It was the first time I had ever been in Con Hall. All of the seats were packed, and the sound of chatter echoed throughout the massive Victorian building. The girl I was talking to was a fourth year Drama & Theatre student taking ANT100 as a breadth requirement. Being the first year student that I was, I asked her the question almost all students (especially social sciences and humanities students) ask at least once, “Do I actually need to do all of my readings?”
She told me to not even try reading everything, which struck me as kind of odd since everyone else had been telling me otherwise. I had been receiving two very different sets of instructions.
Fast forward several years. I am now that fourth year student. I have definitely read a lot, from tedious textbook chapters to jargon-filled articles, from folktales to short stories. Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to after poring over enough pages to re-write a dictionary:
The goal of academic reading is not about how much you can read, but how effectively you can do so. Essentially, it’s quality over quantity.
So, yes, you can try to do all of your prescribed readings. But, depending on the class, the prof, and the material you’re given, it might not always be the best or only course of action.
The first thing I do when I’m given a list of readings, is read the rest of the syllabus. What is it exactly that the instructor is hoping we learn in their class? It also helps to pay attention during the first lecture, because they’ll probably mention the readings anyways (two of my profs this year flat-out said that they weren’t expecting us to read every bit of their syllabi’s bibliographies).
Step 1. is figuring out what you might need to prioritize.
Step 2. is reading smart. What were you discussing last lecture? What might you discuss next lecture? Your readings aren’t just random (though, it sometimes might feel this way): what is the prof hoping you’ll get out of them? What questions are you left with? Et cetera.
When I read, I keep an eye out for the answers to these questions, along with keywords or ideas we examined in the previous lecture. I write points down in my notebooks with page numbers, so I can refer back to specific concepts. (This also makes citations a whole lot easier.)
Sometimes, the professor talks about something that I haven’t read. When this happens, it’s not the end of the world: I write down what I can, and then I go back to the text to investigate more.
Step 3. is realizing that yes, you do need to do your readings. You can’t change the syllabus, so there’s no point in fighting those pages. Don’t panic, don’t fret. Just grab a cup of tea or coffee or hot chocolate, sit somewhere that keeps you relaxed and focused, and dive in. And, most importantly, learn to indulge your curiosity. University is a great place to do this.