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Coping with readings

Figuring out how to read for your courses can sometimes be overwhelming because they can be long with language and content you are not used to. But, you have to do the readings to get through the first year so what do you do?

How do you know if the reading is useful?

You will have reading lists and recommendations from lecturers for your reading, but there will be times you need to be able to assess the usefulness of a source at a glance.

One common reading strategy to figure out if a text will be useful for you is to predict what it will say. This is done by looking at the:

  • title
  • table of contents
  • sub-headings
  • graphs, diagrams, pictures
  • reference list

Connect what you read to what you already know about the subject to decide whether this would be a useful resource to read.

Also, think about the purpose of the text and the anticipated audience to see if what you are reading is appropriate for university study.

For example, Wikipedia is not an appropriate academic source because the purpose is to provide general, unverified information to everyone. Sources you use for university study should have verified, evidence-based information. See Finding quality sources of information.

How to read academic texts

When you read for study there needs to be a balance between speed and comprehension because there is a lot of reading to get through. But, you will just be wasting time if you do not grasp what the reading is about. Academics have the same problem with their reading, so they very rarely read a large resource completely from the beginning to the end. The trick instead is to be specific and picky about what you are reading, and only read those resources you know will be beneficial.

Skimming and Scanning

Skimming and Scanning are 2 techniques you can use to speed up your reading:

Skimming – is the reading technique you use to get an overview of the reading by looking first at the table of contents, headings, abstract. Then, you read the introduction, conclusion and only skim over the content for keywords and concepts. When you identify important points you read the content in detail.

Scanning – when you are looking for specific information this is the reading technique that you use. You only stop to read once you have found that information. You can use your hand or your computer mouse to physically move over the reading and help guide your progress.

These techniques are great for speeding up your reading, but you need to make sure you also get some benefit from the reading so you still need to understand what the readings are about.

Active reading techniques

The trick to comprehension is turning your reading into active reading and not passive. See Active Reading to figure out how to do this.

Try the SQ4R strategy for reading effectively. The University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services have an online learning module about the SQ4R strategy.

How do you know what is important in your reading?

Finding quality sources of information are credible, current and relevant play an important role in your success as a student. Visit Finding quality sources of information for further about searching for academic information and evaluating sources of information.
Watch the following video on how to establish reading habits.