5 Tips for Acing Your Composition Writing Class


Falling behind in your freshman composition writing class? There’s still time to get caught up. Keep reading for helpful tips from Machias, ME tutor and English teacher Matt M...


I have taught English composition and literature for over a decade at the college level. During that time, I’ve taught at six different universities, four domestic and two abroad. Hundreds of students have passed through my English classrooms. While nothing can ensure an A, there are many easy things students can do to improve their grades. Here is a list of what I would consider the top five.

1) Go to your professor’s office hours.

There are many reasons for this. First, you can show your professor drafts of your essays and ask for feedback before your essay is due. Oftentimes, instructors wish more of their students came to their office hours. Second, this is also a good way to build a relationship with your professor and can come in handy when you are looking for a letter of recommendation. Further, meeting with your professor to go over your work allows them to get to know you as an individual, which will make them more sympathetic toward you when it comes time to grade your papers.

2) Make a friend in your class.

Early on in the semester or quarter, make a point of getting to know the person who sits in front of you, beside you, and behind you. Try to exchange emails and phone numbers with at least one other student. See if that student is willing to trade work with you. Read over each other’s essays and help each other find mistakes. Also, your buddy is someone you can turn to for “small” or “stupid” questions that you may not want to ask your professor, like when a homework assignment is due or what you missed because you were late to a class.

3) Write what you know.

Oftentimes students want to write about “big” topics for their composition writing because they feel that there will be more research on controversial topics. The problem with picking a “big” issue, like euthanasia, global warming, or abortion is that you will have nothing interesting to say about it. Millions of people have been writing about these issues for decades. So instead, pick a topic or issue that is close to your life and experience. Your university’s library database will have information on any topic you can imagine, and if the library database doesn’t have information on a topic, the internet does. Keep in mind that if you think your topic is boring, your professor will too.

4) Look for what you can add to your research.

This goes along with the last point. If you pick a topic you are familiar with, you will be more likely to give a unique perspective on the issue. A successful essay doesn’t just repeat what experts have to say about an issue. A good writer enters into conversation with their sources. Look at your sources and see if there is anything they are overlooking. Read through your sources and see if there is a new context that you can bring to the source, and use your sources to ask new questions. For example, let’s say you chose to write about video games. Much of the research done about how video games affect the brain focuses on individuals. But many video games today are not played individually; they are played in teams. How might that change the conclusions? What are some new questions you can raise based on this fact? How does your experience playing video games line up with the researcher’s findings? Doing this kind of thinking will lead to an engaging essay.

5) Read for fun.

Make an effort to read for pleasure. Make sure that you are reading actual paper books too. There have been a number of studies done on the benefits of reading physical books over reading online, especially in terms of comprehension. There are other benefits to reading as well. Reading is like lifting weights. The more you do it, the stronger you will get. If you make an effort to “lift” heavier books, your reading abilities will get stronger. With practice, you will read denser material faster and remember more of it. Also, you will start to notice writing strategies that you like in other people’s work. Try to mimic these strategies in your own writing (this is something successful writers have done since the beginning of time).

While there is no way to guarantee an A in your class, these strategies will be a great start to getting you a grade you can be proud of and improving your composition writing skills.

MattMMatt M. teaches writing in Machias, ME. He has a Ph.D in English and Comparative Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing, as well as a broad background in writing and editing. Learn more about Matt here!



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