When I sit down, highlighter and pen in hand, ready to attack something from my mandatory reading list, I feel like I’m prepping for a marathon (something you would never find me doing). I know it’s going to be hard, I know I’m probably going to want to give up mid-way, I know I’ll keep checking my watch and I know it’s probably going to be worth it in the end. Yet my motivation remains at zero.
I asked my friends for tips and tricks on how to conquer painful academics readings. This is what I got back:
“Drop out of uni”
“Outsource the work”
And, my personal favourite, one person sent me this:
But, on the other side of these unhelpful-yet-kinda-funny answers, I found some great wisdom. So through trial and error I’ve put together my Painful Academic Reading Survival Guide. Cue the confetti.
Skim the readings
If someone says skimming, I typically think of gliding rocks across a flat lake. Oops. But skimming is actually a really helpful way of getting through a dense reading. An abstract, found at the beginning of many academic papers, is essentially a summary of the reading. AKA it’s your best friend. Read it, read it again, then give it a big kiss. It’ll give you key points, key words and it’s key to getting through the reading painlessly.
To skim, what you’re going to do is read the abstract, the introduction and conclusion, then the first sentence of each of the paragraphs. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t understand, that’s when you dive in and read the full paragraph. Breaking it down like this allows you to grasp the ideas laid out in the text quickly and succinctly. Then if you need any extra information on the points raised you know where to find them. A win-win.
The most efficient way of absorbing the information you’re reading is to take notes in your own words. This is just for you, so it can be as simple or silly as you want as long as you understand it. If you take notes as you go, you’ll end up thinking more about your notes and less about what you’re actually reading – so don’t. Once you finish reading an article or chapter, without looking, vomit out the information you consider important. Then fill in the gaps. Remember: In. Your. Own. Words.
But this method’s not for everyone – I’m looking at you, visual learners. You didn’t spend all that time perusing Officeworks’ stationery section for nothing, so it’s time to pick up those pretty highlighters and put ‘em to use.
Ah, the old mind map. I don’t think it’ll ever go out of fashion. It’s such a staple in the academic toolkit of students, here’s why. Mind maps sum up your readings into a cute little bite-sized pieces you can keep going back to. It’s much like note-taking but prettier. The same rules apply, use your own words and keep it simple. But this time, colour code it and include some fun doodles if you like.
The final little screwdriver in my toolbelt is ChatGPT. Whilst you can’t have AI write your essays for you, you can get it to summarise your readings if you’re struggling. Sometimes, they’re super dense and the tips above just can’t get you there. ChatGPT can break down the content into a digestible little muffin that you can just eat up. Once you’ve got the general gist then you can dive back into the actual reading, armed with the rest of your Painful Academic Reading Survival Guide.
So yes, caffeine and the occasional cry sometimes help but there’s a bunch of ways to get through the stack of mandatory readings staring you down on Canvas. In fact, they’re not so daunting after all. And what’s even better is that doing your readings ~actually~ helps you do well in your classes. Go figure. Who knows, maybe I’ll run a marathon next!*