reading

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?

The Best Places for News Overviews and In-Depth Writing

News and current events can get in the way of your learning, your spare time, and even the bigger issues. But that doesn’t mean you want to keep away from an entertaining read on what’s going on around the world.

(photo by Entrer dans le rêve) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

(photo by Entrer dans le rêve) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Whether you want to sink your teeth into some beefy journalism, or you simply wish to catch up as quickly as possible on what’s hot in the press, here are the sites and services I use for in-depth articles and brief overviews:

In Depth

Longreads – http://longreads.com/ – Extensive articles on all manner of topics. A daily feed of writing that goes into several thousand words a time.

Arts & Letters Daily – http://www.aldaily.com/ – Three articles a day with searching articles and interesting ideas. Under the headings “Articles of Note”, “New Books” and “Essays and Opinion”.

Longformhttp://longform.org/ – More choices of lengthy articles. There are lots of ‘best of’ lists from 2013 picked for you to enjoy.

The Browserhttp://thebrowser.com/ – The website that brings you “writing worth reading”. Enjoy the main feed, or drill down on the Literary and Tech sections.

Overviews

Top 5 News – http://top5news.co.uk/ – Dedicated to showing you the most read articles on various UK news sites. An easy way to see what’s top of the tree all in one go.

AllTop – http://alltop.com/ – With a broad range of subjects on offer, AllTop allows you to find out what news agencies and blogs are writing about on a single page. Simple to use.

Popurlshttp://popurls.com/ – News sites, videos, bloggers, specialist subjects…Popurls covers all sorts of feeds on most things you can think of. Equally good for catching up and finding inspiration.

Feedlyhttp://www.feedly.com/ – A slight cheat, this one. You’ll still have to find the RSS feeds that suit you. But once you subscribe to the relevant feeds in your areas of interest, the articles come to you. No more time wasted seeking stuff out.

As a bonus, get reading quickly by pushing your articles through Spreeder or Readfa.st and watch your reading speed grow as you go. In no time you’ll be reading lengthy journalism in the time it used to take just to catch up on the headlines!

Where do you go for in-depth stories? How do you catch up on recent news? Let us know in the comments.

Win a Kindle with your favourite reading places [Giveaway]

How’s this for a fab Summer giveaway?

TheUniversityBlog has teamed up with 360 feedback provider ETS to give away three Amazon Kindles!

The Kindle is an eReader, letting you read books, papers, and other content as if you’re reading it on paper. You probably know what the Kindle is already, but if you want to know more, Wikipedia is your friend.

I want to make this giveaway as simple as possible for you. For a chance to win one of 3 Kindle Touch devices, send a comment below and let us know the following:

  • Because the Kindle is portable, you can take it just about anywhere. What places do you most like to go to read?

Comment on or before 1st August 2012 to be in with a chance [UPDATE: THIS GIVEAWAY HAS NOW ENDED. Check the winners.]. I’ll then use a random choice generator to pick three winners out and announce those winners on 2nd August. Comments after 1st August cannot be added to the draw (mainly because it will have already finished!).

That’s it! Just tell us your favourite places you like to read. You’ll give other readers inspiration on where they can find a brilliant place to sit back and relax with a book. Well, maybe an ebook. 😉

A couple of things to point out:

  • The draw is open to entries from UK & Ireland only (sorry about that.);
  • You need to use a valid contact email address in the email field, otherwise we won’t be able to contact you if you’re picked! [The email field is not published here on the site]

Good luck. I look forward to hearing about your favourite reading places.

photo by amsfrank

photo by amsfrank