It does sound like you are now in the thick of things in your new semester.
Glad to hear your new classes are exciting.
Sorry to hear that you are finding yourself overwhelmed with your reading assignments.
I remember one classmate who added up all the pages assigned for all his classes for the semester. Then he figured out how many pages per hour he was actually able to read.
A little math revealed two things.
- The good news was that he actually could get all his assigned reading done during the semester.
- The bad news was that he would not be allowed to sleep for the next four months. Or go to class. Or to the bathroom, I suspect.
Why do your professors assign so much reading?
You are in a similar situation. You could draw one of two conclusions.
- Maybe each of your professors thinks that his or her class is the most important thing in your life, and that you should shift everything else to a lower priority.
- Or, maybe your professors do not really expect you to read everything on the syllabus — at least not in exactly the same way.
There is a bit of truth in option one. Any good teacher gets excited about the material, and wants you to see it in as much depth as possible.
In my Church History survey courses, sometimes people complain that I try to include too much. I should stick to the high points, they say, and leave out all the unimportant bits.
They seem to assume that there could surely only be one easy semester’s worth of important things — in over 2000 years of growth and change.
I love this stuff. Every time I leave out a world-changing person or a crucial idea in the development of Christian teaching I feel I’m short changing my students.
But the real answer is #2: You have to learn to read in new ways. I don’t mean that you need to take a speed reading course — though it wouldn’t hurt you. I mean you need to change your definition of “reading” and hone a new set of skills.
What do you think “reading” means?
Most people emerge from high school, or even graduate from a university, with a simple and narrow definition of the word “reading.”
We think it only counts as reading if we start at the beginning, bring our eyes across each and every word, silently mouthing each one in turn in our minds. We have to do this on each and every line of each and every page, until we get to the end.
- That’s what we learned back in first grade.
- The problem? Graduate school is not first grade.
That form of reading is too slow to ever bring you to the finish line. Plus, using that method on meaty works and you’ll never actually find what you need in them.
I’d say you need to learn to practice three different forms of reading, at least two of which, to a lot of people, don’t even meet that traditional definition.
Think strategically about your reading assignments
Your goal with each book, chapter, or article should be to get from it what you need. When you have that you are done reading. It may take ten minutes or ten hours. It all depends on what you need.
The first thing to do is to figure out why the professor assigned that particular text. That will let you know how it fits into the class as a whole. That, in turn, can help you think strategically about how you will spend your time with that book to get what you need.
Any given reading assignment is likely to fall into one of four categories,
- It may be intended to give you the big picture of the semester’s subject.
- It may be intended to give snapshots of alternate points of view.
- It may drill deeply into a topic for an in-class discussion or paper assignment.
- It may be there for you to follow up with on your own if you happen to want to learn more.
Learning to read all over again — with a new definition
You need to approach each of these kinds of assignment differently. Do with them whatever it takes to get what you need from them. Call that “reading” and you are good to go.
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