How to Read Books to Ace the Test
Taking tests and quizzes in English was difficult for me. Part of my difficulty was my stubbornness. I hated reading books that I had no desire to read. Does ANYONE choose to sit down with Pride and Prejudice? The other struggle I had was my inability to retain the key information I was reading. My big mistake was attacking the book without a map.
Imagine driving to Starbucks and your GPS tells you to turn right at the stop sign, left at the gray building and right at the light. Will those directions ever get you your delicious Grande Cappuccino with skim milk? No! You want to know what stop sign, how many feet to the gray building and the street name of the light. YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR! Now you have a terrible Starbucks addiction AND you are lost.
The same frustration happens when you read without a map.
You have no clue what you are looking for, you miss your turn, and you get lost.
We need a guide.
This is why I created The Pocket Book - see what I did there my Louis Vuitton lovers?
The Pocket Book was created to help my academic coaching students analyze literature...without a BA in literature from Harvard!
It's a guide to help your child track the important elements of literature. We focus on the plot fizzles, the sizzles, characters, and themes. More importantly, you can keep track of each of these items on one page. This way you can carry it on pre-test bus rides!
How The Pocket Book Works
The goal is to have one page for each chapter. That's right- you must shorten the wordiness of Shakespeare to one page. Think about it! If I ask you to condense a 30-page chapter into one page, it had better be filled with the crucial information! This will help you hone in on the important textual evidence. Plus, it is a lot easier to carry around one sheet of paper than a whole book!
Characters and Juicy Facts
Every chapter you will meet a new character and gain gossipy tidbits. Make note of each character and one or two pieces of intel that will cause you to remember EVERYTHING else about them. If new characters aren't introduced in the chapter, write down the characters that do appear and add new facts. When you write a paper, it will be easier to find relevant information about the characters if you have important facts that trigger your memory.
In this section write down the plot items that intrigued you. What strikes you as being important to the story? Which characters does the plot twist effect?
Eh, authors can't get everything right. What are the parts of this chapter you couldn't stand? Remember, you can argue why you don't like a text as long as you back it up! Don't be broad and write that you hate that Tess of D'Urbervilles dates Alex, be specific! The more detailed you are now, the less you have to comb for evidence later!
One of the most annoying things about writing an English paper is having to go back through the text to find evidence. Write down quotes you will use for evidence and their page number. Another option is to take note of the quotes your teacher might reference later. "To be or not to be" what page were you on again?
At some point, you will think, "Why can't the author write the word 'love' instead of writing about a cooing pigeon?!!" Take that bitterness and make note of it! What items might have dual meanings? Is the hatchet in Hatchet really just a hatchet? See if you can pull out symbols that your teacher will discuss in class.
Questions for Class
It's OK to have questions for your English teacher. You might not be the only one that has these questions. Even if you never get the nerve to ask your question, you might want to explore them in your paper or journal. Writing down your questions also helps you recall what happens in the chapter and what you need to review later.
The Bottom Line
Analyzing literature can be dull but knowing HOW to analyze literature can make it less painful. Access the Pocket Book here for free and print it out for easy access while reading your high school or middle school English novels. Even those that loathe Shakespeare might have a change of heart when you learn to dissect it. I know I did!