I always found it quite difficult to know whether I should be pursuing extra reading for a particular module or if I shouldn’t. I mean before you start university, one of the things you assume is that you have to do a lot of reading around to get high marks, however I believe that this is completely dependent on the course you’re studying.

Some of my friends have never even touched a book and still managed to get a really good mark. This is probably due to the fact that they spend a lot of time on the applications side of the course. They’ll make sure they understand the content and approach past papers. They attend tutorials and workshops and will even go the extra mile to speak to lecturers. 

For some courses, further reading is a necessity. For example, History and English Literature have essay titles, where it would benefit the students greatly to do reading outside the course. For Chemistry, it always seems that the lecturers have books to recommend, but it’s always the question of whether they should be borrowed/bought and read. Our department has also just offered the option of using ebooks opposed to textbooks if that’s easier, and I must admit that this was an incredible idea. This means that we can edit, make notes on our copies of the textbook and if we need to look up a specific area, this can also be done using the search function.

I’ve settled for something in the middle. I usually approach the lecturers and ask them how I would learn most efficiently to get high marks. Some of them have recommended to still get the books out, but this was mostly to have a practise at the questions given in some of those books. Some of these books are also great at explaining things. I remember last year I was struggling really badly with one of my modules – Symmetry. I have never been a visual person and this made it extremely difficult for me to grasp the concepts, but one of the books that I got out of the library for this, allowed me to understand the module in much greater detail. I still approached the lecturer for extra help with past paper questions, but I wasn’t embarassed about this as I have tried to understand the theory independently first. 

I wouldn’t say that you shouldn’t ever read a book if you don’t have to, however for some courses I believe that the lecture material is key and books should be used for the more difficult subjects and if there is a particular interest within a field of study. Books are also useful for assignments, but more recently I have found myself using review articles and published papers on certain topics instead sometimes. These are very condensed and can sometimes aid in understanding of material much better. 

I believe it is important for someone to identify what works best for themselves and work accordingly. You might find yourself having a different opinion or that your course structure revolves more around extra reading. Also, the elements of the extra reading could change with course amendments in the future. However if any of these are the case, I would love to hear how much reading you do in your course and how much it forms as part of your studying pattern.