It's probably not good for your grade point average when your blue book essay that is part of a literary exam on "Moby Dick" begins, "This is a great story about a fish." If you're a literature major, studying for an exam is easy because it's your passion. If you're an engineering student trying to pass an English requirement, it can be more painful than dental extraction. But there are some tricks. Read on to learn more.

Find out what kind of test it will be--multiple choice, essay or both.

Read the book covered in the test. If you discover that it is 800 pages long, it is the night prior to the exam, and you've only finished half of the dedication, invest in "Cliffnotes" for the book. If it's Sunday night and the bookstore is closed, go to the Sparknotes website. These are synopses of the literature's major works.

Learn the names and a brief history of the book's characters. Identify who the book's main character is. It's not always the person telling the story. For example, in "Moby Dick," Ishmael tells the story, but Captain Ahab is the novel's central character.

Study the plot line of the book--the basic history of events. Be able to tell the story in your own words, adding as much detail as you are able. Once you know the story, you will be able to hang its events onto a theme.

Know what your professor considers a work's central theme to be. If you are not sure, befriend a literature major and beg for that information. If your professor thinks that "Crime an Punishment" has nothing to do with suffering and redemption and you write an essay about only those issues, you're in deep.

Spend most of your time learning the book's details if the test is to be multiple choice. The study guides are of enormous help in this regard.

Write a practice essay if there is to be an essay part of the exam. Center the essay on what your professor thinks are the book's important features. Praise the insight involved in defining those features, and regardless of what the essay question is, weave the elements of your practice essay into your answer.


  • If your book is a Russian historical narrative that has 593 characters all of whose names have 16 or more letters in them, don't panic. Use your source, Cliffnotes or whatever it may be, to identify as many characters as you can remember until the test but make sure you have a simple concept attached to their names. For example, in "Crime and Punishment," Sofiya Semyonovna Marmelodov = Sonia = good hearted prostitute.