Monday, January 30, 2006

Tackling the required reading pile

The pile starts very small. As time passes, it seems to be growing. It grows and grows and grows until your desk is filled with assigned readings that you said to yourself “Oh, I’ll get to that later.” Before you know it, you can’t imagine how the pile got so high and you’ve got an exam or a paper to write on the material that you should have read once upon a time.

It’s not always easy and it certainly isn’t always fun, but like it or not, reading is a part of every student’s life. It would be great if everything we had to read for class was as exciting as the latest Harry Potter, but more often than not, you may be bored stiff by that pile of reading on your desk. I know that I certainly am sometimes. So how do students like you and I effectively tackle the pile before we regret it?

This term I’m taking a seminar course which means that every Wednesday, a small group of us sit around and talk about assigned readings. Our grade is partially based on participation and when there are only ten of us, it’s hard to hide in the back and pray that the professor doesn’t call on you to comment on what you didn’t read. Thankfully, this environment provides the much needed motivation for me to make sure that my readings are all done on time! Unfortunately, not all courses can provide that sort of motivation and so productive reading requires some self-discipline.

Have an agenda? Get one. I make sure that every week I go through all my courses and figure out exactly what I need to get done. Then I spread out all my reading to make sure that I don’t have too much to do at one time. I can read at my own pace, take breaks when I want and re-read the things that I don’t understand.

Some students are very careful with their textbooks. Personally, I’m never afraid to get out my highlighter and my pen and make lots of notes either in the book itself or on a separate piece of paper. This saves time when you need to review the work later on. By highlighting important passages and summarize important points on the side or bottom of the page makes returning to the work easier later on. Having forgotten much of what you read, your detailed graffiti will refresh your memory quickly and take up less of your time.

Still you have one hundred pages of dull reading to do by tomorrow. How do you get it done? Depending on the class, the material and your own learning style, a lot of what you read in those pages may provide details that may not be relevant to what you need to know. Many professors want you to understand general theories and ideas that can be found in the readings, not every particular detail. There have been times I’ve skimmed through chapters searching only for key points and been very successful with what I’ve found. If you’re a slow reader like myself, this technique may be useful.

Productive reading requires that you put yourself in an environment where you can be productive. This means different things to different people. Personally, when it comes to a task that requires my full attention, I need absolute quiet. Others may need music. So to get the ball rolling I make sure that I’m in a quiet space (like a library or a private room). This prevents me from being distracted and makes the reading a lot faster and easier to follow.

If everything we have to read was exciting and easy, then reading wouldn’t be a problem. But since it’s not, I hope that these reading strategies are helpful in the pursuit of successful reading!

For more information on successful reading, check out these links:


Text Marking and Highlighting