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 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, disinterest 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; 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.
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 saved me so much time. 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
My original method was to do homework assignments during the week and reading assignments during the weekend; my theory was that by during the weekend, I had more uninterrupted time to read.
The problem with this method, however, 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, often causing 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 accomplishing the assignment slower; however, 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
Even after I started spreading the reading assignments throughout the week, I still found it difficult to concentrate for long periods of time.
After a while, I began skimming the reading assignments to finish them faster; although 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.
My first approach was to read a few pages, take a short break, and then repeat. 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 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 textbook notes, I like to format them the same as the book. For example, my notes may look something like this:
- Chapter Title
This method of organization not only lets you know where exactly in the textbook you took the notes, but it also allows you to easily find that section if you need 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. Figure Out Your Note-Taking Method
Although this may seem redundant, I’m not talking about how to organize your notes or whether you should write them by hand or type them on a computer (re: #3).
Instead, I’m 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’re going to take notes as you read the passage or whether you’re going to read 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!
5. Look for Keywords
Keywords are essential to understanding and dissecting long reading passages. Not only do they help you identify important parts of the passage, but they lead you to key ideas and are often followed by a definition that will be important to include in your notes.
6. Read the Summary Page
When it comes to doing a long reading assignment, the summary page is perhaps every college student’s best friend.
After all, not only does it review almost every important point in the chapter, but it does it in a simple, easy-to-understand way.
I recommend both starting and ending your textbook assignment by reading the summary page. Reading the summary page first will help you identify the important ideas and keywords to look out for while reading; reading it again at the end will ensure that you understand the most important topics of the chapter, especially since those are most likely to come up on a test.
(An extra tip: re-read the summary pages right before a quiz or test!)
Bonus Tip: Leave Room for Class Notes
When it comes to taking notes, a student often has a set of classroom/lecture notes and a set of textbook/homework notes. However, having 2 separate sets of notes can make studying and finding certain pieces of information difficult, especially when studying for an exam.
Luckily, there is a way around it: to combine your classroom and textbook notes, take textbook notes on 1 side of the page and leave the other side for the corresponding classroom notes to go. Having the two together will make your notes easy to refer to and study throughout the semester.
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 lets you complete the assignment, but understand it as well. I’ve found all of these tips to be extremely helpful for me, so 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!