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akri

Considering the Literature Subject test because I'm not an English major

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tl;dr: I'm double majoring, have one year left at UCD, and do not have space/time to attach an English minor without taking a(n expensive) summer quarter when I want to graduate Spring 2020. I think destroying Literature Subject Test would ease any hesitation about my foundation + awareness of the basics. I need to decide now so I can spend a year scouring Norton Anthologies + taking notes while doing my normal studies, normal grad prep, and publishing a project that I started working on last Spring with an advisor. I would DM individuals from other threads but it looks like they're inactive.

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I've posted a few times on the forums because I'm taking the few weeks I have this summer to organize a study routine + timeline + gather resources. I am not applying for the 2019 cycle, but the 2020. I want to do this correctly, which ofc requires an enormous amount of forethought and time management. Given how expensive apps + prep are, I want to give myself as much time as possible to prepare and do this right.

I've read + reread the threads on the literature subject test and I am evenly torn on it. While I understand it's out of vogue currently + not necessary, I myself would be applying to English/literature programs as an undergrad graduate who took very specialized classes in English, but no English degree. I am History + Science and Tech Studies. The English classes I've taken have been: Early LGBT Lit (late 19th/early 20th century), Asian American Lit, Science Fiction, 19th Century European Intellectual Thought, and a class on Science Writing this fall. The last three cross list to STS or History, therefore cannot be their own separate English minor. I didn't take English classes because I prefer History, enjoy the methodology, and science/tech is my beat. 

With THAT in mind, my logic is if I took the Subject Test, did well, & admissions were uncertain about my shaky background, then the subject test would show that I at least studied + have a foundation that they shouldn't worry about. I understand the test is difficult and there's no actual proof that this would work, I can't shake that it'd "help." Ofc it wouldn't tip the scale, but I think applications are accumulations of "little helps" that end up ultimately making you a strong candidate.

I talked to a professor at UC Davis in the department and he said that if I did do well, it would signal a level of dedication + certainty that I want to do the program... as well as having a phenomenal SoP and WS. (I'm currently saving articles in the field I want to research & am going to read a few a day + research where the authors teach, or who mentored them, or who THEY mentored. My goal before September is to have a theme, topic, research interest for my SoP + WS, spend my free time during my last three quarters working on it little by little. I have what I think is the earliest draft for that.) 

I'm excited by the challenge of the subject test, but I want to hear some fourth/fifth opinions given the context that I am not an English student but want to pursue a PhD program. Grad cycles into these programs are extremely competitive and I'm trying to think of how my application appears holistically -- did this student do everything they could to give them edge despite having an unconventional undergrad background, etc. 

Thoughts? Advice?

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The question is whether this is worth the time and dedication (and money), as admissions prep is a bit of a zero sum game. Studying for the subject test will take time away from other things (including the important but seldom discussed act of resting) and you have to figure out if it balances out. I don’t think it is necessary but it’s true that if you do very well it could play in your favor. That said, showing dedication and expertise is something you can with your SoP and WS, and if it’s not apparent there I don’t know how much a good score will help you. The question for committees will be why someone interested in dedicating their professional career in English did not specialize in it when given the chance (especially since you say you prefer History, which would raise a red flag for me). The SoP or recs where you can address that. Basically, I think a great test result could help, but it won’t make you an equivalent candidate to an English major and your SoP will be your most significant component.

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An outstanding score on the english lit subject will very rarely be an application’s tipping point. A poor score, however, is much more likely to be noticed and have an effect. While taking the test might communicate to departments that you are competitive with applicants who have an English undergraduate degree, it’s never going to speak as strongly as your SoP, writing sample, and recs. I think the most a good score on the test will say is that you’ve “done your homework.” Unfortunately, your score will probably have a very minimal effect, but in order to be competitive with applicants with english degrees, you will likely need all of the “little helps” you can access. 

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8 hours ago, WildeThing said:

The question is whether this is worth the time and dedication (and money), as admissions prep is a bit of a zero sum game. Studying for the subject test will take time away from other things (including the important but seldom discussed act of resting) and you have to figure out if it balances out. I don’t think it is necessary but it’s true that if you do very well it could play in your favor. That said, showing dedication and expertise is something you can with your SoP and WS, and if it’s not apparent there I don’t know how much a good score will help you. The question for committees will be why someone interested in dedicating their professional career in English did not specialize in it when given the chance (especially since you say you prefer History, which would raise a red flag for me). The SoP or recs where you can address that. Basically, I think a great test result could help, but it won’t make you an equivalent candidate to an English major and your SoP will be your most significant component.

Good point! I should be careful + come up with a good answer for why I did History and not English. I think when I say 'prefer' I meant the undergraduate classes. I love studying literature, but History allowed me to study it through literature, philosophy, religion, political science in a way that I really enjoyed. I had some pretty eh experiences with English classes. Tbh I wouldn't say this in an interview but my undergraduate lit classes weren't that challenging so I wasn't as engaged... I think for all of the English classes I took I scored 100s+ in every single one idk.  

I think it'll probably be good to study the Norton Anthologies to brush up and make a stronger SoP/WS anyway, but the two replies I've gotten echoed what my professor said. If you do great then it'll look great but won't make or break it, but if I do poorly then there's a chance that it'll actually do more harm than anything. 

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