How To Succeed In English Lit Without Really Trying

In my sophomore year at Miami University (of Ohio), I made the decision to become an English Literature major. I didn’t choose it because I’m passionate about the role feminism plays in Restoration Literature or because I wanted to understand why Foucault is a part of the literary canon; rather, I chose it because I knew it’d be an easy row to hoe for a right-brained girl like me, leaving plenty of time for the important things in life (i.e. playing Snood and learning how to beatbox).

I was frequently told by friends and fellow Lit students that I was the worst English major ever, perhaps because I never finished (nor rarely ever started) the literature I was assigned in class. You might be asking yourself why I chose to major in English if I wasn’t planning on doing any of the work, and in your question you have found the answer: I wasn’t planning on doing any work. If you are inclined to do the same, I have some tips for you.  Read on to see how you, too, can succeed in English without really trying.

1. Learn how to bullsh*t

If you want to be an English major (and actually do semi-well), this skill is a non-negotiable. You must learn to spin intricate yet nonsensical webs of analysis that make it seem like you know what you’re talking about, though no one can be sure. The best way to go about this is to half-listen to your classmates, appropriate their thoughts and recast them as your own, and then use every ten-dollar word you’ve ever come across.


Teacher: “Who can explain the relevance of the pinecones in chapter 24?”

Lit Major: Wait. There are pinecones somewhere in this book? I thought it was about a dystopian society run by misogynistic robots… at least that’s what the cover would suggest. What was that last girl saying about pregnancy and grandfather clocks?

Teacher: “No one? How about you, Lit Major?”

Lit Major: Wipe that blank ass look off your face and pull it together. “Well, in their most natural form, pinecones resemble eggs, which could allude to the infertility of the protagonist. They also come into play several times in the chapter, and are always discussed in conjunction with the grandfather clock from chapter two… this might suggest the author’s disjointed relationship with the construct of time.”

Teacher: “Interesting take on that passage, Lit Major. Anything else?”

Lit Major: “Um, pinecones also come from nature and are most ubiquitous in the spring, which could symbolize some sort of rebirth for the ancillary characters… ?

Teacher: “Well done. Moving on, we can see in chapter 17 that blah blah blah…”

Lit Major: Booooooom. Back to Angry Birds.

2. The Period Trick

Let’s say you have a 15-page essay due tomorrow on the various works of Virginia Woolf.  It’s three in the morning and you’ve finally finished, but you’ve only got ten pages of analysis. Guess what: you’re done. Slap a conclusion on that sucker and call it a day (night?). But how?! Pay attention: Go to Edit. Select “Find.” Type in a “.” Select “Find All.” At this point, all of the periods in your document should be highlighted. Go to your font size, and change it from 12 to 16.

Say hello to your 15-page essay.

3. Make use of a thesaurus

Hear this now: no English Lit major can possibly survive college without the use of a thesaurus. Besides being able to verbally spar during in-class discussions, a successful Lit major must perfect the art of the analytical essay — an area in which you will only see the fruits of your labor if you abandon your everyday vocabulary lexicon.

Seeing as said lexicon is generally strengthened fortified through reading the literature assigned in your classes (which, being the slacker that you are, you obviously won’t be doing) you must warm to the idea notion of replacing weak inadequate words with better more purposeful ones. Here is where your thesaurus comes in.

Using normal quotidian words in your writing is the fastest way to be labeled as an idiot ignoramus for the entirety of your college career. On the other hand Conversely, using words people have never heard of will suggest that you are smart erudite and well-read scholarly. Not only will you fool bamboozle your teacher into thinking you read pore over the dictionary for fun, you’ll likely outshine your classmates with your huge Brobdingnagian arsenal of synonyms.

4. Use your time wisely

If someone told you that you had to physically read books — as in cover to cover — in order to graduate with a BA in English Literature, that person was either (a) an English teacher or (b) an overachiever. One of the things I learned in college is that English teachers are seemingly ignorant to the fact that you’re in more than one class per semester. They love to assign anywhere from 50 to 150 pages of reading as homework, which, assuming you’re taking a full course load, means you’ll be reading upwards of 200 pages per night. If you’re planning on having some semblance of a social life, there is a simple solution: don’t do the reading. At least, don’t do all of it.

Do you have a class discussion tomorrow on pages 1-150 of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man? Pick ONE chapter, read (or skim) it, and then spend five minutes thinking of something mildly interesting or intuitive to say about it. That way it looks like you read, and you’ll knock out a class participation requirement. The same goes for papers — choose a topic or theme that is contained in only a few chapters of a book, read those chapters, and you’ll be as informed as you need to be to write a well-thought-out essay.

And there you have it. Succeeding in English without really trying can be done by anyone lazy enough to give it a go — take it from me, Marielle Wakim (BA in English Literature, Miami University, Class of 2009; Masters of Professional Writing candidate, University of Southern California, May 2012). TC mark


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  • Cool story

    You sound intelligent

    • Asdf

      Cee Ess mother-fuckin’ comma Bee.

      • Jake

        Eh mother-fuckin’ plus comment ASDF

  • Mama Nervosa

    Being an English major is mostly about bullshit, even though I did learn a ton from and deeply enjoy several of my classes. Grad school for English is the same but worse. When my husband finished his MA, he listed it as a degree in “unemployable bullshitology” on facebook.

  • Trotl

    Wow, you just made yourself sound very ‘intelligent’.

  • Nishant

    Now isn’t that going to bring a smug smile to the faces of engineering students (like myself)!

    • Jake

      oh my god it’s as if a blatant stereotype of every person i’ve encountered in college is present on here

  • Raja

    Do you want to be congratulated for this or something?

  • Gwest

    Lovely. You’re the epitome of everything that’s wrong with the discipline. You’re the product of shitty high school teachers who had the same attitude you had in college. You know how there’s always that one kid in class who always has something to say? Do you know how much goddamn pressure is put on people who actually enjoy working by people who are too fucking lazy to work or contribute?

    Yes, I am an overachiever if you want to call fulfilling the minimum requirements “overachieving”. Frankly, I call it trying to actually get something out of my education in a field that I’m pretty damn good at. 

    • Nishant

      “Do you know how much goddamn pressure is put on people who actually enjoy working by people who are too fucking lazy to work or contribute?”

      I haven’t studied in an arts college. But in my 6+ years of college life  (and counting), I have never encountered this. What exactly do you mean, self-righteous minimum-requirements-meeter? That, by the way, isn’t something to be proud of either. Especially if you’re saying you’re “pretty damn good” at it.

      • Guest

        At a liberal arts college, when you have your discussion section for humanities classes you usually discuss the reading material assigned from the previous class in order to foster ideas for term papers and such.  When only one person has actually done the reading other than the Professor it’s pretty frustrating for that person.  Not to mention that the other 20-40 students in the class are going to leech their term paper ideas from your critical thinking.

      • Boo

        Or worse — the discussion section, lecture, or seminar may contain a significant participation requirement for the grade. There’s nothing worse than sitting through hours of people tossing out transparent, pretentious comments because they haven’t read the material. When you bullshit, you really make the class suck for everyone.

    • Lynette Cheong

      “Pretty damn good at”?

      That’s a lot of superlatives, son. Maybe try to be more convincing that you’re a ‘good’ English student instead of littering cuss words in your thoroughly convincing argument..

  • Student-Teacher

    I wonder if you’ve ever talked with your professors about why they teach what they teach, and why they decided to do it the way they did (or even, what they hoped you would gain from the readings and lectures). You may be surprised. 

    I had a nice giggle reading this article, as I am an English literature major myself. However, I am disappointed at the thought that readers may be encouraged to bullshit their way through their degrees (or discouraged, as I was, to think that degrees should be awarded to ‘scholars’ who never put in a day of deep consideration about their education). 

    Your education is what you make of it. If you decide to spend those 4, 5, 6 years of your life just skimming through, maybe you shouldn’t be in school.

  • Anonymous

    You go to Miami University of Ohio. Maybe that’s why English is bullshit there.  It’s not even a good school.

    • Wow

      What planet are you from that you think Miami isn’t a good school? 

      • Youaredumb

        intelligent person’s planet yoooo

  • J.

    This is embarrassing for you, and I have a news flash: you didn’t actually fool anybody.

  • yadrebma

    hilarious and oh so true

  • guestin'away

    As an english major, this is basically my life. What am I doing with my life?

    • Asdf

      Don’t you see? You’re just guestin’ away on the ephemeral tide of TC’s comments. Ain’t got no other care in the world but these here bits and bytes.

    • Asdf

      I will also say that “Guestin’ Away” is a fantastic username. Well played.

  • PenPoint Editorial

    As a former English Lit major in college, I can wholeheartedly say this article was hilarious and very true. 

    Thanks for the laugh.

  • gabyxcore

    This is exactly how I spend every single class I take as an English Lit major. 

  • Alyssa Reget

    No mention of the SparkNotes?  Saved my ass so many times.

  • Guest

    The attitude expressed in this article is a wonderful example of the primary problem with our ADD generation. If this is your attitude towards your undergraduate degree, good luck being successful after college.  And I’m sorry but if you can’t read 200 pages of a typical book in a night with time to spare (save people with learning disabilities), you need to seriously reconsider your priorities in life.

    Things like this make me seriously wonder if we’re transitioning from a
    industrial/financial based economy to a blogger/Starbucks barrista based

    • -Billy-

      Oh god, calm down.

      • -Billy-

        Whoops, clearly just entered the wrong email address. Sorry to whoever that picture belongs to!

    • Aelya

      Actually, what also needs a serious revamp aside from our attitudes, which are actually a result of several years of being taught a certain way, is the education system. Sorry, if the classes I take are costing me $500-$700 on average, and I’m not leaving them inspired, or even just a little more learned, I’m not really going to be feeling warm and fuzzy about things. And besides you really should prioritize where your efforts go. Speaking as an English major, I’d much sooner give the assignments in my Study of War class (because the material is so much more relevant) than to my American Lit class where the prof just went on about the most useless things.

      That’s not to say that English Lit as a subject of study should be eradicated, but I feel like we should move beyond the British canon and certain periods of the American canon, and really, really focus on newer things.

      Also, English really needs to do more integration with Cultural Studies. God, that would be so good.

      Enough Beowulf, pls. 

    • Eric Rieper

      wonderful example of what a fucking sham Universities are. The priorities of our education system are all screwed up, so of course people are going to become disimpassioned by their second semester.

  • Guest

    Whoa, tough crowd here! Take it with a pinch of salt. I’m currently studying lit and it is scientifically (sorta) proven by my A* that a gal cannot survive lit without a little bullshit.

  • Anonymous

    I laughed a bit, but then I thought of all the woefully underprivileged who don’t have college opportunity no matter how much they wish for it, and then I just felt really bad for them.

  • Amanda

    All of this. ESPECIALLY the period trick – as an English writing major, I used that all the time!

  • Kai

    Hi Mareille I student come from the Southeast of Asia, looking about American degree. After read your articles I am decide, to go Miami in the United States for degree in English. It sound fun and frank I do not want to studying all day, prefer parties and the hot female accompaniment. Thank for the tip and I hope graduate with honorables.

  • JEReich

    I found this article amusing (who DOESN’T use a thesaurus while writing a paper?), but I have to say that as someone who has TAed/taught classes, we  know what you’re doing.  You’re not fooling any of us.

  • Dissapointed


  • Gregory Costa

    If you don’t like your major, you don’t quit.  You just go in every day and do it really half-assed.  That’s the American way!

  • Guest

    If this works for you, then I’m sorry for you since you must be taking bullshit classes with bullshit professors who are teaching bullshit material. It’s impossible to bullshit a good professor, and if you’re any kind of worthwhile human being then you will be thankful for the ones who won’t accept it.

  • Eman

    This article is great. Self-professed cheater here (all throughout high school & college…I probably learned more through cheating than actually studying). Shortcuts & favoritism are the key to success, especially in the workplace. It’s sadly true.

  • Margs

    Story of my junior year (in high school).

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