How to Pass English 101 in College

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  • Many colleges require new students to take an introductory English 101 course.
  • English 101 classes help develop students' communication and academic writing skills.
  • Passing English 101 means knowing how to write concisely and with correct grammar.
  • You should also know how to set up an effective thesis statement and find reliable sources.

Many U.S. colleges and universities require introductory writing courses like English 101. A curriculum staple, English 101 — sometimes called writing 101, English composition, or a number of similar names — helps students polish crucial skills like analysis and argumentation.

As a teacher of introductory-level English courses, I can attest to the importance of these classes. English 101 prepares students for upper-level coursework, hones their critical thinking and communication skills, and equips them with the tools to write about complex topics with both nuance and depth. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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What Is English 101?

One of the biggest misconceptions students often have about English 101 is that it will operate in the same way as their high school English classes.

High school English teachers are usually required to shape their curricula around standardized tests, while college English instructors have more freedom to create courses that encourage students to explore concepts through writing. This means that the kinds of writing you'll be asked to do in English 101 will likely be outside your comfort zone.

You should also know that most colleges discourage their English 101 instructors from teaching grammar. This isn't a class meant to sharpen your knowledge of punctuation or verb tenses.

While English 101 might seem intimidating, the class provides many benefits for students. The syllabus is designed to help you communicate your own ideas while learning how other people express complex topics and thoughts. By the end of the course, you should know how to analyze challenging texts and write well-supported arguments with confidence.

5 Useful Tips for Passing English 101 in College

Here are some quick tips to help you pass your college English composition class with ease.

1. Hone Your Writing Skills

Writing well means writing concisely, clearly, and effectively.

  • Concision

    As you write, focus on communicating your ideas in the fewest words possible. Too often students stretch out every sentence in an effort to hit the assignment's minimum word count — and it shows.

  • Clarity

    Explain your thinking clearly. Concision is part of this — extra words can clutter a sentence so much that it becomes challenging to understand. Clarity also means stating your ideas plainly and logically. Use writing tricks and tools like topic sentences at the beginning of each paragraph to help readers follow your thinking.

  • Organization

    Each paragraph in an essay should explore a specific idea, whether it's an additional point in your argument, a new concept you want to introduce, or another element you wish to analyze.

    Paragraphs should also proceed logically, even if one is making a different point from the one before it. For example, you might present a new perspective in one paragraph that responds to a point you made in the paragraph directly preceding it.

2. Learn Basic Grammar

As mentioned previously, English 101 classes generally don't focus on grammar. Knowing the basic rules and conventions is one easy way to impress your instructor.

  • Quotations and Punctuation Marks

    In American English, commas and periods always go inside quotation marks, even if they're not part of the original source material. Meanwhile, colons and semicolons go outside quotation marks. Question marks and exclamation points may go inside or outside a quotation depending on whether they're part of the original source material.

  • Subjunctive Mood

    One easy way to make your writing look more sophisticated is to master the use of "were" when describing hypothetical situations. "If I/he/she were" is the technically correct construction of the more common "If I/he/she was."

  • Commas

    Commas can be confusing, so be sure you know how to properly use them. Avoid comma splices, which happens when two sentences are joined together by a comma (instead of being separated by a period or joined with a semicolon). Students also often throw commas between random words, especially after conjunctions like "and" and "or," but this is incorrect.

3. Know How to Craft a Compelling Essay

Academic writing requires a formal tone, which usually rules out the use of contractions, slang, and the first-person point of view (i.e., sentences using "I" or "me").

One of the most common errors students make in their essay introductions is starting way too broad before narrowing. This leads to papers opening with statements like "Since the dawn of time, humans have been inventing new technologies." Instead, open with a sentence that provides relevant context.

Your essays should also have a well-defined thesis statement. This statement appears near the beginning of a paper and clearly communicates the main argument you'll make. It also serves as a guide for the reader, helping them understand what you intend to say and how you'll say it.

Everything you include in your essay should support this thesis statement. As you reread your paper, look for paragraphs that don't connect to your thesis. How can these sections be altered or improved to more directly relate to the crux of your essay?

4. Use Sources Thoughtfully

It's important to use reliable sources to support your ideas. When done properly, integrating sources demonstrates that you've done your research and aren't simply pulling ideas out of thin air.

However, not every source carries equal weight. Academic sources, or research published in scholarly journals, is usually a necessity for English 101 papers, so familiarize yourself with your school's databases. You should also pay attention to credibility — avoid sources with extreme political bias or websites without sources or links to back up their claims.

Citing where you find information is crucial as well. Not properly crediting the work of others is considered plagiarism. Colleges take plagiarism extremely seriously, and if you don't clarify what sources you used, you can fail the assignment or course. In some cases, you may be dismissed from the school altogether.

Different courses require different citation styles, such as MLA, APA, and Chicago. Whichever style you use, make sure you adhere to the rules of citation, both in the text of your essay and in the bibliography or works cited.

5. Build Upon Feedback

After you turn in an essay, your English 101 instructor will grade it and offer feedback. Your professor's comments often reveal the key to getting a better grade on future assignments. Try to look for big-picture concerns. For instance, did your essay answer the prompt? Did you communicate your ideas clearly and cogently?

Don't be afraid to start a conversation with your instructor about the feedback you received by meeting with them during their office hours. Discussing feedback is valuable because it lets you prioritize a set of revisions that can improve your grade.

Additional English 101 Resources

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