Crushed by an avalanche of the written word?

Education | Brighten Youth Edu Centre 12 Oct 2021

The start of a new academic year can be an extremely tense time for undergraduates for a number of reasons, particularly those in the first year of their studies.

What many undergrads don't realize is that there is often a universality to at least some of their concerns.

While it might not help to know this fact in itself, this week we consider what can be done to ameliorate concerns about a particular issue: keeping up with course reading lists.

For the uninitiated, most university courses -except perhaps some of those in STEM - are accompanied by extensive reading lists.

At highly selective universities, their undergraduates are expected to do eight hours of reading for every one contact hour (for example, a seminar or lecture).

If this sounds like a lot, then it's supposed to. Undergraduate degrees of rigor are a full-time job.

Such an approach is designed to foster critical thinking and critical reading skills. Students read an unfamiliar and challenging text, contextualize it within a particular week's topic and then - hopefully - develop a reaction.

However, with lengthy reading lists for each course, it can all seem a bit daunting. Much of the reading is challenging for a reason, and there are only so many hours in a day.

What do you do when you have struggled over a short text for three hours and it's still making no more sense than when you started?

Usually, you'll find these lists divided into core or essential readings, and further readings.

While lists and entries might look manageable - surely a 30-page journal article can't take up that much time - the material can be deceptively dense.

You need to attempt only the core readings each week, with further readings designed for those who choose to write an essay or complete some other assessment on that topic.

Given that you probably have to read for several courses or modules, don't be overly ambitious, and stick to the core readings. You might be keen to distinguish yourself, but this is not the way to go about it.

Next, triage the reading that must be done.

Each week, there will be at least two, but perhaps five or more core readings. Ask yourself - what looks to be the most accessible (this might not be the shortest piece)? Start there.

However, if you've spent several hours on something and it is still making little sense, try something else.

Time is a precious resource; spend yours well.

It would be unacceptable to arrive at a seminar having read nothing, but as long as you have managed to get to grips with at least one text on the reading list, you'll have something to talk about.

Lastly, take comfort in the fact that if you keep at it, chipping away at a mammoth reading list every week, it will get easier.

If you have any questions about our column, or the issues raised within it, please e-mail them to us:

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December 2021

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