Reading lists. We all have them – some longer than others – and if you’re one of the lucky souls who receives a list that could be published as a novel in its own right, chances are you struggle from time to time when it comes to getting all of that reading done. To try and help you, we’ve put together some tips on how to wade through those all-important set texts.
1. Actually get all of your books
Books are expensive, and long reading lists can produce a hefty bill if the books aren’t available in the library. But don’t be tempted to put off buying the texts you need, because this will just give you an excuse to put off reading them. Buy all of your books as soon as possible so that when you have time to read them, they’ll be there for you to start. Don’t forget to compare the prices of the books in your nearest book shops and the ones available online. Where possible, try second-hand websites such as abebooks.co.uk to make those all-important savings! Remember to make sure you’re getting the right edition (this is usually specified in the reading list) so that you can stay on the same page as your lecturers and classmates.
2. Get your library books out in advance
Libraries only have a finite number of copies of each book, so there will always be a bit of competition between you and your coursemates to get the most relevant books first. Never leave finding your books until the last minute, expecting them to be there waiting for you, especially when the book is a set text. Get in early, get the books you need, and get them read so that someone else can use them after you.
Read your compulsory set texts first, in the order that they will come up in your modules. There’s no point in reading a text that you need in Week 8 if you haven’t read the texts for Week 2 yet! When you’ve read all of the essential reading, then you can make a start on your suggested/further reading (obviously, if you have an assignment due before you’ve finished all of your texts, you should prioritise the set and suggested texts that are relevant to that assignment). Make clear notes on key points in the texts so they’re readily available when you need to return to them.
4. Plan Your Reading
Reading your texts is just as important as completing your written work, so don’t just treat it as something you can do when you have the time. Set aside specific times and days when you’re going to read, and stick to that. Plan your reading based on what lectures you’re reading for, when certain assignments are due and what topics you are covering. Always remember that just because you can read a whole book in one sitting doesn’t mean you should. The whole point of university reading is that you should learn from it, so don’t read when you’re tired because nothing will go in – if you’re tired, rest and get up early to read tomorrow instead!
5. Take Notes
To make sure you’re making the most of the time you’re putting into reading, consider taking notes on the text. This will help you remember the information you pick up while reading the text, and allow you to go back to the notes in class for helpful points of discussion. Remember to highlight in your notes the text on which they are based, so that you can easily go back to it if the points become relevant to an essay or assignment.
6. Refresh your memory
Picture the scene: you finally got organised this week and read your texts ahead of time. Now you turn up to the tutorial and – disaster! You’ve forgotten everything you read.
If you have to read a text for a tutorial or seminar, it’s a good idea to read it as early as possible to make sure you definitely have it read in time. Don’t forget to refresh your memory of the text, though, or you may end up in class with all the work done but nothing to show for it. Before class, scan the text as you would a dictionary or telephone directory, passing your vision quickly over the pages to pick up particular words and phrases that are relevant to your argument. If you’re in a rush, you can limit your scanning to the introduction and conclusion so you at least have an idea of what the text was about, and this should jog your memory.
7. Don’t fall out of love with reading
It’s easy to have your love of reading destroyed if you’re studying a book-heavy subject (we’re looking at you, English Literature), which is a disaster if your love of books is what caused you to pick your degree in the first place. Once this happens, your motivation to read not only texts you don’t like, but texts you do like, will go down the drain.
Try to stop this from happening by occasionally reading for leisure. If you read before bed, don’t read a set text. Read something you actually want to read, rather than something you dread picking up. It’s important to be able to read a book without having to analyse and memorise every single word, every now and then.