How to Pass English 101 in College
Published on May 20, 2020
What Is English 101?
Introductory writing courses like English 101 are required at colleges across the nation. The class is a pillar of any school's core curriculum and polishes skills like analysis, argumentation, and communication through the written word.
The ability to investigate ideas in clear, concise language is an essential skill — not just in college, but in the workplace as well. Outlets like The Hill and Inside Higher Ed have pushed back against the narrative that liberal arts educations don't offer financial value to graduates, noting that the skills students develop in classes like English 101 have become highly desirable in the workplace.
Harvard Business Review argues that the current push to make college majors more like vocational training will rob students of the opportunity to become lifelong learners, ultimately stunting their growth as professionals.
As a teacher of introductory-level English courses myself, I can attest to the importance of these classes. English 101 prepares students for later coursework, challenges their critical thinking skills, and equips them with the tools to write about complex topics with nuance and depth.
Is English 101 Hard?
For many students, especially those who have struggled in their previous writing courses, a class like college English 101 can seem scary. English 101 teachers often assign challenging texts that students are expected to read, analyze, and discuss. Their assignments include long academic papers that may require references to a variety of sources. For students who define themselves as "bad writers," this may sound like a nightmare.
But it's important to keep in mind the benefits of this class: The syllabus is designed to help you communicate your own ideas while learning how other people think about complex topics. If you engage actively in the classroom, you'll learn how to read those challenging texts with ease, and by the time the semester ends, you'll be equipped with the tools to explain yourself not just in other classes but in the real world, too.
Before the start of class, it can be helpful to understand what an English 101 college class is not. Perhaps the biggest misconception students have entering English 101 is that it will operate like their high school English classes — this is, generally speaking, not the case.
Perhaps the biggest misconception students have entering English 101 is that it will operate like their high school English classes — this is, generally speaking, not the case.
High school English teachers are often required to shape their curricula around various standardized tests, while college English instructors are given more freedom to create courses that encourage students to explore ideas through writing. This means the kinds of writing you'll be asked to do will probably be outside your comfort zone.
It's also important to note that most colleges and universities discourage their English 101 instructors from teaching grammar, so this isn't a class that specifically sharpens your knowledge of punctuation or verb tenses, though you may still be graded for how well you conform to proper language conventions.
Ultimately, keep in mind that introductory writing classes can be a valuable experience — regardless of your major — if you're willing to put in the effort and deepen your critical thinking.
English 101 Study Guide
Considering many students are enrolled in four or five classes simultaneously, devoting yourself to every class fully can be challenging. With that in mind, below I've provided some quick tips for how to pass English 101 with ease.
Tip 1: Essential Writing Skills
Compare these two sentences:
"A man by the name of Bill Gates was responsible for the creation of Microsoft"
"Bill Gates founded Microsoft."
Tip 2: Basic Grammar
As stated earlier, college English 101 classes generally don't focus on grammar. Studying up on some basic concepts is an easy way to give your writing a professional air (and possibly impress your instructor, too).
I bought an iPhone, Apple Watch, and Macbook.
"Ghosts aren't real," Elizabeth said, suggesting she doesn't believe in the supernatural.
If he were guilty of the crime, he wouldn't have a solid alibi.
It's tiny details like these that often become the pet peeves of writing teachers, who may choose to knock points off your grade as a result.
Tip 3: Crafting an Academic Essay
Academic writing is a very specific style of writing that usually requires a formal tone. For many writing teachers, this formality rules out the use of contractions, slang, and the first-person point of view (i.e., sentences using "I"). Try to avoid sounding conversational in your academic writing. For example, an essay filled with sentences such as, "I don't personally agree with a bunch of the stuff in that guy's argument," will likely result in a lower grade for sounding too casual.
Your essays should also have well-defined thesis statements. A thesis statement appears near the beginning of a piece of writing and clearly communicates the argument you'll make over the course of your paper. The thesis statement serves as a guide for your reader — it helps them understand exactly what you intend to say — but it also helps you maintain focus as you complete your essay.
Everything you include in your essay — every point you make, every source you incorporate — should support the thesis statement. As you reread your assignments, look for paragraphs that don't connect specifically to the thesis: How can they be altered (or deleted) to more directly relate to the main idea of your essay?
Tip 4: Use Sources Thoughtfully
Many English 101 college writing assignments ask you to incorporate sources. It's important to make good use of sources to support your own ideas. If done properly, integrating outside sources can demonstrate to your reader that you have done your research and aren't pulling ideas out of thin air.
When doing academic research, not every source carries equal weight. Often, college English 101 instructors will require you to incorporate academic sources (research published in scholarly journals), so familiarize yourself with your school's library research databases. Beyond these sources, pay attention to issues of credibility. Avoid sources with extreme political bias or websites that don't themselves use sources.
Citing where you find your information is crucial because not properly crediting the work of others in your own writing is plagiarism. Colleges and universities take plagiarism very seriously, and students in college English 101 classes who don't provide the sources they used in writing their essays can fail those assignments or be evaluated by academic dishonesty committees, who might decide that the student should fail the entire class or even be asked to leave the school. This is true across courses — always make sure to use citations in your work!
Different courses will require different citation styles: Some English 101 college classes may ask you to cite your sources in MLA, APA, or Chicago, while others may require you to use different styles over the course of the semester. Whichever style you use, make sure that you adhere to the rules of citation, both in the text of your essay and in the bibliography at the end. Improper citation can be considered a form of plagiarism, and some instructors treat it as the same kind of academic integrity violation — with the same potential consequences — as not citing the work at all.
Tip 5: Responding to Feedback
After you turn in your essay, your college English 101 instructor will grade it and provide feedback. Pay attention to what your instructors are saying in their feedback, as it often reveals the key to getting a better grade on subsequent assignments. Look especially for big-picture concerns your instructor has: Did your essay respond appropriately to the assignment prompt? Did you communicate your ideas clearly?
Don't be afraid to start a conversation with your instructor about the feedback you received, especially if you don't understand what their comments mean. Take advantage of office hours — all instructors are required to hold them, and many of them never see a single student all semester. In office hours, your English 101 teacher can take the time to focus on you and your writing individually, talk through their comments, and provide you with concrete suggestions for how to improve your writing.
If your instructor allows you to revise assignments and resubmit papers, discussing feedback at length is especially valuable because it allows you to prioritize a set of revisions that can improve your grade.
English 101 Books
- "They Say / I Say": "They Say / I Say" is a classic English 101 textbook assigned in classrooms across the country. It provides clear explanations of how to formulate academic writing and includes helpful templates that integrate other sources, which students can use as springboards for writing.
- "The Elements of Style": Strunk and White's book is also a staple of the college English 101 classroom. It's chock-full of no-nonsense explanations of grammar conventions and can prove especially helpful for writers whose understanding of the technical rules of English is underdeveloped.
- "The Norton Field Guide to Writing": This textbook is also commonly assigned in introductory writing courses at universities. The book comes in several versions, including one with a handbook at the end that breaks down common grammar mistakes with examples and explanations.