As happy as I am to be getting a college education, there are quite a few things that I would change if I could: the early mornings, long commutes, and high tuition costs are just a few of them. (Oh, and those days where they serve nothing but fish at the dining hall. Yuck!)
A HUGE dislike, though, are the reading assignments that are just so complex and drawn out that they seem impossible to understand; it seems like such waste to spend all that time reading and not get anything out of it. Plus, last I checked, those reading quizzes were (unfortunately) not optional. And although I have my methods for conquering long reading assignments, they only helped me break up the reading so that the assignments aren’t as overwhelming, rather than helping me to actually understand the material. That’s why I decided it was time for me to sit down and work out a method on how to dissect a reading assignment so that I could understand it better than ever.
1. Divide Up the Assignment Throughout the Week
Yes, this is one of my tips from my other post on reading assignments, but it applies here just as much, because the last thing you want to do is overwhelm yourself. For me, dividing up the assignment throughout the week is a necessary step I have to take if I want any hope in finishing/comprehending the reading. On those occasions where I’ve to read a 30-50 page assignment in one sitting, it could take me most of the day. Even at that point, I sometimes didn’t even understand at all because I had overwhelmed myself with so much information! And I can only guess as to how much of that reading I actually retained.
Because of that fact alone, it is important that you break up the assignment into smaller portions throughout the week. Not only will it help you to get it done faster, but you’ll understand and retain the information better, too!
2. Look Up Definitions
My teachers used to tell the class this all the time when I was a kid, and I absolutely hated it. It wasn’t that I had a problem with searching up the definitions, it was that once I got into a groove with reading, I didn’t want to continually stop to look up what a word meant; I preferred to just take my chances and guess it from context.
However, it doesn’t quite work that way in college. After assigning a class reading, professors will sometimes give a quiz that asks students to define one of the words from the reading, and (lucky us) it isn’t multiple choice. While it seems like an easy enough question, professors aren’t always happy with a definition you guessed at just based on the context.
Because of that, it’s important to look up the definitions in your reading! Not only will it help out with pop quizzes like these, but it will also give you a better understanding of the reading and topic that you’ll be discussing in class.
3. Take Detailed Notes
When it comes to college reading assignments, this is the time to take note of every detail possible. However, don’t just quote a passage into your notes, especially if you’re not even understanding it in the book! Re-read it and break it down until it’s as simple as you can possibly make it; only then can you write it down. Create diagrams. Draw pictures. Do whatever it is that will help you understand it and give you as much information on the subject as possible. After all, you never know when your professor will decide to randomly make a test or quiz open notes!
When I’m taking notes from a book, I have a bad habit of just skimming a few passages and then only taking a note or two. Bad idea. This usually happens when I’ve procrastinated and I’m trying to do the assignment in one sitting (see above), but it’s hurting me in the long run. Not only am I missing out on a lot of notes that I’ll need for the class, but I’m missing out on important information that I’ll need to know for the test!
That’s why I like to think of my notes as a simplified version of the book. That way, any time that I’m preparing for a test or answering the questions on a study guide, I don’t have to spend hours searching through a book just to spend even more time re-reading and dissecting a passage to the point that I can actually understand it. If I took enough notes, then everything should be in my binder and will make studying 100x easier than if I had rushed through it.
4. Highlight/Underline/Bookmark Important Passages
Charlotte, didn’t you just tell me that we should take notes that are so detailed we won’t have to reference the book ever again?
So…why are you telling me to mark important passages?
That’s an easy one. Just think about it! If you’re taking the effort to underline, highlight, and bookmark important passages in your reading assignment, you are making a conscious effort to interact with your reading assignment, and because of that you’re more likely to remember the important information!
However, it not only helps with memorization, but also if you need to write a paper referencing that reading assignment later on in the class. Because you marked those important passages, you already know where to look for the important information, which makes writing those papers easier than ever!
5. Create a Timeline of Important Dates
I’ve always loved learning about history, but it throws me for a loop when the events mentioned in reading passages are out of order. What is the point of that?
(To confuse me, probably.)
That’s why creating a timeline of important dates and events is important when dissecting your reading assignments, especially if you’re in a history class or if you’re a history major! Having a timeline of dates could be a lifesaver when it comes close to exam time, and it makes understanding just why those events happened much easier.
Reading assignments can be hard. Believe me, I know; I’ve been in several reading-intensive, 300-level courses for classes that weren’t even in my major! (I still have nightmares about them.) Those reading assignments were a struggle to me since it was just so much content, I had no background info on the subject, and I wasn’t very interested in the topic to begin with either. But because of these tips, I was able to not only dissect my reading assignments, but conquer them as well. (And, spoiler alert, I earned an A in both courses!)
Have you used any of these tips to break down your reading assignments before? Or have you used any others that I haven’t heard of? Let me know down below!