Some tips for managing the large reading workloads associated with postgraduate study.
Our 'Why do we read?' factsheet can help you consider and identify the specific reasons which underpin your reading activity.
One of the differences between postgraduate and undergraduate study is the amount and depth of independent reading. You will never be able to read everything available, therefore you need to learn how to successfully prioritise.
Know which reading is mandatory. Some reading may be absolutely essential 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.
Prioritise the rest. First, quickly read article abstracts, conclusions and summaries. Does this sound most relevant to the issue you are studying or researching right now?
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.
Ask your class leader: if you are not sure, ask the person teaching your class if they can advise which readings are the most critical from a list of suggested readings.
Most people understand the time pressures you face, particularly if you have other work or family commitments, and / or if English is not your first language and your reading speed is slightly slower.
When do you learn best? Use your good times, when you are most alert.
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.
Scan first: scan through the piece first - headings, subheadings, first and last sentences of paragraphs - to get an overview and basic understanding. Then read more closely.
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.
Know when to stop. Reading when you are too tired can be a waste of time. You may be better off sleeping or relaxing, and starting again the next day.
Summarise: write short summaries and key points on what you have learnt on the back of the article, or in your notes. Reread these short summaries frequently.
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.
Learn by teaching: explain the article, topic or argument in two minutes to your flatmate, a family member, or classmate. This can help you check if you have understood the main points of what you have read.
More information on reading efficiently is available in the following factsheet:
This article was published on Mar 29, 2013