Hi everyone! One of the things I wished I had known before starting my degree was how to manage my time reading. At A-Level I had a couple of set texts each year that I was expected to read over time and complete weekly homework on. Upon arrival at my first university lecture I was given my reading list. In a horrified panic I released quite quickly that I was expected to read, understand and complete work around a new text each week. Before university I was quite a slow reader but I knew that by two o’clock on Thursday’s I would have a seminar where I would need to have fully formed ideas and opinions about texts. Here are a few tips for anyone just starting university or for people like me, who are returning, and need a constant reminder of how to get work completed on time.
- Skim the first read~ I know this is controversial advice. Whatever sized text you are faced with to get a general outline of ideas/plot/purpose skim read. Miss out filler paragraphs. Skip repetitive dialogue. If you are faced with a large monologue in a play pick out the most important parts and move on. Do not waste time reading each word precisely. There will be books that will take a while to read no matter your speed so always make sure you at least have the bare bones of plot before delving deeper.
- Highlight key points~ When you’re going through the text anything that stands out to you as important highlight. When I was beginning my degree I would have sheets of highlighted text. Do not do this. If you keep to the bits you think are important more than likely you will find coming back to a text easier. Too much highlight can be daunting when you return to a text so keep it to short paragraphs but mainly single sentences. In addition always highlight any words or phrases you do not understand. Glossing over them will do you no good in the long run. Highlight the word/phrase, look it up and make a note of the meaning.
- Take notes throughout reading~ Even when skimming if you find a part of the text which you feel is key make a note of it. Whether you have a notebook handy, a piece of scrap paper, you write in the margins or have post-it notes write it down. One of my main failings at the beginning was thinking that I would remember everything I had thought about a text without noting them down. It takes time but it is worth it when you need to return to the text. My personal preference for university books is writing in the margins (shock horror) and tagging pages because it’s quicker for me.
- Look through the Introduction and Glossary~ Do not underestimate the importance of the extra information the author/editor of a text gives to you. I would always recommend reading an Introduction before the text itself (for obvious reasons) but things like glossaries, author’s notes and possible translations I would leave until after an initial reading. One thing I found whilst studying drama is that a lot of plays by academic publishers contain translations and explanations in the footnotes so always read these along with the text to understand the language. This is especially helpful with Renaissance plays like Shakespeare because publications like the Arden Shakespeare have translations, phrase meanings/explanations and also provide the original wording if you require it for essays.
- Write up your thoughts~ Once you finish an initial read of any text write/type your initial feelings. This does not need to be a full report but here are a few things I try to sum up once I’ve finished a text: general plot overview, three key themes, main characters. Keep it broad. I would also recommend thinking about whether you personally liked the text or not. There have been so many discussions opened up in my seminars when a lecturer has asked “so did anyone really like or really dislike this text?” If you think of this before hand and have a formed opinion it’ll be easier to revisit.
So there are five tips that hopefully put you on the right track with your reading. Remember you can only read as fast as you can. One of the most important things about starting out is leaving yourself enough time to get the required reading finished. Some books will feel like the drag on forever and others you will read in a few hours, either way doing your best will mean you get the best of out any text!