How To Read Your Set Texts, Even When You Don’t Want To

Read Set Texts, Even When You Don't Want To

This has probably happened to you. It’s certainly happened to me.

You love your course. But there’s a book you’re meant to read.

Most books are fine. But this one…Oh, this one is a stinker.

You try, you fail, you try again, you fail again, you fear the book, you eventually stop trying.

Because not all books are fun to read.

And the more you put off reading the text, the less time you have to consume it.

Then you’ve only got a day left to read it.

Lifehacker has an article to help you read a book in a single day. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to wait until the day before a seminar to read the book you’re meant to be working on. Especially if you’re not engaging with the way it’s written.

So you’re worried about it, or bored by it. And as soon as you feel like that, you break out in a rash of procrastination. It happens to all of us!

What you need are new tactics. Methods that you don’t normally use when reading. But now it’s time to bring out the big guns. If you don’t, you’ll just panic and end up not reading the book at all.

That’s no good for your class and it’s definitely no good for you.

No matter how long you’ve got left, it’s time to tackle the reading.

Here’s what to do:

  • Work out how much time you’ve got left and in your schedule;
  • Break the text down into sections, so you don’t have to read in one go. This could be divided into something like equal numbers of pages per day, or chapters per session;
  • Put those chunks into your schedule, spaced out between now and when you need to have finished.

You can vary your methods, depending on how long you’ve got to do the reading. Hopefully you’ve still got several days, if not weeks, to do the reading. Even if you don’t have that luxury, there’s some advice below.

When you have several days/weeks to do the reading…

The earlier you start, the more time you have to space out the reading. You can casually read a small amount each day without much hassle.

Imagine you have two 50-page documents to read for a seminar in a week. That’s 7 days and 100 pages.

Maybe you don’t want to read on each of those seven days. We can make it five days instead. 100 pages spread equally over five days is…drum roll…20 pages a day. Much better than 100 pages in a single session.

A focus on fewer pages will also keep you in the mood to make notes and comments as you go through the writing. You may also get so involved that you’ll want to carry on reading.

Better than anything, though, is that you’ll find the challenge of 100 pages less scary when you space it out in smaller chunks.

You may be tempted to do the reading in a single session, but that’s where most people fall. Five pages in, you realise how huge the task in front of you really is. Without a backup plan, you add further stress to the mix. One hundred pages only works in a single session if you’re truly engaged in the reading.

I understand why it’s so tempting to get the reading done in one go. Your brain convinces you that one session of work is better than five sessions.

But as soon as you set yourself smaller doses, the task feels easier. You’ll be more open to spacing the work out as opposed to slogging through an exhausting marathon. Little and often trumps the overwhelm every time.

When you only have a day or two to do the reading…

You’ll never do yourself justice, but there are ways of cushioning the blow. Once in a while, you can probably get away with it. All the time, however…That’s a different story.

When time has got the better of you, here’s the drill:

  • First off, read the Lifehacker article. It covers most of what you need.
    In short, it’s about location, the right kind of noise (or silence), intervals with short breaks in between, making notes, the right food and drink, and using physical books where possible.
  • Know what you’re reading for. Is this for general seminar discussion, a major set text for a module, due to be part of a future exam or piece of coursework, for an overview or to discuss a specific point in the text? The reasons make a difference.
  • If the text is for discussion now, but is most important for an exam or an essay further down the line, you’ve already bought yourself more time. You won’t be able to work so well in a seminar session, but at least you can properly schedule reading time before it’s time to complete the marked coursework.
    Get a good overview (consult a cheat-sheet summary or synopsis first if you must…just don’t rely on it ongoing!), find answers/discussions for any set questions you’ve already been given, and concentrate on the major points expected.
  • If the text forms part of a module that’s about to start, you may have a little more time than you think.
    Sure, the first lecture is up tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean you’ve only got one day to get through the entire text. Instead, get that overview, at least start reading the text, and schedule more realistic reading sessions as discussed in the section above when you have several days to get the reading done.

The more time you have, the more you can space out the reading. It’s less daunting. You just need to develop the habit of committing to a bit every day. Yes, it feels strange at first, but you get used to it. Spacing out the work is preferable to doing all the reading in one go.

Finally, don’t make things too complicated. It’s just reading. Some stuff is a slog to get through. I know, I’ve been there. Despite all the Shakespeare I did for GCSEs and A-levels, I still found the process of reading it tough at university.

What type of reading bothers you the most?

Habits, Emotions & Locations

Not all habits are equal. The harder the task, the longer it’s going to take to form into a habit.

A simple act, such as drinking a glass of water, doesn’t take long to turn into a habit. It doesn’t take long for emotion to drain away from the action. But exercise and anything that requires a bit more effort and preparation will likely bring more emotional issues with them too. No wonder, then, it takes longer to form some habits than others.

Every teardrop is a waterfall (photo by dollen - CC BY-ND 2.0)

Make yoga a habit? Not as easy as drinking a glass of water each morning! (dollen – CC BY-ND 2.0)

Jeremy Dean sums it up nicely in his book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits“:

“…the act of performing a habit is curiously emotionless.” – p.9

This also explains why too much of a good thing can become boring. The more it becomes a habit, the less you attach any sentiment to it.

I was fascinated by another thing Dean had to say:

“…new surroundings don’t have all the familiar cues to our old habits.” – p.12

This could help reignite a drive for old habits in different places, as well as bringing new habits into play.

I have long believed that you shouldn’t limit yourself to a single place of study. Use all sorts of places. Your room, the library (changing seats and rooms too), the canteen, a campus bar, parks and uni seating areas, coffee shops, a quiet public space, a loud public space…

Moving around means you’re not in any ‘usual’ grounds. Your focus is on study and your mind is open to new things. Simply by altering your situation on a regular basis, you can gain mentally.

There’s more! As a bonus, your recall may develop as you build memories with each different setting in place. When you try to remember something, your first recollection may be sitting in the middle of a field when you covered the precise thing you need right now. Because you weren’t fixed to a single place of study, the concepts have another opportunity to come to the forefront of your mind.

While performing a habit dulls the emotions, a choice of different locations could help give a new lease of life to learning methods you thought had gone stale.

EduLinks – Bad Habits, Problem Solving, Social Media…Oh, and an Election

Time for another dose of EduLinks.  Happy weekend reading.


President-Elect Obama:

I hear there’s been an election in the US.  That was kept quiet…

Justin Wise writes at Brazen Careerist that Obama “mobilized younger voters to actually show up at the polls”.  Now Obama is in, a lot of young adults are very hopeful of what’s to come.  As the Chronicle shows, online social media continues to give a hearty shout out of support to Obama.  Here’s to the future!

Joongel – Internet Search Portal

This is one of the better search collaboration sites I’ve come across.  It’s not perfect, but as a basic research tool, it goes miles further than Google alone.  I stress the word ‘basic’ though, because it’s not an academic search portal.  Good for most stuff, though.  It goes through a wealth of sites, with the following categories:

Images; Music; Videos; Shopping; Social; Q&A; Health; Torrents; Gossip; Cooking; Analytics; Local; Finance; Jobs; Property; Dictionary; Reference; News; Family; Movies; Blogs; Tech; General

Bear in mind that Joongel is currently focused on the US, so some categories won’t be much use in the UK (such as Jobs, Local, Shopping, etc.).  Joongel say that they are working on collaborations around the world, so it may not be long before a UK version crops up.  Fingers crossed.

Zen Habits – The 7 Keys to Turning Bad Habits Into Good Habits

We usually know when we’ve got a bad habit.  The problem is getting away from them.  There may come a time when you want to try snapping out of unhelpful habitual routines.  When that time comes along, let Zen Habits help ease you into a much happier way of life.

Leo explains, even if you slip up once, then twice, then seven time…don’t give up!  He speaks from experience too.

Bangor TV @ University of Bangor

It may not be interactive, but Bangor TV is a growing set of videos to whet the appetite of prospective students to the university.  I hope the output also boosts the engagement of current students and perhaps even allow them to give honest accounts of life at Bangor.

No university can offer 100% delight and it’s great for prospective students to hear from like-minded people already living a uni lifestyle, so I hope the UK can one day see their own version of Unigo, which is proving successful in the US.

Litemind – Einstein’s Secret to Amazing Problem Solving (and 10 Specific Ways You Can Use It)

If you can clearly define the problem, the solution is in easy reach.  The key to solving a problem seems to be to enjoy the problem.  Luciano has done a great job in highlighting ten problem-solving techniques that we’d all be wise to keep in mind when trying to figure out what’s going on.

Converstations – Social Media Success Plan for Beginners: 6 Hours for 6 Weeks

It doesn’t take long to move beyond Facebook and add a whole new dimension to your online being.  Mike at Converstations urges you to spend six hours for six weeks, building up a blogging, reading, twittering, social media machine.  It’s definitely worth it.  And I suggest you read the comments too.  For instance, Mike adds that a person who is bright-eyed and open-minded about social media should start on blogging, but a closed-minded and doubtful person should begin their quest with RSS feed reading.

Twitter How-to Links:

I use Twitter a bit.  On and off.  Not as much as I probably should.  Nevertheless, Twitter is a great tool and it’s growing in popularity.  If you’ve heard of it, but haven’t got as far as jumping in and joining the 140-character message bandwagon, these links make the process as simple as possible.  You can follow me at http://twitter.com/universityboy/ and see if I get any better at posting!