Photo By: Patrick Tomasso from Unsplash

If your program requires a lot of heavy readings or you just struggle with getting university readings done in general, you aren’t alone. 

Reading in a focussed manner for a long period of time can bring about a kind of dread for a lot of people. If that sounds like you, then keep reading to learn some general and specific tips for surviving and even thriving when doing readings.

Time is on your side

Setting specific times to get through readings can be helpful if you are a master of procrastination. Use your phone, or better yet, write it down somewhere you can see it like on a whiteboard or a schedule. Having some kind of physical presence that indicates what you have to get done and when can make all the difference. As for the actual reading itself, you can play with this a bit based on what suits you best, but try to have certain amounts of time that you work with and include scheduled breaks (also timed) between those main blocks of reading. A general rule that seems to work for people is to take breaks roughly one third of the time that you spend reading. 

Remember, if you are proactive in making time for your readings then it won’t feel like you’re fighting against time to get them done. 

Reading is always active

If you’ve ever fallen into the mental trap of passively scanning the words of a reading to be able to tell yourself “I did it,” then this applies especially to you. This sounds finger point-y, but your high school English teachers were expressing a deep truth when they said that reading is an active process. You don’t necessarily have to mark the page up like a James Joyce manuscript, but taking time to pause and think about what you’re reading and making notes of where your thoughts are going can be helpful in cementing how you feel about what you’re reading for later. 

This kind of active participation in the reading can not only help you remember more of its content, but might even spark personal interest in the topic you’re reading about.

Set the stage 

This flows nicely from the last tip, because your environment can play a huge part in how you digest your readings. It’s helpful to set intentions about what reading is going to look like when you get around to it. 

Do you ever notice that you can think things out more clearly when you go for a walk? It’s almost like the stable pace of walking affects our thought process in a way that keeps it grounded, or brings rhythm to it. You definitely know the feeling of being in one space, maybe your bedroom, and your mind is all over the place because you’re not doing anything (which usually leads to pulling up Twitter or something). Now imagine the ways in which lying in bed or having music on can interrupt your ability to meaningfully engage with what you’re reading. If there are things around clawing for your attention and it’s ultimately you who makes the choice of what to drown out, why make it harder for yourself? A lot of people claim it helps them not to listen to music or bask in the comfort of your bed when you read or when you are just plain studying for that matter. Not that reading has to be a purely ascetic activity, just find a spot to sit, maybe make it the spot that you go to for some serious reading time, and remove as many distractions as possible. 

Effectively scanning

Okay, it’s true that university students in particular are extremely busy. Often it’s hard to even have the time to engage as thoughtfully as one wants with their readings. And even if you do have the time, the energy might not be there because of the million and one other things you already have to do. That’s why learning to tactically scan what you’re reading can come in handy if time and energy are a constant struggle for you. 

This is where things can get highly contextual. The point here is not “don’t do your readings,” but rather, if you know what portions of a reading are important or what terms, examples, etc. are central to the reading, glossing over things that don’t entirely address those essential concepts might be something you do. Part of this has to do with understanding why the reading is important to your specific course and what your professor wants you to take away from it (your syllabus can be helpful here). 

It’s easy to forget that reading for school isn’t a job, it can be pleasurable, even when it isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. It often just takes a little bit of planning.