English Composition: it’s the class many college freshmen fear, and it’s no wonder. English professors have scary reputations. Their lectures often put insomniacs to sleep. Their reading assignments can kill a thriving social life. And the way they cling to traditional grammar rules is clad in infamy. They don’t care whether your major is Engineering or Fashion Design; they expect you to read Macbeth and turn in a clean 5-page paper on the subject. So how can the non-English major make the grade? Here are some tips.

Attend the Lectures


Some students think that if they just do the assigned readings on their syllabus, they will pass. But it’s not quite that simple. According to, the final exam doesn’t just test knowledge of the readings, but often how those readings relate to one another through common themes and ideas.

Students who skip the lectures have no clue to look for or study these relationships. Lectures are beneficial in other ways too. They let you inside the professor’s head. The professor has often devoted his or her career to studying the assigned readings, and parts of them have become favorites.

The chapters or passages most likely to be covered on the test are the ones the professor harps about constantly. Attending the lecture will help you focus on what to study.

Write What the Professor Writes


Many students scramble to jot down a professor’s every word during a lecture, but that’s rarely necessary. Instead, students should focus on what’s really important, and what’s really important are the few words or sentences the professor puts on the blackboard behind her.

If the professor is writing it down, that means she wants you to remember it. It will probably be on a test. Also, did the professor mention a particular quote from the reading? Underline it. Was a certain chapter explained in detail? Take notes on it.

Otherwise, only write when the professor writes, and listen when the professor speaks. Straining to copy the entire lecture onto paper will cause you to miss important details and leave you with tons of confusing notes to sort through before the exam.

Take Notes on the Readings


Students generally know how to take good notes during lectures, but those who want to do well in English Comp should take notes while reading, too. Notes made on assigned readings will help you remember what you read and how it fits into the course. It will also greatly reduce your study time on the night before an exam because you won’t have to flip through hundreds of pages for information in the books you read. Here’s the information you need for every reading:

  • title of work
  • author’s name
  • year and country of publication
  • protagonist (main character) name and short description
  • antagonist name and short description
  • other important characters
  • theme of work
  • short summary of the story
  • important symbols in the story
  • three quotes from the story that relate to its theme or message

With notes like these, it’s easy to remember exactly what each reading was about and see how the readings relate to one another. Written concisely, each set of notes shouldn’t be longer than a page.

Put Real Effort into Assigned Essays


The essay is perhaps the most important part of English Comp aside from the final exam. Some professors even assign take-home essays in lieu of exams, so it is essential to do well on them. Unfortunately, many students put off writing essays until the last minute. According to academic essay writing service, if your writing skills are less than stellar, waiting until the last day to start the assignment can spell trouble for your grade.

Students who wait until the last day to write often feel very anxious about the assignment and work at a frenzied pace. Instead of thinking deeply about the topic, they scribble down the first idea that pops into their heads.

This frantic way of writing means grammar errors are much more likely to slip by unnoticed–not to mention that content usually ends up being shallow and repetitive. Many students claim they write better at the last minute, but the results I have seen as a professional tutor say otherwise. Students who spend more than two days on an essay and take time to proofread almost always get the better grade.

If you want to do well on essay assignments, a good rule of thumb is to spend at least one day working per page of the assignment. In other words, if the assignment calls for five pages in length, you should spend at least five days on writing and researching. Some other tips include:

  • First establishing a strong thesis statement
  • Making an outline for your essay
  • Using credible research sources
  • Consulting the assignment instructions often to ensure writing stays on topic
  • Reading the finished essay aloud to find errors or awkward sentences
  • Asking a trusted friend or tutor to help with proofreading

Do Exactly as the Professor Asks


Some eccentric professors have their own preferred set of punctuation rules or documentation styles for essays, and they expect students to adhere to them. Even if a professor’s writing requirements are completely absurd and against current academic practices, do it anyway, right down to the letter. He is the one giving you the grade, after all, and you won’t earn any brownie points for showing off your pristine use of another style.

Communicate with the Professor

Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the assigned readings? Confused about the latest essay assignment? Can’t get through the first stanza of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales? Don’t talk to your classmates; instead, go directly to the professor. Despite their cold and sometimes prickly demeanors, most professors want to help their students.

After all, that’s what teaching is all about: helping people. Also, it’s likely your classmates are struggling as well, and you shouldn’t risk getting bad information. You may find it difficult to approach your professor the first time or two, but asking respectful, intelligent questions and demonstrating a sincere desire for improvement will open the airways.

It will also give your professor a chance to get to know you, which can result in some lee-way down the line if you need an extra point to bump your grade up or an extension on an essay.