Productivity,  Research

How to read when time is limited

3 Minute Read -

So we’ve all been there. The lecturer asks specific questions related to the prescribed reading and everyone in the class looks down. The bow of shame. The bow of a student who hasn’t done their readings in advance. Let’s be honest, we’re all busy! There’s work, family, friends, side hustles, and on top of that trying to finish off this degree. One way of dealing with this is to spend the next few weeks averting attention from yourself in class (to avoid being asked any specific questions) until the exams come and you’re home free.

But you’re paying for this. You’re paying to be asked questions about readings you didn’t have time to read, so at the end of the day, you’re just wasting your own money! You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you waste your time in class and avoid participating in insightful discussions because you didn’t have time to do the readings. This is after all the purpose of going to class in the first place, especially in a postgraduate class.

In this post, I provide a few strategies you can employ when you have limited time, but you’ve paid good money to attend class and you want to get your money’s worth in between all your other gigs.

Stick to prescribed readings

The first is to stick to the prescribed readings. At the beginning of the year, many students overdo it by reading both prescribed and recommended readings. This can be tiring and is probably not a sustainable strategy for finishing the semester or the year strong. The number of prescribed readings is not a thumb suck, they are based on the amount of time you should reasonably have available to do your readings, attend classes, and complete your assignments (based on your registration status, i.e., part-time versus full-time). So they are carefully selected by your lecturers.

If you find a particular section or topic very interesting and you are tempted to do further reading, then go ahead. But doing this on a weekly basis probably won’t work out for the entire semester.

Read the abstract and conclusion

Okay, so there are 3 readings and you have a few hours to go. What to do? Journal articles, in particular, are specifically structured to contain certain parts of information in particular sections. The abstract and conclusion thus tend to have a very particular format, although this could differ from article to article.

In general, though, after having read the abstract and conclusion, you should have a pretty good idea of what the message was that the author(s) wanted to get across.

Include the introduction if you can

If you have some additional time, why not read the introduction too? Combining the introduction with the conclusion can be an even more powerful combination if you want a good understanding of the article. If you want to read it a bit further, the article outline which is usually included at the end of the introduction will tell you where to find the specific information you’re looking for. Having a sense of what the author(s) set out to do versus what they delivered is similarly useful – especially when the lecturer has a habit of reading out names from the attendance register.

Form a reading group

Forming a reading group can also be useful. Not only is it a way to network and get to know your fellow students, but you guys can achieve economies of scale by allocating an article to each person. Each person can then read ONE FULL article rather that skim four or five articles before class. You can write up/present a quick summary before class, giving everyone in the group a general sense of what is covered in the reading as well as perhaps providing study notes (if the summary is in written format) for when everyone is ready to prepare for the exams.

Share assignments on different topics

Lastly, we all know that the best place to start looking for relevant literature for an assignment is in the prescribed and recommended reading list. Another way of determining what the readings broadly covered is to share assignments in preparation for the exam. This is especially useful where the feedback from the lecturer is included in the assignment and similar questions will be asked in the exam. So, why not do an assignment swap at the end of the semester before you start preparing for your exams?

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