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Being presented with a reading list on a new course can be daunting for most students. They worry over how much to read, which bits of books and papers are relevant, and how to make effective notes from readings so that they can understand and remember the important points.
The first thing you should do when you are given a reading list is to find out which books and papers are necessary for particular lectures, tutorials or seminars and essays. If this is not clear from your module handouts do not be afraid to ask them to direct you to the most useful texts. By doing this you will be breaking up your reading into more manageable chunks and it will seem less of an obstacle.
Generally your module guide, or lecture/tutorial handout, will specify certain readings as ESSENTIAL. These are the ones you really should take the time to read.
Then there may be sources under SUGGESTED reading. These are generally very useful and will bolster your knowledge beyond set texts. Use them for essays, seminar presentations and perhaps, revision for exams.
FURTHER reading lists can be dipped into, if you have the time, when it comes to essays.
Remember – you are not expected to read everything or to read texts from cover to cover. The whole idea of academic reading is to train you to be SELECTIVE. However, it is good to get into the habit of reading beyond the set texts. But again, do not worry; deciding what to read will come with practice.
Always plan your reading.
Set aside a specific time/s in your day/week when you will read.
SELECT YOUR TEXTS
There are various things to consider when selecting material.
The selection process involves deciding whether or not a text is useful.
Do the same for journal articles and also
Once you have decided that a publication looks as if it will be relevant for you
HOW TO READ
After doing all the above you may still be feeling a little overwhelmed. Your task is now to learn how to read effectively. That is, getting what you need out of a piece of written work without overloading yourself with information that you will not need.
The first thing to do is to SKIM the work – read it quickly to get the general idea of what is being said.
You can then embark on a more detailed read. It is a good idea to ask yourself questions as you go along.
Makes notes on the answers to your questions as you go along. At the end try to see if you can sum up what the author was addressing in a few sentences.
As you go through a paper or chapter and makes notes it is a good idea also to be aware of the references that the author uses to support or refute points of view. Look these up in the author’s bibliography and this can be a very good way of adding to your reading list and or finding other books and journal articles that will help with specific essay or seminar topics.
The practicalities of reading will differ from person to person. Some people read very fast and other much more slowly.
If you like visual things try making your notes as maps – joining points and theories together.
If you are more of an audio person you might like to record a particular paragraph and play it back at a later stage. This will help you remember certain points.
Using a highlighter pen (though not with library books!) is a great way to pick out important passages, words or phrases. You can use different colours for different aspects of an argument/s or different topics. Use the highlighter to mark out the main ideas and theories as you come across them. This makes it easier when you come to go back over a chapter or article and is also very useful when it comes to exam revision.
Lots of academic texts can be very complex so do not worry if you have to read a passage several times in order to understand what is being said. We all have to do that! If you are finding texts very complicated try finding a simpler introductory book that will ease you into your subject and its main theories.
Do you reading in manageable chunks. 20 minutes is enough for active reading. After than take a break and then go back and do another 20 minutes. Academic reading is exacting and tiring. Don’t try to do too much all at once.
If you think you are reading too slowly try not to worry too much. Practice to reading academic texts really does pay off. And you will be surprised how suddenly things start to make sense and you start to make the connections.