How to: prepare for an English degree!

Published by Courteney
on 20/05/2020

Welcome back to the blog everyone!

This week’s blog post is for those of you looking forward to studying English (mainly literature) next academic year at UoB.

Why did I choose English?
English is such a rewarding subject to study and truly provides you with a wide range of transferable skills that you can apply to your working life to come. I am leaning toward working in the journalism sector so English with Creative writing was the perfect course for me whilst also allowing me to appreciate literary traditions and novels that I would have been too intimidated to read before. Of course, I really enjoy reading and writing and this is essential when choosing English or any of the humanities to study at degree level.

How can I prepare for my English degree?
Reading lists
Obviously the first thing to do to get ahead for the academic year is to get ahead on your reading lists. Though they differ from year to year and sometimes the lists aren’t released until the summer it is often worth asking someone in the year above or emailing the department for a list of potential texts. My course has one prose module in first year comprised of two longer novels (Robinson Crusoe and Pride and Prejudice) followed by six shorter novels (The Yellow Wallpaper, The Turn of the Screw, Mrs Dalloway, Untouchable, Giovanni’s Room and Time lived without its flow). Having to read eight novels altogether quickly becomes immensely challenging (especially when you have other priorities too) so getting ahead and making sure you have brought a copy of the books and perhaps read to or three of them will put you at an advantage. I wouldn’t suggest reading them all over summer as you may have your prose module in second semester and have forgotten everything you have read by the time it comes around, however getting a head start on a few will be useful.

Useful apps and websites
World of books
As I have mentioned, getting ahead by buying your books ahead of time is very useful so you aren’t scrambling around the night before overpaying on Amazon. Some of the books we study are quite obscure and so the traditional book retailers (Amazon and Waterstones) tend to hike the prices up. Instead of using these retailers I always go to to source my texts and actually got 5 of the eight novels I needed from the site for no more than £4 each which is a considerable saving when the standard price for a Waterstones or Amazon book is £7.99. Be sure to check that they have minimal markings, or they can come pre-annotated but for the most part the quality as well as the money saving is very appealing.

Audio book apps and websites are a must for me, especially when having to juggle so many books over a short period of time (a book a week). Although I am a fast reader it is so much more convenient to have a book playing through your earphones on a walk or a busy train and would be super useful on a commute in a car as you can complete your reading whilst doing a menial task. It also allows you to listen at double speed which is useful if you’re finding the book boring or are in a time crunch. Unfortunately, I don’t think Audible offers student discount and it doesn’t have some of the more obscure books on my reading list but it is a super useful resource to have, though one I only pay for when I’m actually going to use it as it can be quite expensive (£7.99 a month).

Microsoft word
Obviously, every university student has to write a lot of essays and Microsoft word is pretty much an essential and comes free as part of being a student of UoB and allows you to download onto quite a few devices.

Google Docs
Another useful website and app for essay writing is Google Docs which has saved my life so many times with its autosave feature. As long as you are connected to the internet Google Docs will save your work as you go along and allows you to easily conduct group projects and share with friends.

How long to read
This website is a new one for me and was suggested by my prose seminar leader. Basically, this website tells you how long it will take you to read a book based on your reading speed which it assesses with a short test of how quickly you read a short extract. It is a useful website that allows you to plan your reading ahead of time and devote the suggested number of hours to reading.

Cite this for me
This might possibly be the most useful of the websites I can suggest and has saved me on quite a few occasions. Basically, you can create a reference for any book, journal or website within a minute by inputting the information it asks you for, offering a wide range of referencing styles.

Finally, the last website and app I would recommend for any English student is Goodreads which I assume a lot of you probably already interact with. Personally, I have had my account since I was about 12 and it allows me to keep track of all the books I have been reading and is really enjoyable to look back upon, more for nostalgic than academic purposes.

Lastly, I am going to provide a simple list of the bare necessities you will need stationary wise to study English.

(Excludes laptop, PC, tablet)

  •  Black pens
  •  Highlighters
  •  Post its
  •  Index flags
  •  Four lever arch files (amount depending if you are double or single honours)
  •  Polly pockets
  •  Lined paper
  •  Hole Punch
  •  Stapler
  •  General use notebook

That concludes my list of essentials you need to study and prepare for an English degree. I like to keep things cheap so most of this list should be free or cheaper than the alternative.

I hope this has helped anyone studying English next year!

Stay safe,


@CourteneyUoB on Instagram!