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Staying afloat in a sea of readings

By Nicky Christensen, 4th year con ed student

It’s week three and for some of us that means we are already three weeks behind in our readings. Or maybe you have tried to keep up but have found that it is all just too much. One of the biggest obstacles I have faced is keeping up with readings, especially when taking seminar style classes. Without a strategy, the hundreds of pages of readings a week can seem like an impossible task.

So if you realize you wasted too much time watching Netflix and aren’t able to do all the assigned readings or if you feel overwhelmed in general, these tips might be for you!

Start early

The best way to avoid miserably doing all your reading the night before your class is to plan early! Sit down and take a look at your schedule for the week. Pick out times for the week that you can do the readings in. Go through your courses and plan time specifically for each class and each reading. Chart these plans into your agenda or weekly schedule.

Read faster

Training yourself to read at a faster rate is possible. Though I can’t guarantee you’ll be able to finish a book as fast as The Flash, there are ways to make your readings a bit less time consuming. Make sure you are in the right environment, with good lighting and seating, and prevent any distractions by telling your housemates that you’re working or by turning off your cellphone and laptop. Use all of your focus when you are reading. Though it’s tempting, don’t look at your phone or open Facebook on your computer until you are ready to fully take a break. Ideally, you should try working for 50 minutes and breaking for 10 until you finish the task.

When you are in a productive environment, you can increase your reading speed further by using a pacer. This is an object like a pen or your finger to guide your eye along with the words. Your eye will remain fixed on where you are in the text, allowing you to process the words more efficiently. You can also try using your peripheral vision to read several words at a time, rather than word-by-word. If you tend to mouth words as you read, you might consider stopping that habit, too, since it can slow you down!

Take smart notes

When you are taking notes on long readings, make sure you don’t write down everything. Take only the important information from the text. Always consider what you think the professor wants you to get out of the reading. Try to make notes that will help you later. Think about what you will use later in the course and write that down. Your notes on a reading should place it within the broader scale of your course material. Dividing up note taking for readings with a trustworthy friend in the course can also help to save you time. We recommend an active reading strategy known as SQ4R that can help you with this method.

Effective skimming

Sometimes there is just too much to read to effectively look at all the material. When you skim you should extract what is important from the work, without having to read every single word. When you skim you should try to think of questions about the text as you read. Then try to find the answers to your questions. Knowing the who what, where, when, why and how of the text will give you a good understanding of the reading. Your answers to these questions do not necessarily have to be very detailed, so long as you understand what the text says and are able to say a bit about the topic.

The next time you find yourself getting bogged down with stuff to read, take a deep breath. Remember that the work can be manageable, but above all do what you can. After all, you are a human. If you are really struggling to keep up with coursework, speak to your professor. Good luck in the new semester — kick that syllabus’s butt!

Photo courtesy of Will Folsom under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.