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How to Get More Out of Your College Course Readings

One of the toughest tasks that college students face is keeping up with their readings. From Shakespeare courses to science lecture classes, college professors love assigning readings from their own books, traditional texts, primary source material, scanned readings from the library reserves, and of course, all that supplemental reading on Blackboard. Do your professors really think that a 15-credit semester leaves time for doing each course's reading? The truth is, if you pay attention in class and do most of the reading, you should be fine. But some teachers like pulling obscure quotes and ideas for tests, or maybe even worse: for calling on you in class when you least expect it.

We're not going to waste time telling you how to read each word of assigned and supplemental readings. Instead of getting so overwhelmed with page numbers, learn how to get more out of what you do read and to strategize so that you gain a comprehensive understanding of the themes, concepts and key details your professor wants you to learn. First, prioritize which readings are most important, since there are some that you will have to read in full. If you're unsure after reading the syllabus or listening in class, ask the professor. A simple email asking him or her where you should begin should suffice, and your professor will most likely be glad that you're being realistically organized about your reading. Work on those readings first, and isolate yourself in order to improve your reading skills and ensure concentration. The more you can read uninterrupted or without distractions, the faster you'll be able to get it done, and actually soak up the information.

Another helpful reading skill is to skim before reading. You'll be able to put your reading in context more easily if you've already scanned subject headings, keywords and even the chronology of the paper or book. Use a highlighter or brightly colored sticky notes to point out key terms and ideas so that you can just glance over the material before class to remind yourself of the content. If it's a PDF, Blackboard or online reading that you can't make edits too, copy/paste or download in another format so that you can make your own notes. At least print it out.

Even if you don't have time to read the supplemental readings, do give them a quick look to help you put the lessons in a new context that may enrich your understanding of the material. Your professor may have included a short story to help explain a religious history chapter, or a graph to accompany a business lesson. Just seeing the concepts play out in new ways will open your mind to critical and creative learning.

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