Every year, I do a FAQ for people looking into taking Literature compiled from questions that I have received in the previous year. This year, some of my friends were super-nice and entertained my list of questions that I have gathered through the year (which I will answer as well!). And yes, I’ve actually referred some of them for previous posts, but this is the first time that I’ve actually posted their responses wholesale without adding my own opinions.
J is someone who I have known to be an excellent student. Or more excellent than I am, in most metrics at least. J’s academic interest is in medieval literature and gender relations (if my knowledge is anything to go by). But of course, she also has time for those spiffy Gundam references.
A and yours truly often chat (and rant) about Japanese pop culture and Literature. Academically, A is interested in the long 18th Century, Irish Literature, Ecocriticism, Japanese and Chinese Literature. But, most of the time, we end up ranting about how critics use almost un-understandable academic writing anyway.
S is someone who I know to be interested in feminism and 18th century literature. Right now I’m pretty sure she does NOT want me to talk about fashion.
And lastly me, Michelle/M in the Q&A. (I’ve never really spoken about myself, right?) I am interested in the Gothic, 18th century, Ecocriticism, Medieval Literature, Japanese pop culture and Chinese Literature. Yep. I am the one annoying person that will always recommend more Vocaloid songs. Pity Poor A who has to deal with me ^^;.
Also this FAQ is SUPER long, so I’m saving it under a read more tag.
- How does one become a “successful” Literature student?
J: For literature in specific: finish all of your texts, do thorough research for your assignments and be willing to consult professors. It is also useful to plan how to use your electives in a way that complement your major. Even taking easy to score classes to boost your overall grades is a legitimate strategy.
A: Read widely. It’s not always apparent when you’re in secondary school, JC, or even in the first 2 years of your university life that literature is such a broad field, especially if you are one of those who will end up delving into interdisciplinary work. Read things that might be outside your comfort zone and gather as much knowledge as you can about things that interest you. Always try to be interested in whatever is being introduced to you (not always easy but it’s necessary to try all the same).
S:You become a “successful” literature student by learning from professors how to make good arguments, the contexts of the books, and analyze the texts in more than one way.; being open- minded towards opinions other than your own. You’ve got to read all or at leas most of the texts assigned in each class to understand the context of the texts and subject as well as know what the professor is saying or talking about in class. To be successful, you also have to attend at least 85 – 90% of your classes (favorite ones 100% of course). You also have to ask questions when you have a question of something, and if you need help, suck it up and ask as most professors won’t laugh at nor eat you. To be successful, you need to work at your own pace and plan things that will help you succeed; not everything in life is a competition.
M: I keep telling people that they need to really enjoy reading, or else you’ll just make yourself miserable for 4 years doing a Literature degree. But besides reading, I also think that it is intellectual curiosity and the willingness to question that maketh a “successful” Literature student. That is, they are willing to research other areas that may not have appealed to them at first and they are willing to question preexisting notions. However, this also includes questioning themselves about their own perceptions and preconcieved notions and then defending them (as necessary) or changing their stance to one more congruent with their beliefs.
Note: All ‘successful’ should be read with inverted commas.
2.What are the differences between an A, A-/B+ and B student?
J: Firstly, I must state that I can’t reduce the differences to a list since most students have priorities other than GPA in their lives.
That said, I think that A students are working like graduate students (they are already doing research on historical context, taking in theoretical readings, exploring cross-disciplinary possibilities etc. and seeking mentorship from professors and taking on official research projects.)
A-/B+ Students, for the most part, treat schoolwork as it is. That is, they study well but they do not operate like future academics yet
B students probably have a focus on other priorities like maintaining a work schedule. If a student already has a career going, its also fine just to get a degree for the qualification.
Follow up question for J: Do you think that this is a function of the A-students getting more research opportunities (eg. URECA) as well?
J: Yes, to a certain extent. But there are also other opportunities to do research like for the Undergraduate awards and conferences.
A: This is going to be one long answer. It depends which level you are at. There’s less expectations for Year 1s and 2s unless your professor has high standards and demands. In general, an ‘A’ at year 3 and 4 generally means a well-written essay with very comprehensive research and engagement with all materials used. A- is given to those people who did everything well but left out one key area that they should elaborate on or an assumption that they forgot to tackle. In general, you’re missing that one thing that is hindering you from that A. For bell curve people, sometimes you’re just unlucky and there’s just some (sometimes only slightly) better papers in that class. B+ tells you that you’re doing great but either research is not comprehensive or the idea is well-developed but only decent and not remarkable. You might get it if your paper doesn’t sound interesting. It shows when someone isn’t interested in the paper, trust me. (Addendum: B+ is also awarded sometimes if you have a A- paper but you dun goofed on some crucial area like citations. I checked with A on this and we agreed.)
My experience with Bs is that you completely just gave up at the paper all together and you don’t care? Most of the time if you’re having trouble and you do care, go talk to the prof or your friends and something will come somehow. (Tip: find a source of tension or doubt, it usually helps a lot in generating a paper idea.) If you look for the prof and talk to them (and if they are useful profs), they will tell you if an idea does not work or they might point you in several areas that might be worth thinking about.
S: The difference between A and A/B student’s aren’t much. I think it’s only how well they write and phrase their arguments when answering the essay question. It is also up to the professor to give the grades. Different professors work differently and have different preferences in answers students give. The small difference could be that one student works harder than the other, but I feel it’s most unlikely so. It’s just the knowledge the student has of the text and how they argue in the paper, how strong their argument is compared with other papers. That’s why students go to classes to learn, and improve.
M: The above people phrased it better than I possibly could so imma skip this.
- What are the differences between JC literature and Uni Literature?
(Only A and J got these questions. S and I never took JC Literature.)
J: Hmm… I think that research has to be done to support original interpretations (of the text).
A: JC Literature is quite different from Uni Literature. JC Literature gives you SO MUCH time to cover the books and you don’t even have to cover anything outside of the text. There’s an enormous world outside the text and what Uni Literature does is to delve into that world with the text. It sounds strange but it’s quite close to what is done. JC lit also doesn’t require you to have much of an opinion but in university, you’ve really got to read and critically think everything through and come to an opinion of what you think. (*Note: there’s no point in being opinionated without the evidence or information to back it up.) Uni Lit also requires you to do the work on your own. The prof can’t and also won’t guide you step by step. Of course, if you ask nicely about something you don’t understand, they’ll always explain. Just don’t go around expecting the prof to guide you the way the JC tutors have been.
(Not related) By the way, things in university are a lot more flexible and relaxed so please don’t go asking for exam dates and all sorts of deadlines in the first 2 weeks. You’ll drive the prof insane. It’s quite normal that they haven’t written the exam yet and they will definitely tell you about the essay deadlines and the requirements. They’ve got papers to mark and then papers of their own to submit, conferences they are attending and conferences they are holding, as well as admin work. They’re mostly nice people (I’m talking about my profs in the lit division) but don’t push it. Do yourself a favour and be nice to them; they’ll appreciate the consideration.
- Finally, do you think I am an A student? ^w^
J: Yep ❤
A: I think so!