Irvine English Tutoring: 5 Tips for Success on a Literature Final Exam

Final exams are just around the corner, and most students are scrambling to complete all of their study and review so they can get the highest grade possible in their classes. Nearly every student will be enrolled in a literature class or a class that requires students to comprehend and analyze novels as part of the curriculum. There are several things students can work on to improve their technique when it comes to studying literature. For the most part, students can work on comprehension, annotation, reading efficiency, and identify key information. The most important thing for literature students to do is read the book. There’s no substitute for having first-hand knowledge of what happened in the story.


1. Annotation and note-taking

It’s important for students to develop their annotation and note-taking skills to prepare for a literature final. Although it would not be practical to annotate an entire book, there may be certain chapters or dialogue that requires a student to annotate. Additionally, students can benefit from taking summary notes at the end of each chapter or a specific shift or transition in the plot. Students can take notes regarding their observations of characters and their development or how they interact with the other characters in the novel. Whether the notes are made directly in the book or on a separate document, it’s ideal for students to review all of these before taking their final.

2. Plot review

Students who have read several books throughout the year are encouraged to conduct a plot review, especially of the novels they read several months ago. It can be easy to forget plot points given the fact that students have been reading multiple books. Students can either refer to their notes or use a site such as SparkNotes or Cliff’s Notes, which provides a convenient summary of nearly every book that will be assigned in a high school class.

3. Character analysis

In addition to reviewing summary and plot, students are encouraged to take a look at character analysis. Who was the hero or protagonist? Who was the foil? Which characters were flat and which were complex? Character analysis could be especially difficult if the novel were written in a different vernacular or period where students have to concentrate on decoding the sentences before they can learn about the thoughts and feelings of the characters. Most final exams cover how characters change in the novel or how they interact with one another at some point. Even if a student feels completely confident that they understood the characters, it’s important to review the various inner monologs and interactions throughout the story (READ: Orange County Tutoring: How to Survive Finals Week).

4. Author bio and context

Most students don’t think about learning about the author’s biography or the context of the time in which the book was written. However, nearly every author was influenced in some way by their personal surroundings and period. Additionally, their personal history and background may have influenced their work. It’s a good idea to take a few minutes to learn about the author’s biography as well as what was going on in the world when they were alive or when they were writing the novel.

5. Underlying themes and symbols

Another good thing for students to study is the many underline symbols, motifs, and themes found within high school literature. Sometimes these symbols seem obvious once a student reads about them. However, they can be tricky to discern without help. Students can either work with their study group, their tutor or refer to an online study guide to pick out the various themes. For the most part, final exams will ask students to understand and analyze the devices authors used to elicit a specific response in the reader.

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