters and think independently. Literature allows the students to voice out their opinions without fearing for the “wrong” answer, and trains them to vocalise their thoughts well through debates and discussions, and how to communicate their points across effectively. These are critical soft skills students need to possess as they progress into society.

Students debating

Being able to voice out opinions is beneficial in the long run!

Taking up Literature is also beneficial as this subject opens the eyes of students and cultivates an appreciate in the Arts scene – both in the local and international context. As the Arts may not be a “conventional” path compared to the typical Maths and Science careers, students may think that studying Literature does not directly link them with good prospects in future. However, one must not forget that the essence behind Literature is for students to embrace the usage of the English language, and this can help to improve students’ command of English, to say the very least. Students who have an intrinsic and natural flair for the language might want to continue pursuing Literature in JC and tertiary education, and it would be important for them to take Literature at Secondary level. You can also read here to compare the different Humanities subjects offered at Secondary level before making a decision on whether to take up Literature as one of your subjects.

Our Secondary Literature Tutors are experienced and trained, and would be familiar with the literature text(s) that your child is studying. Engaging one would boost your child’s confidence in acing this subject with proper tips and techniques. You can contact us here to find out more about Secondary literature tuition and the rates, and our friendly team will be happy to assist you from there! 

Do also consider checking out these English-Related articles which may be useful for your English Journey:
PSLE English – A Complete Guide to Primary School & PSLE English
O Level English – The Complete Guide to O Level English in Singapore
A Level GP – A Complete Guide to Junior College H1 General Paper (GP)
IB English – The Complete Guide to IB English (SL/HL) in Singapore

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