How to Study Novel? Notes for BA, MA, NTA NET & PhD

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how to study a novel English literature BA MA PhD notes

Studying anything for students up to class 10 and 12 (Indian system) is different from studying anything for BA or MA course. You need to score marks, however, at every level. This is the only common goal. So, in short, approaches to study should change but the purpose of study remains the same – you need to score as many marks as you can. In this article, I will discuss how to study a novel. This article will have different sections. How to study novels for BA English literature? How to study novels for MA English literature? How to study novels while you are a research scholar writing your PhD thesis? Are you ready? Please read the article carefully until the last line and let me know if you have any questions. You can ask, suggest, advise or critique in the comments section.

The BEST Approach that works for ALL: 

  1. Start reading a novel with the aim to finish it
  2. Keep taking notes such as names of the characters as they appear on the scene, nature of the characters, major relationships between characters, protagonist(s) and antagonist(s), supporting characters and their roles, major twists in the plot, major issues as reflected in the storyline, relevant contemporary issues dealt with by the novelist, references to important historical events, any abnormal scene, character, or event, positive and negative temparaments, style of writing, major episodes of irony, romance, fate, violence, motivation, motifs of the characters, relation to the modern world, human follies, and any other thing you might consider important
  3. Make a chart that explains the storyline – for example, begins with this, he/she meets him/her, this/that happns, a/b/c thinks x/y/z, plots a revenge/surprise/proposal, revelation/climax/anticlimax
  4. Study major questions from an authentic source and the answers as well
  5. Write your own answers
  6. Depending upon your time, requirements and interest, study other novels by the novelists you have studied in your syllabus

Studying a novel: best approaches for BA English literature students:

As a BA student, you must have to cover a syllabus and prepare yourself for the examinations every year or as per your schedule (semesters). You have many options to study the novels mentioned in your syllabus and you can also innovate your ways as per your strength, interests and available time. Nevertheless, I have prepared a set of approaches that will let you decide what’s the best option for you. Here’s the list:

  1. Study the novels thoroughly: This is ideally the best option you have. Any syllabus is prepared with human prowess in mind and except for the situations that we have around us today, any student studying BA has enough time to go through all the novels mentioned in the English literature syllabus. This is also the best option because you can understand anything and everything about a novel only when you go through all the pages, experience all the events, get acquainted with all the characters with their follies and righteousness, understand all the possible plot twists, bends and turnarounds and get to know how the storyline develops, reaches its peak and treads towards a logical conclusion – climax or the anticlimax. So, the best approach for a BA student of English literature is to go through all the novels mentioned in your syllabus, from the first to the last page. Also, if you can afford and make a few extra hours for yourself, I advise you to read at least 2 extra novels by every author prescribed in your syllabus. It will allow you to understand their writing better and give you more perspectives to answer the questions asked in your examinations. In addition, do read critical comments, critical papers, various perspectives and, if possible, long questions and answers about the target novels. It will just be something called near perfection and you will be equipped not only to answer the questions but also to understand a novel with all its dimensions. And, at last, the best thing that you get by following this approach is that If you are looking to go beyond BA and do MA and PhD, you will have a very solid foundation – minus the need to read many novels. 🙂
  2. Study the vital parts, summary and critical aspects of a novel: This is for the students who are looking to end their academic journey only after a BA English literature degree and don’t have enough time to spend on their studies because of various reasons – part-time or full-time job, family issues, late-year studies or just passionate to get a literature degree. Such students can study the vital parts of a novel, prescribed by professors or selected by taking help from experts, online suggestions etc. Studying the main parts of a novel will give a well-whole idea. Also, at the same time, one has to read the whole summary of the selected novels, study major questions and answers, critical appreciation and, if possible and interest is aroused enough, some well-authenticated research papers on the target novels. This will give the BA students in a hurry the necessary expertise in dealing with tough-simple questions asked in the examinations. Well, this means what it means. The italicised part after the number 2 title is very strict!
  3. The Rapid Rabbit – might get trumped by the tortoise: This approach is for the students who just don’t have enough time! You may have spent all your months doing things that don’t matter much. You may have missed all your lectures. You may have partied hard and invested yourself in rejoicing and mourning the youthful affairs – oh, the silver-arrowed cupid, strike thou with frequent blows! First of all, invest your time studying English literature. Still, if you haven’t been able to do for some reasons you best know and want to prepare yourself for the examinations lurking over your shadow even the darkroom, I have a solution for you. A. Read all the novels’ summaries in a book, on Wiki, on other platforms, in various companions to literature. B. Study a few critical questions on the major issues related to a novel – the plot, the themes (most important), writing of the novelists. C. Watch movies directly based on the novels. You can easily get these movies on Youtube. D. Remember the names of all the major characters and their major contribution to the storyline. You might be able to get yourself in the driver’s seat. But, don’t repeat it next year. Prepare yourself with the first choice. That’s the way to go.

Studying a novel: best approaches for MA English literature students:

Do remember, it will be best to join the MA English literature course if you have studied extremely well during your BA. If you have always been the rapid rabbit, you might not find it comfortable. You will have to repeat everything, almost everything, rigorously and frequently in order to allow your thoughts to expand, accommodate enough ideas to think with liberty and analyse all the possible dimensions of a certain aspect, idea or notion. Studying novels during MA will be the pillars on which your entire career in English literature will stand. Though you study poetry and plays as well, novels are more important because this is the form of literature which is the most popular today. So, if you have been a sincere student, it becomes convenient for you. Here are the best possible approaches to study novels in you MA English literature syllabus:

  1. Read as many as you can, re-read selections, re-think, expand and write: If you have put yourself in a position where you can continually read for more than 3 hours, you are in a very good position. You should not only read all the novels prescribed in your syllabus but also read many other novels by the novelists in your syllabus and also the novelists who are not in your syllabus but closely associate with the ones you have to study academically. This practice will ensure that you don’t only master yourself in what A writes as a novelist but also how A is different from B and C. Bravo! You are preparing yourself for a very long inning in English literature. Study every possible authentic literary opinion about novels, novelists, themes, movements, school of thoughts. Also study the development of novels and the fiction conscious in an age. Read long opinions, question-answers, critical pieces, book reviews and many other things that you can find in your books, online on the internet and do discuss the same with your friends or on platforms such as India Book Club and English literature forum. Reading is compulsory. Writing is mandatory. MA is about evolving yourself to the best version!
  2. Missed it? The golden ticket – prepare with supplements, summaries and question-answers: Though you should not ideally find yourself in such a situation, but if you have missed your studies because of your reasons to justify the same, you can prepare for the examinations only. If you have extraordinary passion and zeal, you can catch up the next year. To prepare yourself for the examinations at hand, you can take help for notes, study groups, critical answers to the most predictable questions that might be asked – on themes, plots, motifs, contributions of the novelists and so on… you need to study the brief and explained summaries of the novels in your syllabus so that you can, at least, be aware of the major characters and events. Do watch movies based on novels in your MA English syllabus to get a second-hand idea and the nearest storyline. Write. WRITE. Write everything that you can and prepare questions based on the themes of the novels, major characters and their traits, and the most obvious critical questions. Elements of irony and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, role of fate in Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, Stream of consciousness in Virginia Woolf’s writings and so on…
  3. There is no option three! If you are not serious enough to study the novels prescribed in the syllabus and the option two doesn’t work for you, you should look for other choices in your academic pursuit or start with a job.

Studying a novel: best approaches for PhD English literature scholars:

Really? You are here looking for strategies to study a novel? If you are a PhD research scholar and you don’t know how to plan your studies and material collection, please resign, vacate your seat and offer it to someone who deserves it more than you! That’s my humble advice and request.


All the best, guys! Do your best and keep working hard. Literature is a very ideal way to understand oneself, others and the world. Use it wisely.


Writen by Alok Mishra for English Literature Education

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5 Comments. Leave new

  • This is very helpful article. I did not do very well in BA and I was legit worried about my MA. Somehow got admission and I do want to do well. this will help me focus and plan my studies. many thanks again,

  • This is a wonderful article! The last tip was amazing… Truly agree! If someone pursuing PhD doesn’t know how to study a novel, one should vacate the seat immediately!

  • Very good article… I wanted to read something about studying novels in BA program. This article helped me. I recommend it to everyone studying BA English literature.

  • Nirwan University, Jaipur (NUJ) has a strong commitment to high quality research and aims to enhance the professional competence of the scholars. The University offers Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) Programme to the eligible scholars, who are interested in doing research. Every candidate is expected to follow the procedures laid down for fulfilling the requirements of Ph.D. Programme of the University & University Grant Commission (UGC).

  • Wonderful post… i was worried about studying all the novels in my first-semester syllabus but this article helped me understand how can i plan my studies in a better and organised way. Thank you!


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