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How to Succeed in English Class
Setting Yourself up for SuccessReading for English ClassWriting for English ClassGetting Additional HelpHelp Analyzing Texts and Writing EssaysShow 2 more...Show less...Questions & AnswersRelated ArticlesReferences
This article was co-authored by Christopher Taylor, PhD. Christopher Taylor is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Austin Community College in Texas. He received his PhD in English Literature and Medieval Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014.
There are 19 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
Succeeding in a college or high school English course can be a challenge. This is especially true if English is not your best subject. However, there are some easy, specific things you can do to improve your chances of succeeding. Start off on the right foot, and then develop your readings and writing skills to achieve your goals. If you struggle, or if you want to ensure that you will succeed in your English class, reach out for extra help!
1Setting Yourself up for Success
1Read the syllabus at the beginning of the semester. The syllabus for a class is like a contract between you and your professor or teacher. It outlines your professor or teacher’s expectations. Read through the syllabus when you receive it and ask questions if anything is unclear.
- If anything is unclear, ask your professor or teacher for clarification. This is especially important if your question pertains to an assignment.
- If your professor or teacher uses an electronic syllabus, they may update it at any time. Even though they may announce any changes, be sure to check the syllabus often for updates.
- Note any important dates or information you want to easily access later.
2Attend every class. It is normal to miss class once or twice during a semester, but missing too many classes is a sure way to fail English. Be sure to attend class and arrive on time. This will help to ensure that you do not miss out on the lessons.
- Be aware that some professors will mark you absent if you arrive late. Make sure you arrive on time to avoid losing points for tardiness.
- If you must miss a class, make sure to email your professor or teacher as soon as possible. Review the syllabus beforehand and check your professor or teacher’s makeup policy. Make sure that you follow the protocol outlined in the syllabus.
3Introduce yourself to your professor or teacher on the first day of class. You might feel like your professor or teacher knows who you are since they called your name in roll call. However, professors and teachers have many students and it will take a while to get to know everyone’s name. Introduce yourself so the professor or teacher has an easier time of remembering who you are.
- Try saying something like, “Hello, Mrs. Jones! My name is Jon Smith. I just wanted to say hi and tell you I am looking forward to your class.”
- Introducing yourself to your professor is a good time to ask questions. Ask them your questions about the class, required texts, and assignments.
- Visit your teacher or professor during office hours early in the semester to develop a working relationship with them.
4Track important due dates in a planner. Start off the semester by getting organized. You will have lots of due dates to keep track of, so get yourself a day planner or use an app on your phone. Record important due dates for your English class with the app or planner.
- For example, if you have a paper due on February 15th, add an entry to your planner or app, such as “Paper #1 due today.”
5Start working on assignments well before when they are due. You will be very busy trying to complete your coursework, so it is best to start on your assignments ahead of time. Start when your English professor or teacher provides guidelines!
- For example, if your professor or teacher gives you the assignment sheet for the final paper a month in advance, don’t wait. Start on the final paper right away. You can brainstorm, do research, take notes, create an outline, and meet with your professor during office hours.
2Reading for English Class
1Complete the assigned readings on time. Your professor or teacher should provide a course calendar for the readings. Make sure to complete the required readings before each class. Reading for an English class will take time and concentration, so set aside a few hours to read thoroughly and carefully so you’re prepared for discussion or tests.
- Choose a quiet place that is free from distractions to read.
2Break up longer readings to improve your comprehension. If you have trouble concentrating for long stretches, then break the reading into sections. Read a small section each day and this should help you to comprehend more of what you read.
- For example, if you have a 60-page reading to complete over the next 3 days, break it up into 3 sections and read 20 pages per day.
3Look up any words in the readings that you don’t understand. The texts you will be reading for your college-level English course may include words you have never seen before. Write these words down in your notebook and look up their definitions. Write out the definitions so that you will remember them for the next time you encounter those words.
- Your professor or teacher may even ask the class if anyone knows what a word means. Raising your hand and reciting the definition is a great way to set yourself apart.
4Take notes while you read. As you read, keep a pen or pencil handy and underline, circle, and star words, phrases, or entire sections that seem important to you. You can also write comments and questions in the margins of the text as you read.
- For example, you can look for the main idea in each paragraph, and underline it.
- If you come across a paragraph that is confusing, you might write a question to indicate what you find confusing about it in the margin.
5Look for ways to gain a deeper appreciation of what you are reading. It might be hard to get into some of the texts you will read for an English class, so try to find ways to enjoy them more. Some options for making reading for your English class more fun include:
- Watching a film adaptation of a book or play after you finish it.
- Researching the author and any controversies associated with the book or essay.
- Read book reviews or scholarly articles on topics that interest you.
3Writing for English Class
1Follow your professor or teacher’s instructions for writing assignments. The papers your professor or teacher assigns may be different from anything you have written before. That is why it is important to read the instructions before you work on any papers for the class. Ask your professor if anything is unclear before you get started.
- For example, your old English teacher might have required you to submit an outline before writing a paper, but your new teacher or professor might want you to complete a different type of prewriting activity.
2Take time to prewrite your papers. Even if your professor does not require you to prewrite, you should do it. Prewriting is an important step in the writing process that helps you to develop your ideas for a paper. Taking the time to do this will help you to write a better paper and increase your chances of success in the class.
- You can freewrite by writing whatever comes to mind.
- Try clustering, which is when you connect ideas with lines to find connections.
- Draw pictures to represent your ideas if you are more of a visual learner.
3Draft your paper. Drafting is when you take ideas from the prewriting process and put them into the structure of an essay. This will include an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
- Make sure to follow any special instructions your professor or teacher provides for the drafting phase. They may require you to submit multiple drafts to show your progress.
4Revise your work and then make adjustments. After you have a draft, you can revise it. Revising is not the same as proofreading. When you revise, your focus should be on improving the content of your paper. You can do this by reading through your paper and looking for areas to add more detail, improve the organization, or cut passages that are clunky or irrelevant.
- For example, when reading through your draft, your description of a key person’s appearance may seem brief and underdeveloped. You could expand this and add more detail as part of your revision.
- Keep in mind that you may need to revise several times. Writing is a cyclical process, so it is normal to do this.
5Visit a writing center for additional help. Your school might have a writing center, or at least a tutoring center with tutors who specialize in writing. You can visit the writing or tutoring center for help with your papers. However, keep in mind that they will not write the paper for you. They will help you to develop your ideas by asking questions and offering advice.
- For example, if you are struggling to find a way to conclude an essay, you could visit your school’s writing or tutoring center and request help on this specific issue.
- If you want to make sure that your paper is polished before you hand it in, you could visit the writing center for help with proofreading.
6Proofread before submitting a paper. Having a polished paper will help to ensure that you get the maximum points possible. When you are satisfied with the content of your essay, you will need to read through it at least 1 more time with the goal of finding and correcting any mechanical, grammatical, and punctuation errors.
- Read your paper out loud during the proofreading phase. Underline or highlight any errors you spot as you read.
- You may even want to ask a classmate or friend to read your paper for you. They might notice errors that you didn’t.
7Using writing apps to help you improve your writing. There are many free apps available that can help you to become a better writer. You can simply copy and paste what you have written into some of these apps and use the suggestions to make changes to your text. Some good free apps you can check out include:
- Hemmingway: This app is great for improving the flow of your writing.
- Grammarly: Spots errors in your text to help you ensure that it is polished.
- Draft: A web-based word processor that automatically saves what you write.
4Getting Additional Help
1Meet with your professor or teacher during their office hours. College professors and teachers often keep regular open office hours for their students to visit them and get extra help. Taking advantage of your professor or teacher’s office hours is a wonderful way to help yourself succeed.
- Don’t wait until you are struggling with something. Attend your professor or teacher’s office hours and talk with them about a class reading that you enjoyed, your ideas for the next paper, or even your desire to succeed in the course!
- Many professors and teachers will also meet you outside of their office hours as long as you make an appointment. If your professor or teacher’s office hours are not convenient for you, then ask your professor if they have any other availability.
2Email your professor or teacher if you must miss a class. While it is ideal to have perfect attendance, you might get sick at some point and it is acceptable to miss 1 or 2 classes due to illness. Email your professor or teacher as soon as possible to let them know if you need to miss a class due to illness.
- Avoid being too personal in the emails to develop more respect with your professor.
- Make sure to review your professor or teacher’s policy regarding missing class and making up work. You may need to provide a doctor’s note or some other form of documentation to show that missing class was unavoidable.
3Ask questions in class if you do not understand something. It is inevitable that you will have questions at some point during the class. Make sure to ask your professor or teacher any questions you have as soon as possible.
- You can email your professor with a question, but make sure to do it at least a few days ahead of when you need an answer. Your professor may not answer their emails right away.
How do I take notes in class?
Write the most important things the teacher is saying in a notebook. These may be key terms, rules of grammar, author names, or character names or plot points from books or stories, it depends on what kind of English class you're taking.
What if I don't like reading? Will I fail?
You don't have to like it to do well in it. Just be disciplined and committed to doing the work. Make a plan for reading or studying and reward yourself with something you like when you've accomplished your task.
How can I do well in grammar?
Find a chart of rules, and learn the exceptions. Grammar is one of the most important aspects of the subject, as it will make you sound and look like you know what you're doing (or reveal that you don't) in almost all scenarios. The only way to do grammar is just to memorize, memorize, memorize.
What if I am failing to understand the text at all?
You could ask your teacher for one-on-one help after class. If that's not possible, then consider looking up online resources for that text to see if you can make better sense of it. For example, if you're reading a book that you're struggling to understand, reading through the cliffnotes online can be helpful. (Just make sure not to use that as a substitute for reading the text itself.)
I have not taken an English class before, how should I start my preparation?
Read a lot of books. Google what questions to ask while reading and annotate while you read.
How do I understand poetry?
Read the poem a few times and then translate it into your words. If you don't understand a word, look it up online or in a dictionary. This will give you a better understanding of what the words mean and will allow you to look deeper into the poem.
How can I improve if I never learned English?
See Learn English and wikiHow's many related articles.
How do I increase my level in English?
You should read a lot, and practice writing and speaking English to increase your level.
Ask a Question
- College level English classes prepare you for reading, writing, and communicating in your other college courses, so it is important to take them in your first year of college. If possible, take your required English course in the first semester. If you need to take 2 or more English classes to meet your degree requirements, take them back-to-back so that the material will be fresh.
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