How Do I Study for an English Exam?

Hi guys!

I know you haven’t heard from me for a long time, but like I said in my first post – I kind of suck at commitment. I’m working on it. Anyways, last month I wrote AP exams, and now I’m writing finals (I’m a high school senior). A lot of my friends have science and math exams, and while the content for those is hard to grasp, studying them is a cakewalk – it’s just memorization, repetition, and practice. But what about English? “How do I study for English?” literally everyone in my AP English class asks. “If I’m not literate by now, I’m never going to be literate!” Well, my friends, as a pretty damn good English student myself, I’m going to explain to you how to study for an English exam.

I should mention now that this can also be used as a guide for writing comparative essays, as that’s the format of the exam that I’m writing. The first thing you want to do is make a list of all the books you read. This year, I read Death of a Salesman, The Great GatsbyThings Fall ApartHamlet, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

Then, put your books into a chart that looks like so:

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 7.07.29 PM

Fill in the characters and any relevant and obvious conflicts you find. Then, identify themes and motifs in each novel. If you need help with this part, it’s best to ask your teacher for their insight.


Once you have everything filled out, revisit the themes and the conflicts. Are there any similar themes and conflicts? Copy and paste the common themes into a new chart.

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 7.10.53 PM

Once that final chart is filled out, use that to study. To practice your essay writing, you need not have to write a full essay – unless you want to, of course! Instead, take a common theme and ask yourself an essay-style question about it. For example, I could ask myself:

How do the works we read this year explore the idea of a tragic hero?

Now, I set my timer for 10 minutes and I write out an outline and thesis for my pretend-essay:

Death of a Salesman, Things Fall Apart, Hamletand The Great Gatsby all explore the notion of a tragic hero through the themes of rigidity, fear, and death.

  • Paragraph 1: Rigidity
    • DOAS – Willy refusing to change his career
    • TFA – Okonkwo’s disgust towards other tribes’ customs
    • TGG – Gatsby’s stubborn pursuit of Daisy
    • H – Hamlet refusing to accept the ghost’s claim of Gertrude’s innocence
  • Paragraph 2 – Fear
    • DOAS – Willy’s fear that Biff thinks he’s a failure
    • TFA – Okonkwo’s fear of change in his village
    • TGG – Gatsby’s fear of Daisy actually loving Tom
    • H – Hamlet’s fear of actually having to murder his uncle-father
  • Paragraph 3 – Death
    • DOAS – Willy committing suicide (trying) to IMPROVE the future
    • TFA – Okonkwo’s suicide to AVOID the future
    • TGG – Gatsby’s murder to AVENGE the past
    • H – Hamlet’s murder because of AVOIDING responsibility

I’ll admit this took me closer to fifteen minutes to come up with, mostly because of the examples, but trust me – a little planning goes a long way. It’s better to spend time planning and be able to write your essay so that it’s fluid and has one main idea rather than just jumping into your essay, getting stuck after one paragraph, and not having time or space to restart and try again.

I hope this helps!

~ Rhea




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