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If you’re having trouble keeping up with reading assignments, it might because you’re leisure-reading instead of college-reading.

When I was little, my mother was surprised when I took home a book within the first few days of school and was able to read it to her. I grew up proud of myself for being able to read, and very much enjoyed doing so. I carried a book everywhere and became very studious. When I sat at the dinner table to do my homework, my father, who was also very proud, constantly reminded me to “read and understand.” “When you read,” he said, “if you don’t understand something, go back and read it again and again, until you understand.” If I couldn’t make sense of the way something was written, I’d ask him for help. I think that’s what most people who enjoy reading do. They take their time and they understand.

When I got to college, however, I realized how difficult this was. You know what it’s like. School is very demanding. Every professor requires you to read a ton of pages for their class, and if you don’t, you’re behind on everything. So, I did a little research on how to read in college, and this is what I found. Different from leisure reading, here are the do’s and don’ts of reading in college.


1. Annotate

I once heard that annotating is like having a conversation with the reading. Writing down thoughts, whether it’s a question on something unclear, or a simple opinion, helps get through the information faster. Unless you’re reading a dense chapter that is difficult to understand and something you’ll be tested on, annotating wouldn’t be the first thing to come to mind while reading.

Not many people annotate, or would even think of annotating a book they’re reading for enjoyment. But jotting down thoughts as they arise helps to raise your awareness of what you’re thinking while you’re reading. That way, it’ll be clear whether you can move on, or if you need to spend a little more time figuring out what the author is really trying to say. In other words, annotating keeps you out of your head and in tune with what’s on the page. It is a faster way to understand what you’re reading.

2. Skim for the Main Idea

Unfortunately, you just have to accept that you just can’t read a textbook like your favorite novel. Like I mentioned before, all five of your professors are demanding you read forty pages per night. It’s just not possible. If you try to read all of it, and really understand every word, you’re going to tire yourself out and you probably won’t remember what you read.

Instead, look for the main idea of the reading. What’s the writer’s point? How do you know it’s his or her point? What does she or he say to support that argument? Look through the paragraphs until you’re able to answer those questions. You’ll save time, work efficiently and accomplish the task.

3. Read the First and Last Paragraphs

This will give a clear idea of what the reading is about, so you’re not going into the class unprepared. Trying to make sense of all the details might just make you frustrated. Sometimes, all you need to know is what the text is about so you can answer any questions during class, and take adequate notes on the professor’s lecture. Without knowing what the text is about ahead of time, it is hard to remember study material during test-taking time.

4. Give Yourself Time

According to Cornell College, students should multiply the amount of pages by five to get the amount of time needed to spend reading. So, for example, if you’re assigned to read twenty-five pages for your next class, spend two-to-three hours reading. However, avoid completing this assignment in just one day.

Another way to read effectively in less time is to apply leisure reading habits to college reading. Be aware of how long it takes you to read any number of pages. If you need an hour to read fifteen pages, and the professor assigns thirty, allow two hours to complete the assignment. Because leisure reading is different, add a little more time for annotating.

5. Understand the Goal

The video, “Do You Actually Need to Read Your Textbooks?” explains why knowing the goal of reading is important. Some professors want you to know the details of what you’ve read. Others ask that you simply get the main idea. Some classes focus on a discussion of what was read, while other professors ask that you take more careful notes during lectures. Understanding why you’re reading will tell you whether to skim or read in detail.


1. Annotate Irrelevant Ideas

It’s easy to get caught up in conversation with the reading, but you may find yourself taking note on very small points without considering the author’s point. Remember, you should understand what you’re reading, even if you’re not reading all of it. Annotating is only part of the job.

2. Read Every Word

Some words will stand out more than others, and that’s okay. What you remember and take note on is personal to you. Not every line has to affect you or provide a striking image. If you just keep reading, you may be surprised at how much you retained.

3. Worry About the Big Words

Part of understanding what you’re reading means looking up the unfamiliar words. However, if it’s avoidable—if you can understand the material without looking up every word—go for it. Only pull up the dictionary app if it’s absolutely necessary. You’ll be saving yourself a lot of time and doing your best work at the same time.

4. Cram 

This is said very often. It can be hard to avoid cramming, but breaking up the reading will save a lot of stress and enable a much greater comprehension of the material. Give yourself the right amount of time needed to complete reading assignments.

5. Read for Pleasure

If you just read the text, you may end up spending a lot time trying to understand the details when you don’t really need to. Remember, leisure reading is different from college reading. Sometimes you just need to know the main idea. You’re also less likely to retain the important information if you read without annotating.

It sucks. You want to absorb all the information you can, like a sponge, but it seems college wasn’t meant for that. If it’s something I think is really important, and I’d like to read it when I have more free time, I’ll purchase the book if it’s affordable. If not, I’ll take pictures of the few pages I didn’t get a chance to read before returning it. Just don’t try to make a profit out of it.

College is very demanding, especially when it comes to reading. But you take the course and you buy the book, so why shouldn’t you read? You shouldn’t have to cut yourself off. Be a sponge. Absorb tons of information and be knowledgeable.

Writer Profile

Angela Fraser

CUNY Brooklyn College
Theater & Creative Writing

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