We all want college to be relatively straightforward, and incredibly fair. Unfortunately, combining complicated literature and professors’ intense egos, it’s hard to know what you’re getting when you sign up for Nineteenth Century Literature. If your teacher expects more from you than the standard read, write, and listen, here are a few tips for catching his or her eye and earning that A.

SparkNotes & CliffsNotes

You should always read the book. Always. There will be questions like, “In what part of the book did the following scene occur?” So you should always read the book. However, if you want to stand out, you should also read some of the CliffsNotes and SparkNotes resources. Skip the summaries, and just skim the sections about Motifs, Themes, Symbols, Important Quotations, and Analyses of the Major Characters. You’ll be surprised how much stuff other people see in these books that you never noticed, and it will also teach you how to glean this information from the fancy literature on your own.

Office Hours

When it comes to some subjects, there is nothing more important than visiting your professor during office hours. Whether you’re in a 400-person lecture hall or a 9-person cubby, developing a relationship with your literature professor is the best way to not only get on his or her radar, but to also show respect. Your professor is in this position after spending 8-10 years studying literature. That may seem unbelievable to you, but this is your professor’s passion, and showing respect for his or her passion is a great way to curry favor.

Take Notes While Reading

Many people take notes when reading textbooks, but not while reading classic novels. You know when you watch TV and a character makes a joke about a celebrity or Dungeons and Dragons, or even the latest pop star? It’s an easy joke because everyone knows who Justin Bieber is. The same is true for classical literature. Readers then were scholars, and they would try to impress each other with their allusions to other authors or political issues. If you don’t know a reference, you might assume incorrectly. Take notes when you come to quotes, comments, and references of places or people, then look it up or ask your teacher in class. They often refer to other books written in the same time frame, and will help set up the mood of the book. Then you can say smart things like, “I really enjoyed how the author used references from Jane Eyre to explain the situation in his book so concisely…”

Research Your Professor

This is the sneakiest and smartest way to work yourself into your Professor’s heart. You want to find out exactly what caught her eye back in graduate school, and find out what the topic of her thesis was. Then work that into your first paper or assignment in some way. It’s a bit on the sneaky side, but it’s a sure way to stand out among 400 other students.

Remember, many liberal arts courses are graded more subjectively than science and math, so it’s important to understand what your teacher is asking you, and what answer your teacher wants. It’s not always black and white in literature, so follow these tips and you’ll find your way through the gray.

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