Alisha Ratcliffe, BA English | 11 April, 2018
Six hours of class a week does not mean it's easy, okay?
Once I’d secured my place at Queen’s I pretty much already had an idea of what my course would be like. I expected to be in classes or lecture 9 til 5 every day and reading endless amounts of Shakespeare. I think it’s fair to say, I was very, very wrong (though I do admittedly now own a compilation of the complete works of Shakespeare…)
My timetable told me I had only six contact hours a week, and 18-year-old me thought “wow look at all of that spare time where I get to have fun and do all the things students do!” Again, wrong. Although English students don’t have many contacts hours, that does not mean that the remainder of the week is “spare time”.
You usually do three modules per semester throughout the course of a degree. For English, our first three modules were English in Transition, An Introduction to English Language, and Identifying, Developing and Applying Your Skills. Over these three modules, I was reading one book or play, one big essay, and multiple textbook chapters a week. Without doing a few hours of work every day, it is physically impossible to do all of this, not to mention using your knowledge from these resources to then answer questions on their content, prepare for lectures and do tutorial work. So…I quickly learned that this isn’t “spare time”, which was definitely hard to accept.
One of the things that surprised me about lectures as a first year was how interesting they were. I know it sounds kind of nerdy, and believe me not every single lecture was interesting, but the depth of knowledge the lecturers at Queens had about this subject was staggering. Not only are they knowledgeable, but they’re also extremely passionate and this made my interest in English grow. I will admit, I’ve had some lectures where I haven’t really known what’s going on, but that’s usually my fault as I’d have rolled out of bed hungover half an hour before the lecture started (you can’t be too hard on yourself, we’ve all done it).
I only had two hours’ worth of lectures in my first year, whereas now in second year I have six hours’ worth…which still isn’t much, but you know what that means – more reading. Lectures usually consist of note taking to the point where my hand wants to fall off from writing/typing as I try to absorb all the lecturer’s knowledge in hope that it’ll help me get a first.
(Top tip: it’s useful to simultaneously record the lecture on a Dictaphone or a voice memo app on your phone, saves your hand some pain).
Lectures serve a great purpose in the way that it’s your chance to learn about the texts you’ve been studying on different levels, whether it’s about the context they were written it, the time period or linguistic and literary technique. Because you only have limited time and there’s so much content to fit into lectures, they don’t tend to be interactive, unless the odd student has a question (I’ve never been brave enough). However, tutorials allow students to engage with the texts more closely, and you can discuss any issues you might have run into whilst reading.
Interestingly, English has no exams throughout the whole three years unlike many other subjects. This means that every week, a new book is studied to allow students to have sufficient knowledge of the course to be able to write a summative essay on it’s content at the end of semester. These essays are usually worth 90 or 100% of the module so you’ll want to be prepared, no biggie. It requires you to be time efficient and to love reading, because you’ll be reading three books minimum a week, and that’s not to mention secondary reading.
Aside from the rotation of books, schedule of tutorials and lectures and numerous trips to the McClay throughout the semester, it’s also important to unwind or you’ll go mad. Sometimes my eyes go fuzzy because I’ve been staring at words on a page too much, so it’s nice to get out to the Queen’s Sport centre or for a walk through Botanic Gardens. Or you can go out to Limelight and forget you have deadlines breathing down your neck for the night.
Find out more about studying English at Queen's
BA English | 2nd year | Manchester, England
I’m 20 years old and originally from Manchester, now in my second year at Queens studying English. I’m obsessed with cats, cooking programmes and spending money on pointless things I don’t need. I am a member of QUB Ladies Rowing, I work at Belfast Waterfront and I love eating out (or anything food related).
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