Wednesday, 1 July 2020

How to Prep for University Seminars (English Literature Student)

Preparing for lectures and seminars, especially when you’re in first year, can be tricky. As a third year student I have a simple method that works for me and hopefully will for you too.

Read the Set Text 

This sounds like an obvious step, but it’s surprising how many English Literature students don’t read the books they are set every week. Starting your reading before term starts and ensuring that you’re at least two weeks ahead sets you up nicely. Sometimes things pop up in life, (we’re all human), that means you might struggle to finish reading a book in a week. If that does happen, it’s a good idea to read as much as you can as well as reading a detailed summary and looking up quotes for any chapters or acts you haven’t had a chance to read yet. I would also strive to finish that text soon after a seminar so when you have to choose texts to write about for an assignment, you’re giving yourself the best selection possible.

Make Notes 

As I’m reading a set text, I’ll make a note of interesting quotes and their page numbers, along with my thoughts on them. Therefore, if you want to use them in your seminar discussions, you’ve got the notes easy to hand. I type up my quotes on my iPad, so if they’re discussed in the seminar I can quickly extend my notes on them. Doing some prepping before your seminar can result in some ground work to prepare you for essays and to get you thinking. Some weeks these notes might be more detailed than others, but any extra work you do will benefit you hugely. I also do exactly the same with themes; I try and group my quotes into themes and do some research before my seminar on any less obvious themes I might have missed whilst reading the text. 

Read Around the Set Text 

Reading around the text, especially when you’re in second and third year is so important. It is really beneficial to do this as you start to form your own opinions on a text by agreeing or disagreeing with a literary critic. This means you have more to contribute to your seminar discussions as you’ve extended your knowledge and built on the groundwork you’ve already started by making basic notes on the text.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Book Review: The Penelopiad

This book was my first read of the summer and it’s safe to say that it didn’t disappoint. One of its strengths was definitely the accessibility of the prose; I liked the short chapters and the sections of poetry. Taking a well-known, complex text, Homer’s Iliad, and retelling it in a simple way is certain to draw readers to the original text. It works in both ways, as readers new to Greek mythology would enjoy this text, but it is also an interesting read for people who are familiar with Homer’s Iliad and are aware of the story of Odysseus and his dutiful wife, Penelope.

Another strong point of the book is how Atwood includes the perspective of Penelope’s maids that Odysseus hangs in the original text. Her introductory note explains that the maids stuck in her mind after she read Homer’s text so she wanted to explore the idea of their voices gaining prevalence. This is expressed through poetic interludes woven with Penelope’s chapters. However, something I would have liked to see is the interactions and relationships explored further between Penelope and certain maids. Atwood hints at a deeper relationship between Penelope and Melantho of the Pretty Cheeks, but I would have liked to have seen more of their interactions.

Penelope is a likeable character with depth; we as readers are introduced to the nuances of her intelligent, skilful personality. Seeing her perspective of her interactions with Odysseus and her son Telemachus is clearly refreshing and adds an additional layer to Homer’s text. I also liked how her relationship with Helen of Troy is presented: the rivalry between them, once again, adds a further layer to the Homeric epic. Penelope resides in the Underworld and is telling her story of her time alive, so we can see a clear comparison of how her familial and plutonic interactions have changed between her time alive and in the Underworld.

Overall, this novel is really worth a read. If you’re looking for a concise, easy read that’s also simultaneously brimming with complex character relationships and emotions, this fits the bill perfectly. If you are already a fan of Greek mythology but any retellings have gone to the bottom of your reading pile, this novel will definitely kickstart your interest in the genre again. If you are interested in more myth retellings, The Penelopiad is part of a myth series from Canongate Books.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

3 Reasons to Take the EPQ

If you’re in Year 11 or 12 and are deciding whether to take the EPQ or not, below are some reasons of how it benefitted me greatly.

It gives you experience of writing at university level.

I cannot explain the extent of how much the EPQ aided me when I got to university. The EPQ is 5000 words, which means 2000 word essays at university seemed easy. I also gained experience in referencing, which is extremely important to get right at university. This meant that from my first assignment, I didn’t find referencing hard at all, due to my familiarity with it. Also, the practice of writing the EPQ meant that by the time I got to university, I understood that you don’t have to write in an elevated style to gain high marks.

It gives you confidence in presenting.

The presentation component of the EPQ is very helpful in allowing you to gain an awareness of how the process of writing helped to shape your work. The presentation is advised to be 10 minutes long, which is roughly the length of presentations that you will do at university for an undergraduate degree. The questions that are asked at the end of your presentation are another element that gives you a full experience of presenting. The detailed feedback that you receive is vital to allow you to reflect on how you may improve if you have to do presentations as part of your university course.

It is completely different from A-levels.

A-levels can be extremely restrictive, with tight coursework word counts and exam timings. Also, in terms of marking criteria to achieve, it can seem like you’re just ticking boxes. With the EPQ, you can explore a multitude of topics; people often pick a topic that is closely linked to what they will be studying at university. Therefore this could potentially aid you in deciding or even ruling out topics that you may want to explore in your dissertation at university.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

20 Things I've Learnt in 20 Years

My 20th birthday was just before lockdown. Due to having more free time on my hands, I’ve been able to reflect. Therefore, I wanted to document the things I have learnt throughout my teenage years, as it feels like the end of an era.

Making a big life decision? Listen to your gut.

I’ve made the wrong decisions before because I didn’t listen to my gut instinct. It’s always what I listen to now. I live at home whilst I’m at university; when making the decision I listened to my gut and I’m so glad I did.

Get loyalty cards.

Making sure you have loyalty cards for the places you shop at the most is definitely worth doing, as you receive points which leads to free items or vouchers, and shops such as Paperchase and The Body Shop will give you £5 vouchers for your Birthday.

Self-care, in all its forms, is needed. 

I think the concept of self-care in our minds is limited to things like beauty treatments. I think it’s important to distinguish between physical self-care and emotional self-care. If applying a face mask makes you feel good about yourself and relaxes you, go for it. But equally, if taking the time each day to read a book or dancing to loud music also makes you feel good, do that too. It’s important to make time for these forms of self-care in your day, as often they’re the things that you forget to do or the first things you sacrifice when you are busy.

Treats are important.

Even giving yourself tiniest treats for the smallest things you’ve accomplished can make your day more exciting. Buying your favourite food to cook one night or even buying yourself one thing you’ve been eyeing up for a while can remind you how far you’ve come by the little steps you’ve made.

Be gentle with yourself.

Life can be difficult enough, so there’s no need to beat yourself up over past mistakes. It happened and you can’t change it, so all you can do is learn from it.

Be present in the moment. 

I’m naturally a worrier and I’ve recently realised that what I’m worrying about isn’t important in the grand scheme of things. As soon as I tell myself this, I feel more present in the moment. It was a long process, as I used to give myself ten minutes to worry about something and then I could feel present in the moment, but I soon decided that I didn’t need to waste ten minutes worrying, either. However long it takes to shift your mindset, it definitely is worth it.

It’s okay to stay in your comfort zone, sometimes.

There is a huge emphasis on the idea that getting out of your comfort zone is the only way that allows you to grow. Although I do agree with this, I think if something does make you uncomfortable, you can take small steps towards overcoming it. It‘s absolutely fine if that means staying in your comfort zone for a little while longer.

It’s the little things in life that make you happy.

Some of the happiest memories I have are from the most mundane days, like running a quick errand and then being swept up by the magic of the Christmas markets. When looking back at previous years and be pleasantly surprised at some of the first things you’ll remember.

Solo dates are underrated.

Sometimes taking yourself off to a coffee shop for a bit of me time in the middle of your day is really beneficial. In my free time between uni classes where none of my friends are around I’ll do this: I’ve really enjoyed doing it this year. It gives you time to collect your thoughts and relax: I've left coffee shops feeling refreshed and ready to continue with my day.

Student discounts save you a lot of money.

Even £2 here and £1.20 there of student discounts can make the world of difference to your bank account. I’ve been using student discounts for four years now so all the little savings have saved me a lot in the long run. You can buy an NUS card or use the UNiDAYS and Student Beans app to start saving.

Podcasts are also underrated.

Since the start of the year I’ve really enjoyed listening to podcasts. I like how you can listen to them out and about to make your journey or jog go quicker, but I also like how you can shut your eyes, lie down and listen to them. They can be the perfect alternative to watching TV and gives a chance for your eyes to have a rest from screens. If you’re a student, search words related to your course and you’ll get lots of new material to listen to, which counts as doing extra reading and research.

If you’re a creative person, write your ideas down, otherwise you’ll forget them.

I have some ideas for a screenplay or a novel, so consequently things that happen in my day to day life would be funny material if I choose to write it one day. However there are countless times over the years that I’ve forgotten things that I wanted to write down. Now I jot things on my phone: sometimes it’s just one word that I expand on later.

If you’re a student and use an iPad for studying, a stylus is worth buying.

As an English Literature student, I continuously have to print off secondary reading articles throughout the whole year. I bought a stylus, which allowed me to annotate my articles, saving paper and space in my folder. Don’t feel guilty for taking time for you. I find that during busy semesters at university I don’t consider taking time for myself and even when I do, I feel guilty, believing that I could be more productive. I’m still working on it, but I’m trying to make it a priority in my final year to take time for me.

Make time for the things you love.

Following on for this, making time for the things you love is important. I’m writing this now because, due to lockdown, I’ve finally shifted my mindset that making time for my hobbies, like blogging, is important. When life gets busy, you shouldn’t feel guilty for making time for what you enjoy doing, either.

Buy versatile clothes that can be worn in different seasons.

You can never go wrong with a staple denim jacket in your wardrobe. You can wear it with a dress and converse in the summer, or a scarf in the autumn. Picking clothes that you can wear in multiple seasons saves you money.

If you know you’ll regret not buying something, buy it.

There are so many times I’ve wanted something, which most of the time is relatively inexpensive, and not bought it. Days later, I go back to get it and it’s out of stock. If you know you’ll regret it, just buy it.

If you’re a student and want to use your UNiDAYS discount code in a restaurant, make sure you check what days you can use your discount on. 

You should definitely check the details of any student offers in restaurants before you head over. Some restaurants like Ask Italian offer 10% off Sunday to Tuesday and 25% off on Wednesday and Thursday.

Fresh air makes everything better.

If I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed, it’s often because I haven’t been outside that day. Even the shortest of walks or spending some time in your garden, (if it’s cold I’ll just throw a hoodie on if I want to sit in my garden), can make anything you’re worrying about feel a little bit lighter.

Breathe, breathe, breathe

I’ve found that when I’m stressed, it’s because I’m not breathing properly. I hold my breath when I’ve got things on my mind, so as soon as I take a few deep breaths, once again, the things on my mind always feel lighter.
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