Transitioning from A-Level to Degree Level English Literature – OurWarwick
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Transitioning from A-Level to Degree Level English Literature

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the)
Victoria Heath | English Literature and Creative Writing Contact Victoria

The jump from A-Levels to university is daunting for most students. I certainly felt apprehensive before coming to Warwick. I was excited, of course, because I was beginning a journey on a course that I knew I had wanted to do for the past year. But I didn’t know how different studying English Literature would be as a degree in comparison to my A-level. Would it be harder? It turns out that it was certainly more in depth, but this was definitely a more fulfilling experience. It’s been rewarding to transition to study my favourite subject at degree level!

So, I thought I would let you all know some of the biggest differences that I noticed in the transition from A-Level to degree level English Literature. Of course, you will be introduced to all of these things when you start your degree, but what better way to be prepared for university than to see some of these differences beforehand. (Side note: I do English Literature and Creative Writing, so these differences are in reference to the English Literature side!) 

And so, let us begin…

1)Referencing, Citations and Bibliographies… What?

These terms may be familiar to you, or they might not be. Not to worry if you don’t know exactly what these things are! These will become second-nature to you as you progress through your first year. All of these terms are essentially a way of tracking any literature you mention in your essay, and are important to avoiding accidental plagiarism. This was something which I had dabbled in during my A-Level coursework, but not to the extent that I have experienced during university. 

2) The Importance Of Introductions And Thesis Statements 

At university, a clear introduction and thesis statement which outlines your argument is perhaps one of the most important things you can include in your essay. It’s essentially a statement which summarises the main point of your argument. At A-Level, writing an essay usually meant spending no more than 5 or  10 minutes on an introduction before speeding into the main body of your essay. One of the things I have learned this year is the importance of a well-structured introduction. Transitioning from spending little time on introductions to spending a lot of time on them was certainly unusual, but it is something which makes a top-class university essay!

3) Secondary Sources Are Key!

Stating your opinion and supporting it with a quote from the text you were studying was the key to success at A-Level – the classic PQE (point, quotation, evidence). At university, another step is needed – find quotes from other people’s books, journals and websites to support your points. This means dedicating time in the planning stage of your essay to look through academic websites to find relevant quotations, something which I had never done for an A-Level essay. Note to any incoming students: the feeling of finding a quotation which perfectly supports your argument is one of the best feelings in the world!

5) Application Over Memorisation  

At both GCSE and A-Level, I spent a lot of my time revising English through memorising quotations, as we were not allowed books in our exams. Although we haven’t sat English exams this year at Warwick, I can say that regurgitating information from lectures is not the way to get top marks. Instead, it’s all about using the information you’ve learned and branching out; finding secondary sources in your own time, debating with yourself whether you completely agree with the arguments in lecture material (you can choose to find counterarguments to some of the points made in lectures by your tutors).

5) Reading Load

For my two year A-Level course, I studied one novel, one play and an anthology of non-fiction. Be prepared to read a lot more at university – novels and larger texts are usually covered in two or three weeks, with smaller plays and texts being completed in one week. This was a change which I found perhaps the most difficult to adapt to. I was used to studying a text for months at A-Level, but suddenly I was covering huge texts in less than a month! But don’t worry – you aren’t expected to be able to memorise reams of quotations from all of them.

Whilst studying at Warwick, I have learned that lectures give a broad overview of the text studied and seminars will go into specific details. Also, tutors often focus upon specific themes in the text, providing key quotations within the lectures. And after a year of learning in this way, I quite like how we move through a range of texts throughout the term. 

To conclude, if you love English and you’re thinking of studying it at Warwick, don’t let the worry of transitioning from A-Level into degree-level study put you off. There is lots of support and you aren’t thrown into the deep end at all – eventually you become accustomed to thesis statements, secondary sources and referencing, to the point where you couldn’t imagine writing an essay without them.

As always, if you have any questions about life at Warwick, feel free to drop me a message! 

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the)
Victoria Heath | English Literature and Creative Writing Contact Victoria

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