How To Read
Well of course you all know how to read by now, so you may wonder what on earth I’m talking about. However, reading at university is a bit different and can take some getting used to. This is particularly the case now that I’m in second year! Let me explain…
University involves A LOT of reading. Obviously, I can’t speak for every degree, but as an English student I can probably safely say that we have the most reading out of everyone because – well, that’s kind of what we do. The thing is, there’s so much of it that there’s not always enough hours in the day to get through it all, so you have to learn new ways to read. That probably sounds a bit weird, and it’s still something I am very much having to work on – I have always been the kind of person who HATES not finishing a book, even if it’s the worst thing I’ve ever read, so yeah, it takes a little bit of adjusting.
So without further ado, here are my top tips for coping with that mountain of reading!
1. You don’t have to read everything
(But don’t tell your tutor I told you that…) Realistically, it’s impossible to read everything, and unhealthy. It’s okay to prioritise deadlines and other really important things over finishing that 400 page novel that puts you to sleep every time you open it. This is not an excuse not to do your reading! Clearly, you should still try and do as much of your reading as possible, but I’m just saying don’t be too annoyed with yourself if it has to slip a little sometimes.
2. Prioritising and organisation are key
Primary texts are always more important than secondary texts (until you know which books you’d like to write your essay on, at which point secondary texts come back into play). If you don’t have time to read both, always prioritise the primary – it’s better to turn up to a seminar being able to talk about the novel instead of being able to only talk about a piece of criticism which you can’t then relate back to the novel because you haven’t read it… You also need to be really organised and constantly thinking ahead: if you have a week with less reading, get ahead with next week’s! And always try to read *some* of the primary texts in the holidays when you can. Trust me, you will thank yourself later.
3. SparkNotes is not the spawn of the devil
No, it’s not university level stuff. No, you shouldn’t rely on it all the time or use it instead of actually reading anything. Can you use it to your advantage? Yes. SparkNotes (other similar sites are available) can be really, really useful. If you’re struggling with a text that’s hard-going, look up the plot summary – it will make it a lot easier to follow. If you read a book a few weeks before your seminar and now you’re feeling all overwhelmed because you’ve forgotten the exact details of what happened, look up the plot summary – it will all come flooding back. Don’t rely on the analysis sections of these sites so much, because that’s where it gets a bit basic for university, but plot summaries are a godsend. Use them, don’t abuse them though.
4. Try different styles of ‘reading’
Getting through your reading doesn’t always have to mean staring at every single word on the page. If you’re studying plays, watching productions of these can be really helpful and makes you feel like you’re having a break even when you’re working! You do need to be careful that the production is true to the original (this is why it’s not always so great an idea with novels) but if it is then go ahead! The library has a great collection of DVDs relevant to course texts. My latest technique is to use audiobooks. Don’t bother using Audible or anything like that unless you’ve already got a subscription – there are free alternatives. This method is best when you’re studying older texts, as more modern texts are still under copyright, but if it’s a text which was published before 1900 (and some up to 1945) then it’s in the public domain. LibriVox is a great site which takes public domain books and gets people to record them, creating a whole collection of free audiobooks! You can also find quite a few on Youtube. I didn’t think I’d be able to concentrate properly on audiobooks, but they’re great for getting some reading done in those moments when you wouldn’t normally be able to, such as when cooking or doing chores around the house. I quite often listen to them on double speed too and follow the text along: this is only a bit quicker than I would normally read and, once you’re used to it, it means that you can power through those novels!
5. Sometimes it’s okay to give up
Last but not least, if you’re really really struggling with a text to the point you feel that you’re just wasting time, it’s okay to quit. As long as you’ve tried, there’s nothing more you can do. If you’re struggling with it that much, it’s unlikely that you will end up using it for an essay. So move onwards and upwards to the next one!
Hopefully a few of you will find these tips helpful!