Handling College Reading Assignments

In college, effectively handling the large volume of reading material requires organization, strategy, and commitment. Every Sunday, outline your schedule and assignments for the week. This will help you identify the big reading assignments for the week and when to deal with them.

Settle in to your "study place" where you have good light, a comfortable chair, and minimal distractions. Don't just plunge in and plow through the reading. Instead, determine the context for your assigned reading so you'll know what to think about as you read. Do this by looking at the course syllabus as a whole and then at the section containing the reading assignment you're about to begin. Pay special attention to titles, headings, or other descriptors that your professor has indicated on that section of the syllabus. Consider how the assignment fits in with what you've been doing in class and where you're going in the next several lectures.

Next, flip through the section of the textbook or course packet containing your reading assignment, and get a sense of how it's organized. Scan chapter titles and section headings to gain a framework for organizing the material as you read. This helps you read actively, think critically about what you're reading; and better retain the subject matter.

Begin your reading. Highlight, underline, or make margin notes in the textbook next to key points. Record your questions in the margins so you'll remember to ask the professor about these points during or after lecture. If you come across words, terms, or concepts you don't understand, look them up in the glossary (if there is one) or another resource. Write the definitions or explanations right into the textbook so that they'll be there if you need them again. Don't simply read past them — doing so will impede your understanding of the topic.

Force yourself to read actively. Don't simply highlight text, thinking that you'll come back to tease out the important ideas later. Think critically about what you're reading: force yourself to actively relate the subject matter you're covering to the most recent section heading or chapter title and then to the section on the syllabus you reviewed previously.

If your mind wanders or if you're just blindly reading words without thinking about them, stop. Do some stretches, get some water or fresh air. Return to the syllabus and remind yourself of what you should be looking for. Reading words and simply "covering" the material isn't the goal; you must actually process what you read.

When you finish the assignment, don't just put it away. Take five more minutes to reflect on what you've read. Scan chapter titles; section headings; and all the highlights, underlines, or margin notes you made. Remind yourself of the section on the syllabus you were covering, where you've been, and where you're going in the course material. Think about how the assigned material "fits in" to the subject as a whole. This extra step reinforces long-term retention and comprehension of the material.