How to Study for a Test on a Literary Work by eNotes

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How to Study for a Test on a Literary Work

When being tested on a literary work, you are demonstrating your understanding of a text. What your teacher or professor looks for in a literary examination is your comprehension of various literary elements. When studying for a test on a literary work, focus on the details and devices employed by the author rather than rereading the whole work again. Before you start, gather any notes, activities, or guides that may be useful to review.

Let’s look at 11 tips designed to help you prepare for a test on a literary work.

1.) Read the entire work

Do not wait until the last minute to read what you’re being tested on. You probably won’t have time to reread all the material you will be expected to know. Therefore, allow yourself enough time to process what you have read and ask your teachers any questions before you start studying. By the time you’re ready to study, you want to have a basic understanding of the text  so that you can spend more time reviewing specific details and literary devices that may appear on the test.

2.) Create an outline

Create an outline of the plot that highlights the rising action, the climax, and falling action of the story. This will be a handy reference while you study so that you can keep track of the series of events and what characters are involved.  

For example, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the rising action is the meeting of the young lovers, the climax is their mutual deaths, and the falling action is the realization by all involved that they too were responsible for the lovers’ tragedy.

3.) Note the characters’ roles

Start by identifying the protagonist(s) and antagonist(s) of the story. The protagonist is the leading character in a literary work. She is the advocate or champion of a particular cause or idea. The antagonist is the main character’s chief opponent. Both of these characters will have different objectives and it’s important to know who they are and what they want.

For example, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is the protagonist and Roger Chillingworth is the antagonist. Chillingworth is the main impediment to Hester Prynne’s happiness. He represents the stern moral values of Puritanism, whereas Hester relies on her own internal moral compass and her personal relationship with God.

Once you’ve identified the protagonist and antagonist, you should make a note of any other major or minor characters that influence the plot. In literary works with a bunch of characters, like Shakespeare’s plays, there’s often a character list at the beginning of the text. It may be useful to create a character map or list that showcases the characters’ relationship throughout the text.

4.) Identify major conflicts

Most plots center around a conflict that is internal or external. Conflict can enhance the readers’ understanding of specific characters and what drives the storyline. There is often more than one type of conflict taking place at the same time.

The four major types of conflict include:

  • Person versus Person - One character against another
  • Person versus Nature - Character(s) against the forces of nature
  • Person versus Society - Values and customs of the majority being challenged by an individual
  • Person versus Self - A character with an internal conflict

For example, in William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, we have several different conflicts happening at the same time. Ralph and Jack continually engage in conflict throughout the novel. Ralph is initially elected as the leader of the boys and attempts to establish a civil society on the island; Jack, on the other hand, opposes Ralph and gains support from other boys on the island who want to hunt and rest rather than completing necessary tasks. Although these characters may oppose each other, both of these boys are also in conflict with nature. Trapped on an uninhabited island, all of the boys are forced to build shelters and find food in order to survive.    

5.) Detect what actions develop from...

(The entire section is 1,413 words.)