If you have trouble understanding William Shakespeare’s work, you should try reading them out loud, listening to audiobooks, or watching the plays on YouTube. This is one of many useful tips from Hong Kong’s top scorer in the Cambridge International English Literature A Level, Simone Morris.
The 18-year-old Kellett School graduate was honoured with the Outstanding Cambridge Learner Award for her thorough comprehension and critical analysis of English literary masterpieces, such as Shakespeare’s Richard II, Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights, and William Butler Yeats’ poetry.
“Literature in the form of novels, plays, or poems, gives us an understanding of the human condition,” said the University of Sydney first-year student, who is majoring in English, as well as immunology and pathology.
“It is a pure expression of how people interact with the world around them,” Simone told Young Post.
She grew up reading J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories and developed a taste for books with elements of magical realism. One of her all-time favourite writers of this genre, she said, is the 1982 Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
“He has an amazing capacity to create disorientating and fascinating texts full of symbolism and strangeness,” she said.
“I’ve loved reading since I was little,” she added. “But I really started to love English literature towards the end of GCSEs wn we started analysing literature more critically.”
But it took more than passion for the subject to succeed in the A Level exam. Simone practised writing a comprehensive literature analysis under time pressure by doing numerous mock essays.
“One of the challenges I faced was keeping to the time limit, [including time for] proofreading my essays” Simone said. “Reading them backwards helped me to spot my errors better.”
Another obstacle she had to overcome was memorising as many quotes as she could that would show her knowledge and understanding of the set texts in the exam. “I [remember having] sticky notes stuck all around my room and the house for months,” she said.
Simone’s advice for students taking the English Literature exam in the future is to start memorising early and to be economical with what you choose to memorise.
“Try to find quotes that you can use for more than one theme or point,” she suggested.
To deepen her understanding of certain plays, Simone said she would watch videos of them being performed on stage, instead of just studying the scripts.
“It’s important to view them as works of theatre … and think about staging, as well as how directors in the past have approached the text.”
For those hoping to find sources to strengthen their arguments while training their critical thinking muscles, she recommends reading scholarly analyses of the set texts. “They were really useful materials to backup or challenge my ideas. Reading them helped me to write in that formal style as well,” she said, adding that the digital library Jstor is a great database to go to for these academic journals.
Simone has always been more of a reader than a writer, but she is planning to put pen to paper more often in the future.
“I have joined The University of Sydney publication called Pulp, and I’ll be writing some articles for them soon,” she said. Perhaps, one day, Simone’s work will be in the English Literature exam, too.