Some tips for managing the large reading workloads associated with postgraduate study.
Reading at postgraduate level is not just about reading and committing it to memory, it is about reading and thinking about what you have just read. It is about forming your own analytical skills; forming your own academic opinion.
One of the differences between postgraduate and undergraduate study is the amount and depth of reading. You will never be able to read everything available, therefore you need to learn how to read efficiently and effectively.
Know which reading is essential. Some reading may be absolutely mandatory for a class. Always read these first to ensure you are able to participate in a class or online discussion; this maximises both your own learning and the success of the exercise. You should be able to find out which books/articles from the reading list are a priority for your studies. Course books, webpages or VLES may contain prioritised reading lists. Alternatively ask the person teaching your class if they can advise which readings are the most relevant from the list of suggested readings. Most people understand that other factors that can impact on your studies, such as if you are new to the subject, have other work or family commitments, and / or if English is not your first language.
Prioritise the rest. First use article abstracts or book/chapter introductions to determine if it is relevant to your studies. Conclusion or summaries are another way to assess whether an article is worth reading in full. Gather the most useful articles for more in-depth reading. Leave others for when you have more time, and accept you cannot read everything recommended.
Keep records. When reading, try to remember its purpose; you are reading to improve your knowledge and understanding of the subject matter of your course. Perhaps some of your reading will be useful for assignments or your exams. It is good practice to take notes (see our making notes sheet - you can store this as a paper copy or file). On it you should record the details of the article, as you would do for referencing, record the key points and any background information that is relevant.
Learn the terminology: See if your course provides a glossary for new terms. Or some subjects have dictionaries of the terms and definitions related to the subject; check in the library, online or bookstore.
Scan: to find specific information - read through a text looking for specific terms or words relevant to the topic you want to know.
Skim: to get an overview and basic understanding of what the text is about quickly read through the text - headings, subheadings, first and last sentences of paragraphs.
When to read? Deciding when the best time to read is up to you. Work out your good times, when you are most alert; reading when you are too tired or not focussed can be a waste of time. You may be better off sleeping or relaxing, and starting again later or another day.
Set goals and time limits: have an idea of what you want to get out of your reading, and set a deadline for when you will stop.
Don’t read every word: you will never get through all your reading if you do. Be wary of stopping too many times to look up unfamiliar terms, and of constantly re-reading as you go. Try to keep going; things should get clearer as you carry on. Circle unfamiliar terms and look them up at the end.
Don’t just read - analyse: write short summaries and key points on what you have learnt on the back of the article, or in your notes. Review these notes throughout your course or assignment updating them as your knowledge expands. See our reading notes sheet and reading efficiently factsheet (downloadable below).
Listen: use audio books and good quality educational podcasts and videos of lectures and talks. Record and play back your own written summaries and important notes. Listening is practical: it can help use up spare time, and some people also retain information better that they have listened to.
Find a passion: ensure you find your own favourite topics, issues and academic authors, and do not just rely on reading lists. When you find something that really interests you, you will be more motivated to read up on it.
This article was published on Sep 5, 2013