I struggled throughout my first year to read academic sources properly. I’d never had to read material like it before, and especially not of that length. Throughout my second year, and now the start of my third year, I’ve started to realise what good reading is; I’ve figured out my own methods for reading well and engaging with the material. So, here are some reading tips to get you through your degree, from someone that has nearly finished theirs and has learnt a lot along the way!
Don’t just read – engage with the literature!
It was probably only at the start of second year that I learnt the difference between simply reading a text and then engaging with it. After reading an article or chapter, it’s useful to reflect on the content by asking yourself questions and making a note of the answers. I always ask myself: what is the main argument in this text? Do I agree with it and why/why not? Are there any gaps in this academic’s discussion? This is a habit I wish I’d have gotten into sooner, but it really helps later in your degree when it comes to writing literature reviews or assessments such as article reviews or critical reflections.
Make note of anything you don’t understand, and then ask about it
If there’s any concept, argument, or example in a text that you don’t understand, make a note of it or highlight it for discussion in your next seminar. Asking your lecturer or seminar leader about anything you’re confused with can make things so much clearer. It also shows that you’ve worked carefully through the text and you’ve engaged with it. Asking these questions in seminars can lead to good discussions amongst the class too. Sometimes, people interpret texts differently from one another so hearing different thoughts and perspectives can help you to think about the topic in ways you haven’t considered before.
Find a method that works for you (this may involve some trial and error)…
When I complete my seminar readings, I bring the text up on my laptop on one side, and then have a Word document open on the other side for notetaking. I make a note of any key arguments, concepts, limitations, points I agree with, disagree with, or don’t understand. I find that writing these in my own words helps me to understand the material more than copying and pasting or highlighting does. It might take a little longer, but it’s worth it. Different things work for everyone though; a lot of my friends all work in different ways. Take a look at how your course mates do their reading. If you feel like you aren’t getting as much out of your method as you could, try someone else’s or go and ask a lecturer or seminar leader for advice.
Build reading into your schedule – staying on top of readings keeps you organised
As I am quite an organised person, I work best when I have a plan of action and I set myself deadlines. I always have daily to-do lists to keep myself on track. I find it helpful to factor the reading into these lists. It’s an important part of your learning, so don’t treat it like something to do simply on the side of attending lectures and seminars if you have time. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to do your reading, and don’t rush it! Throughout my degree I’ve learnt that taking my time to read is so much more beneficial than leaving it until the last minute and rushing it!
Don’t do it all at once!
For me as a Politics and International Relations student, there’s a lot of reading involved in my degree. I don’t doubt that it’s no different for others on different degree programmes too. So, I’ve found that if I do a lot of reading all at once, I struggle to keep them separate in my mind and remember which points and arguments were in each piece of literature. I also start to lose my focus and I don’t engage as well with them. For me, I work best if I do two readings a day, at a maximum. I spread them out over the week and do other work in between. I find that by doing this, when I read I engage a lot more thoroughly and understand the content better.