Now that the semester is in full swing, I think it’s time we discuss the one thing that every college student hates: reading assignments. LONG reading assignments, to be specific. They’re every student’s worst nightmare, causing an abundance of stress and sucking enormous amounts of time out of our already packed schedules. To make matters worse, by the time we finish the reading assignments, we still don’t understand half of what was said, much less be able to remember it all by the time quiz day rolls around.
It’s no wonder why some students skip reading the textbook all together.
I’ll admit that I’ve been one of those students who zones out during assignments before, with the cause being a wide variety of things: other homework assignments on my mind, tiredness, uninterest in the subject, etc. What frustrated me the most was that I wouldn’t realize that I was mindlessly reading until several minutes had passed, meaning that I would have to go back and read everything all over again, thanks to the guaranteed reading quizzes.
While these quizzes kept me on my toes, they didn’t solve the problem of me zoning out, and the time wasted between doing the original reading and the re-reading definitely put some extra stress on my schedule. As the semester continued on, I knew I would need to find a new method of tackling these types of assignments, and fast.
The good news is that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be! Switching to a new method not only made it much more possible to survive long reading assignments, but it also gave me a better understanding of them, and much more free time in the long run. That reason in itself is enough to try this out! Here is the breakdown of everything I did:
1. Start the Assignment on Day 1
Originally, I liked to do all of my homework assignments during the school week, and then do all of the textbook assignments during the weekend, when I had more uninterrupted time to read; while it seemed like a sound solution at first, I’ll admit that it wasn’t the best idea.
The problem with this method was that I was grouping together textbook assignments that were usually 25+ pages each, and expecting to get through them all in one sitting. The more I tried to do this, the shorter my attention span became, and this is often what caused me to zone out. You think I would have learned my lesson after I tried to do this the first few times!
Since I knew that I could no longer group these textbook readings together, I decided to spread them out throughout the week, and begin them the day that the class’ previous reading assignment ended, so I would stay ahead and wouldn’t forget them.
I cannot express how much this helped me, and how much it will help you, too. Starting an assignment on day 1 allows you to stay on top of your homework, reduce an abundance of stress, avoid last-minute cramming, or (worst of all) not doing the reading at all because of a last-minute emergency.
As if all of this wasn’t good enough, I also noticed that spreading my reading assignments out throughout the week has saved me time. Trying to get through multiple reading assignments during the weekends was very monotonous and made me slower the longer I tried to do it, but doing them in short batches spread throughout the week made it much easier and faster to do. Plus, I understood the content a lot more!
2. Divide the Assignment into Sections
Like I said earlier, when I originally did my reading assignments, I tried to do them all in one sitting. Even once I decided to start them on day 1 and spread them out throughout the week, I still found it difficult to concentrate for long periods of time in some subjects. After a while, I would begin quickly skimming to finish it faster, and while skimming can be a great tool when used correctly, it can also be easy to overlook important information.
This meant that I needed to change my approach to my long reading assignments even more.
I tried an approach of read-break-repeat, where I would take a short break after reading a few pages, and then go back to it. While this may work for some people, it didn’t work for me. Unless I found the reading particularly interesting, I would immediately become restless after returning from a break.
My next approach was to divide up the total number of pages by the number of days I had to read it, and then read that many pages every day until it was completed. Without a doubt, this technique was the most effect because it made each assignment easier to tackle, quick to get out of the way, take up less time, and (best of all) easier to understand!
3. Take Good Notes
I know that this one is a bit of a given, but you need to take notes when reading your textbook. Not only will it help you to better retain and understand the information, but it also means that you’re actually slowing down and understanding the material.
There are many different ways to take notes, and it’s important to find the one that works best for you. When it comes to my notes from textbook readings, I like to organize them the same way as the textbook. This means that I’m writing them in the same format as the book (labeled by chapter => heading => notes => subheading => notes => sub-subheading => notes). Not only would I now know exactly where in the textbook I took my notes, but it also allowed me to easily find that section if I needed to go back and review.
When taking notes, there’s a bit of a debate on whether you should do them on a computer or by hand, but I think you should do what is best for you. For me, writing them on the computer was often best, because then I could add in-class lecture notes into the same document or even the same sections as my textbook notes; in other classes, handwriting my notes was the best. Just find what works best for you and stick with it.
4. Look for Keywords
Keeping an eye out for keywords is essential to understanding and dissecting long reading passages. This is for a couple of reasons: (1) Because they usually lead to key ideas for the rest of the passage, so I should pay extra attention to them, and (2) The keyword is followed by a definition that will be important to put in my notes.
In many texts, the keywords will be in bold, which helps you out a bit, but this isn’t always the case. Needless to say, it’s an important tip to remember, and is extremely helpful in understanding what the passage is talking about.
5. Read the Summary Page
The summary page is perhaps every college student’s best friend when it comes to doing a long reading assignment, because it reviews almost every important point there was to be made in the chapter. But not only does it review them, but it does it in a simple, easy-to-understand way. Once you’ve (finally) finished the reading, a quick read over the summary can ensure you that you’ve read and understood the important topics of the chapter, especially since those are most likely to come up on a test.
6. Figure Out Your Note-Taking Method
Conquering your long reading assignments isn’t just about efficiency; it’s about taking good-quality notes and understanding the information. That’s why you need to figure out the best note-taking method for you, and I’m not just talking about whether you’re writing them by hand or typing them on a computer (re: #3). Instead, I am talking about whether you are highlighting or underlining important notes in the passages, and writing questions and summaries off in the margins. It’s also important to figure out whether you are going to be taking notes as you’re reading the passage, or whether you’re going to be reading a paragraph, and then summarize it in your notes, to make sure you understand the concept as a whole first, rather than building it up bit-by-bit.
Once again, this is just one of those things where you have to figure out what works best for you through trial-and-error. Everyone learns differently!
Bonus Tip: Leave Room for Class Notes
The reason why this is a “bonus tip” is because it doesn’t really fit in with the steps of conquering a long reading assignment, but it does help a lot with combining your textbook notes with your classroom notes.
Luckily, it’s easy to remember: only take textbook notes on 1 side of the page. (i.e. The front side of the paper.) The other side is where the corresponding classroom notes will go (or on the back of the previous page, so that they’re side-by-side in a notebook or binder), which makes the notes easy to refer to and study throughout the semester, without having to refer to 2 different sets of notes (the class notes and the textbook notes). This will make the notes easier to follow when studying, rather than having the class notes about a subject in one section, and your textbook notes in another section.
Long reading assignments can feel like a chore, but they are essential for fully understanding class material. The key to surviving a long reading assignment is to find the technique that works best for you, which not only let you complete the assignment, but understand it as well. I’ve found all of these tips to be extremely helpful for me, so go give them a try yourself!
Before you go, let me know down below if you’ve used the same techniques to conquer your long reading assignments, or if you use different ones!