College Basics: Reading Homework

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Study at the university level can feel like an overwhelming task. You have this huge book or stack of books to read for multiple classes, you have notes to go over, unlimited online research to do, and the final to prepare for or to write, all within a tight timeframe. Here are a few things that worked for me during college and graduate school that kept me on track and successful in my studies. My hope is that you can keep these ideas in mind so you don’t lose your head while you’re trying to make it smarter.

Start slow— Well, don’t over do it this one. If you have three books to go over for a paper you’re writing, just don’t feel like you have to read all three of them front to back, including footnotes and appendices, in the immediate present. If you try cramming everything in at once—the reading, the note taking, the assignment itself, and revision/editing—you’re brain will melt. Calm down and think about going through this list first:

                  – Read the table of contents

                  – Scan first and last paragraphs of chapters

                  – Read, read, read, and take notes

                  – Finally, get to the assignment

Reading the table of contents can seem innocuous enough, unhelpful even, but going over the book’s outline will give you topics and subheadings that you can possibly look into or ignore. If you’re writing paper or studying for an exam in biology, and more particularly, biological systems, you may be able to ignore chapters and sections about diseases and medicine. Sure, you can make an interesting comment about a bio system dealing with disease, but that isn’t necessarily important. To stay on topic, study the topic assigned.

Reading doesn’t have to be the most painful thing in the world, and it doesn’t have to be a marathon. Think about an actual marathon runner for a second. Does he/she start running twenty plus miles without stretching? No way. The same goes for reading. If you rush into a book you risk burning out before passing the third chapter. Ease into your mental work out by scanning all of the chapters that looked important in your table of contents preview. See if they really are going to be important or if you can leave them for another time. This is also a good time to glance at those sections that didn’t seem necessary—just in case. By stretching your reader-mind you allow yourself an introduction to the work you are about to do, offer an opportunity to rank information according to importance and potential, and you can figure out how much time you’ll need to study. The first and last paragraphs of chapters and sections contain the good ole thesis statement and rephrase of the thesis. If the main point of the content proves necessary, focus on that text. If it seems a little off-topic, ancillary, or just not what you or your professor are looking for, it’s safe to say you can skip it.

Now that you’ve gotten an idea of what you’re looking at and how long it will take to get through, it’s time to get to work. Make sure your study space is ready, that you’re energized, and that you are aware of your assignment guidelines. Check out the Note Taking post for some ideas on how to take notes and keep an eye out for my essay writing tips.

Finally, get to the assignment. Remember, you can do it. When you get tired, take a break. Not working on something for a few minutes is not a big deal, in fact, it’s a healthier than powering through with no stops. For me, taking a minute to read my favorite blog or play a round of a game is just what I need to refresh my mind before getting back to work. There are times when the work will take all night and there won’t be much time to pull away, but it really does help keep your mind active and capable, so give it a try. And remember, study hard! 

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