As a new student embarking on a university degree, you’ll already know that reading is going to make up a significant part of your academic life. To what extent varies depending on the course, but the general recommendation for a course with 10 hours of teaching time is that you do a further 20 hours of self-directed study, or reading, per week.
Even before you’ve started your first semester, you’re likely to have received an introductory reading list from the course co-ordinator. And whilst it might feel a little intimidating, especially if you’re embarking on a completely new field of study such as Law or Medicine, exploring a couple of the recommended titles on that list will help to make your first couple of weeks less of a shock to the system. Do my Python Homework.
Your first semester’s reading list might extend to 35-40 titles. Remember though, that while the wider your range of reading, the more likely you are to set yourself up for success in essays and exams, it’s not essential that you read absolutely everything on that list.
Here are just a few quick suggestions to help you tackle your reading list.
Organise your list to make it more manageable
Using simple tools – from Excel to Trello – to organise your course materials can help you breakdown and prioritise your reading, which will also help you to feel more in control. Software like Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets can be useful for organising lists for different courses or modules. You can also create multiple tabs to organise titles by topic, publication format, author etc. These can also be useful tools for jotting down notes alongside publication titles that will be useful when you start writing an essay or revising for an exam.
Trello is also a great way to stay on top of your reading list (and see the progress you’ve made!). Use boards and cards to keep track of books or papers you’ve read and those you’ve finished, along with notes, annotations and suggestions from friends or colleagues. As you go through the semester you can remove titles that you’re not likely to read and add others that you might have found from your own literature searches. This can act as an evolving record of your studies and again, be helpful for keeping track of notes in one place.
Creating a dynamic reading list is a simple technique that can really help you stay on track. And don’t be afraid to prune your list. You’re not expected to read absolutely everything recommended as part of your course materials. Start with ‘starred’ or ‘essential’ titles to give yourself a sold grounding and you’ll then feel more inclined to tackle some of the wider reading. Even then, this more experienced student advises against tackling wider reading texts in full from the get-go:
“Skim read the books you do decide to read for extra reading- otherwise you’ll be there for hours. The language of these books is not always straight forward for someone who isn’t used to academic language. By 3rd year I got used to this so reading took less time, but in the first first year I had some books where I took 30mins to read a couple of pages due to having to look up definitions for words I didn’t understand.”1
Skim-read and highlight important points before you tackle titles in full
This same principle applies to most of your reading. To avoid becoming easily overwhelmed or burning out, don’t tackle a new book or even an article by attempting to read it in full straight away, as this student emphasizes:
“You don’t need to read the whole book. I felt completely overwhelmed in first year because I had no idea how to balance my work plus the extra reading. The truth is that all you might need to do (if not given specific chapters to read), is look at the contents or index for the topic you want to make notes on, then use the information in the book to pad out your lecture notes.”1
First, look at the introduction and conclusion to give you a sense of the major themes and subjects covered. Scan chapter headings and sub-headings to get introduced to the main areas of focus and look at the contents and index to start familiarising yourself with new terms and concepts. Look up keywords or terms that are completely new to you using tools such as Wikipedia or online dictionaries to get brief, accessible definitions. By getting to grips with new theories and concepts in this way you will create a strong foundation that you can build on as you progress through the course.
Remember that you need to read course material in a way that will help you to show your understanding of the subject or topic when it comes to writing your essay or exam paper. Reading alone isn’t enough: it’s digesting and assimilating that information that matters. Remember to make notes and highlights as you read, which will reinforce your comprehension and jog your memory later on without you having to necessarily read the full text again.
The good news is that there is a wealth of research productivity tools out there that can really help when it comes to condensing texts into bite-sized chunks to make them easier to get to grips with. Many of these tools have built in notes functionality, helping you not only get to grips with complex literature more easily, but also keep track of your own ideas and interpretations of the texts.
One such group of productivity tools that are proving really popular with new and more advanced students are article summarizers. These tools use AI to distil book chapters, research papers and other documents into a set of important takeaways, as well as automatically highlighting key findings and contributions from the author and defining important concepts. Whilst not intended as a substitute for reading the full text, these tools can be really useful for giving students new to a subject an accessible introduction to the literature, without getting overwhelmed trying to read the full text.
Never underestimate the power of your notes
We touched on this above, but it’s worth re-iterating: get into the habit of writing notes about anything you read right from the start of your course. It might be as simple as noting down chapter headings and some key themes covered in the book or article to jog your memory later. Or you might want to get a little more forensic and write down some of your thoughts about a section of text. One important benefit of this is that you’re building your understanding of a subject by starting to articulate it in your own words. As you’ll probably get access to many publications online through your university library or other subscription, the chances are you’ll also want to annotate texts and make notes online as well. Many of the research tools available today allow you to do exactly that: make in-text highlights to online chapters or article PDFs as well as adding and saving notes.
Make use of all available course resources
You’ll get a university email address when you start your first year and although students often rely more on their personal email, it’s good to get into the habit of checking it at least once a week as your lecturers and tutors will share a bunch of valuable information from course outlines to lecture notes and links to some publications. Many universities will also upload this information to an e-learning portal such as Blackboard or Canvas, so be sure to login to those as well!