The Single Best Piece of Advice I Can Give You About How to Study for English 211


        Write notes in your book as you read or after you read (depending on what works best for you).  At the end of each reading, make a note card for the author or work assigned for that day.  The cards force you to distill the notes you took in the book to their most important essence.  Nobody can remember the entire Norton.  We are trying to remember a set of authors, representative works, reasons why we think the works are "representative" of the way the author writes, and connections among the works and authors.  If you create the note cards every time you read, and if you reread and add to your cards every few weeks to improve those inter-author and inter-work connections, you will start to build the mental system that is the course's real objective.  I use the card system rather than a computerized database because the cards' tactile feel is important to my memory, and you can bring them to class easily for review before a quiz, but do whatever works for you.  I also like varying ink colors to code certain lines of connection.

        Because you know I give unannounced quizzes each week, your note card for the day's reading will be an invaluable aid to reviewing in the minutes before class begins.  Skim the Norton again, of course, and reread passages you annotated to refresh your mind's feel for the author's prose style.  If you have the card properly constructed, however, you will know the author's name, the personae or characters in the work, the main keywords or themes repeated in the work, a basic outline of the plot in a few sentences, and perhaps some memorable quotations which you think best represents the author's English style or a character's "voice."  That will give you something to say no matter what I ask on the quiz.  (Click here for some sample quizzes, with answers and rationales for why the questions were worth asking.)

        Taking notes in the text also has an important psychological effect upon the reader who annotates, and that will help you again when you write papers for the course.  You own what you write.  Rewriting, quoting, summarizing what you read in someone else's work helps make that literature a little more "yours" as you do it.  Distinguish direct quotation clearly (using quotation marks, of course!).  The most important kind of annotation is when you are reacting to what you read in your own words.  That begins a conversation with the authors and their characters, a conversation that leads to more engaged reading and more insightful analysis.  Those insights turn into great papers.  In effect, you have begun writing the paper in the margins of your primary source.