How I Manage My Never-Ending University Reading - Answering Your Questions

Monday, October 14, 2019

If you're currently in university and studying an essay-based subject, you'll know just how much reading is required. I sometimes feel like most of my time is taken up by reading a variety of novels, plays and poems, even though this only skims the surface of what I have to do. Despite studying English literature and therefore having a very reading-heavy degree, I tend to organise it quite well and get through all of my texts, and so I thought I'd answer some of your questions about managing your university reading list and keeping up with it all!

My university reading list is so expensive - are there any more affordable ways of buying the books?
I'm lucky enough to work part-time in Waterstones and therefore have a staff discount, and so twice a year I will head into my store with a list as long as my arm of books that I need. Although this helps to make it a lot more affordable, I understand that not everyone will have this. I highly recommend buying your books secondhand on Amazon, as they are incredibly affordable and still great quality, although you may have to wait a week or so for them to arrive. If your university has a Blackwells on campus then they are also worth checking out, and will often sell bundles of books for each module at a discounted price. It's also worth asking around if you know older students on your course as they may be willing to sell or give away their old texts, and charity shops are also useful if you don't need to have a specific edition.

Alternatively, you can always find the texts in your university library, although they will most likely be limited in copies and you'll only have a short time before needing to return them. There's also the issue of not being able to annotate the texts, so if you're someone who learns by scrawling all over your books then it perhaps isn't the best method for you. I swear by the library for any secondary reading and resources that I perhaps only need a couple of quotations or ideas from, but all of my primary reading I prefer to buy.

Is it necessary to read all of the texts on your reading list?
I'll be honest, it isn't easy getting through all of the books on your reading list, especially when they're the kind of book where you sit down and read for hours only to realise you've only made it through 15 pages. As soon as I receive my reading lists, I go through them and highlight which texts I want to focus on in-depth or feel like I will use for any essays or exams, and that way I can focus more attention and time on reading those. Although I'd recommend reading all of the books, sometimes that isn't possible, and focusing on completing a few with a thorough understanding is better than each one being half-finished. If there are any books you can't complete before the lecture, make sure you read summaries and know what happens in the rest of it, and then you can finish it at a later date.

How can I get through all of my books and make reading manageable?
In terms of making time for reading all the books, it's really just about using every free moment you get to read, even if it's only a couple of pages. Whether that's on a bus journey, your lunch break or before you go to bed, every little bit will make a difference and help you get through the texts. I've had days of reading for probably 8-10 hours with only breaks for meals, and although it's difficult it's sometimes necessary.

It's also important to make reading an enjoyable process, not something that you have to do. Whether that's by getting cosy in bed with your novel or treating yourself to a cup of tea and a slice of cake in a cafe to accompany your reading, make it feel more like a hobby than a chore. At the end of the day, your degree should be something that interests you and so you should try and remember this whilst powering through your reading.

What do you do if a text is incredibly difficult and you can't understand it?
It's inevitable that we will all encounter difficult material at times, especially with subjects like English literature where reading poetry from the 14th century can feel like a completely different language. If you're struggling, I'd recommend doing as much research as possible, as well as reading alongside summaries or translations to help your understanding. If that still doesn't help, there's no shame in asking a tutor for help or someone on your course to explain it to you!

How do you remember what happens in all of your books?
When there are countless texts to read, it can be easy to get confused or to start forgetting details. I'd recommend writing down little notes as you go along to remind you of important plot points, features or details that you might otherwise forget. Also, watching Youtube videos or reading relevant articles can help to jog your memory of any important details.

There is so much going on within each text - how do I know what to focus on when reading?
I completely understand this concern, as there can be many different things happening and it's hard to know where to start and focus your attention. A good way in is to look at the essay questions relating to that book and keep in mind any particular themes or arguments that they discuss when reading it. You may also benefit from asking your tutors what they plan on focusing on in seminars and tailor your reading around these points. If you're reading after the lecture, you can also use those perspectives and arguments to frame your reading.

How do you manage your university reading? Let me know in the comments below!

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