Freshman college students are literally blown away by the amount of reading required in college. 50 to 100 pages or more a night, per class, isn’t that unusual! And seeing that most college students haven’t had any formal reading training since learning how to read in elementary school, they are quite under-prepared for their massive reading workload.
So what do college students do? Many struggle trying to do it all, some do just some of it and many others just throw up their hands in disgust and don’t even try. Unfortunately, this is one of the reasons that only around half of students who enroll in college actually end up graduating with a bachelor’s degree.
There are three major reading challenges all college students face, which when better understood and overcome, could make a huge difference in their ability to succeed in college. The first challenge is figuring out how to concentrate and stay awake while reading. Many students make the mistake of saving their reading for last, doing it at the end of the day when they are most physically and mentally tired. It’s no wonder that they fall asleep while reading or spend many more hours than needed trying to absorb the content. If you are trying to read and you are really tired, it may be a better use of your time to take a short nap (give your brain a rest) or if it’s already late at night, get up early the next morning.
1. Don’t save your reading for the end of the day. Find pockets of time earlier in the day to get your reading done: between classes, earlier in the morning, before dinner, first subject of the study session.
When students tell me they get sleepy when they read, I ask them where they are. Many say “on my bed”, “on the couch”, or in some other comfortable place. Well common sense rules that if you are in a comfortable place, your brain is thinking “relax,” not “work.” So better positions to read are those where the body is sitting upright at a desk or table and your mind is thinking work, not relax.
2. Though a library study desk is a better place to study than your dorm room, the BEST place to read and study is . . . in an EMPTY CLASSROOOM! It’s where you learn, the seats aren’t too comfortable, and you don’t want to stay long. You tend to concentrate better and work faster there.
Another way to gain concentration while reading is using speed reading strategies. When you learn to read faster, you have to concentrate. The slower you read, the more time you have to daydream.
3. Read with your hands or white card. There are more than a dozen effective ways to place your hands or card on a printed page. Though you may feel uncomfortable at first, these methods will force you to concentrate better, keep your place and most importantly, read faster. My favorite one to get you started is called the White Card Method. Take a blank white card (3×5 card or back of a business card or piece of white paper), and place it ON TOP of the words you are reading. When you read with the card ABOVE your eyes, your tendency to go back is less and you are more focused with what’s coming up, not what you already read.
4. Take a speed reading class (or read a book on the subject) when you are not taking classes (during the summer or on a school break). You will learn who you are as reader and what strategies you can choose from to become a better reader. Download our free resource called Discipline Your Eyes to get your eyes and brain started. (revitupreading.com/free-resources)
The second challenge student’s face is dealing with the sheer quantity of material that is required. With students reading both fiction (story material) and non-fiction (factual material), it seems non- fiction is harder to read and remember. The best way to get a handle on any non-fiction reading assignment is to understand that all non-fiction reading material starts from an outline. And what you are reading is just the fleshed out outline.
Find the writer’s outline in non-fiction to introduce you to the material, to review or to weed out unnecessary material. You can find the meat of the material in the FIRST SENTENCE of every paragraph, the introductory paragraphs and the concluding or summary paragraphs.
The third challenge involves remembering what is read. With the sheer quantity read, remembering what you read can be quite the challenge. Using some note making strategies while you read will help you to trigger your memory later on.
Highlight your notes effectively. Too many students use their highlighters like a coloring stick highlighting more than 25% of a page. Highlighting just key words and phrases is more effective when you review than entire sentences and paragraphs. Take a look at this chapter. Read through just the bolded or italicized words and you will see they reflect the essence of this chapter. No one wants to re-read an entire paragraph and then wonder why they highlighted it! Whatever you highlight needs to reflect what is most important about what you read.
Read the entire paragraph or section before taking any notes; otherwise you will think everything is equally important, which it is not. Though there are more academic reading challenges, these three seem to be the most common. Figure out the best conditions that encourage your concentration and reduce your quantity by learning some speed reading techniques. Remember to find the writer’s outline and take effective notes which will save you time reviewing later. There is nothing glamorous about pulling an all-nighter to read. These tips will help you get your reading done AND get your sleep too. What more could you ask for?!
Abby Marks Beale has taught speed reading for over 25 years and is America’s #1 Speed Reading Expert. She is the author of 10 Days to Faster Reading, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Speed Reading and Success Skills: Strategies for Study and Lifelong Learning. She is also the creator of the popular online course Rev It Up Reading that gets readers up to speed with what they read.
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