Oh, the Humanities
Since English professors can be as inscrutable as the Dickens they assign, here’s what you need to do.
By Olivia W. McCoy, University of Georgia
Unless you enjoy volunteering your summer to writing a thousand words a week for free, like some I know (*cough cough*), then you probably don’t enjoy the obligatory English classes you’re forced to take upon entering college.
And the students that do enjoy slaving away over a keyboard, quickly developing early-onset carpal tunnel, won’t blame you for having that opinion—for those exact reasons, actually.
But instead of throwing in the towel and accepting the standard B that English professors so commonly dole out, you can follow a few quick tricks and tips to get a moderately better grade with significantly less work.
Well, obviously the first trick to surviving an English class is to actually know the language. But the next is to learn to skim.
This is a quick and easy way to flip through those pages upon pages of a lack luster assignment. The professor can’t possibly expect you to trudge through authors, like Dickens, who decide to dedicate an entire ten pages to describing a door—it’s just not happening.
So skim the book. Spark notes, online summaries, cliff notes—all those work great for helping to understand the general plot, but when the teacher asks about the language chosen by the narrator, you better cross your heart and pray to some deity for aid, because you’re screwed.
Whatever free time you have—waiting on the bus, standing in line, tapping your foot outside the community bathroom because the entire state of Georgia and their cousins decided to all take a shower at the same time, or maybe you just need an excuse to not make eye contact with the creep inching their way closer to you in the momentously slow elevator—flip through the pages, making sure to keep an eye out for character names and words like “murder,” “birth,” “sex,” etc. These are most likely important plot points that your prof will expect you to know.
Skimming will reduce the reading time by at least a third and you’ll still have a decent grasp of characters and their actions. Of course, this will only help with the preliminary flip through.
Once the teacher starts handing out assignments like candy at Halloween, you’ll have to narrow your search to a more precise vocabulary and read what you find. This still cuts the hours spent losing your vision to small text print in half, but might be a bit tedious if the author enjoys overly complex and completely unnecessary word choice and diction—once again Dickens.
Honestly, no teacher is going to recommend skimming, but if you’re not a bibliophilic book hoarder, you’ll most likely end up letting your eyes trail over the inked wood slivers anyway while you drift off into daydreaming about shirtless Orlando Bloom.
Know Your Teacher
I know that some of you have learned to tailor your work to the teacher’s likings, but you can only get away with that for a little bit until they catch on, and even then, it only works fifty percent of the time.
It depends on the teacher, really. So get to know them. Ask them out, see a movie, spend the night, get married, have kids, die in each other’s arms. Just kidding, please don’t do that. But do listen to their opinions and views if they’re naïve enough to share them.
Here’s a tip I have learned from many a conference with English professors.
If you want to assure a B, go ahead and agree with the teacher in your thesis—take the easy way out and mimic what your prof has been nagging on all semester, simple regurgitation.
BUT, if don’t want to settle, but also won’t put in all the back-breaking drudgery required for an accurate and appropriate essay, then completely dishonor everything they’ve ever believed in. Not only will it catch your professor’s attention (leading to a more in-depth review), but you can finally put that brick-headed, Billy goat gruff stubbornness to use. An English class is one of the only places in the collegiate world where you can blatantly argue with the professor, disrespect their favorite characters and still stand a chance of acing the class.
Here’s the key, unless you’re a pro at essays (and I’m assuming you’re not if you’re reading this article), stick to those two options. Either agree or disagree with the professor, don’t go rogue—it’s not worth the effort or risk.
Use Your English Major Friends Like Paper Towels
Actually, use all your friends relentlessly, as editors and critics of course. They’re free (aside from the bribing it’ll take), they’re blunt and they’re obliged to help as your friend, sort of.
From now on, your greeting should be “Hey! How are you? Proofread my essay, please,” as you shove your computer onto their lunch tray and run before they can say no.
Watch them from afar and “coincidently” come back from the bathroom right as they finish to ask for their opinion. If you have enough people look at it, eventually the paper will be so edited and will be rewritten so many times that it probably won’t even look like your own writing in the end—which might be for the better sometimes.
Of course, this will put you in their debt and you’ll be the one having to deal with scraping the pizza cheese off the bottom of your laptop.
Pick a Topic and Run with It
If you want to write a paper about how cannibalism should be a legal practice, go for it. If porn is a noble art that future historians will study for centuries to come as the quintessential stabilizer of our current society, then get typing. The wilder the topic, the more interesting it will be, and the more likely it is that you won’t look for a wall to crash your car into while working.
Bonus: Because your teacher certainly won’t be forgetting you anytime soon, you can show up again three years later and still appropriately demand a rec letter for grad school.
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