There are a lot of unspoken secrets, tips and rules for staying afloat in college. You’ve got to juggle four or five classes (sometimes more), a part time job to rake in money and a social life to spend it all on. So when your professors assign three 20-page reading assignments per class, you’re probably ready to pull your hair out. Stop. Take a deep breath and leave your luscious locks intact. Whether you’re simply swamped or have fallen prey to procrastination, there are going to be times that you cannot finish all your readings. In these instances, it becomes a matter of “something is better than nothing.”
1. Skimming is Winning
For those times when you just don’t have enough time, you need to skim to get the gist of the material without reading each and every word. Figure out the main arguments (AKA the words that are repeated a ton) and how they’re being made. Put that information in your back pocket and bring it to discussion.
2. Bolded Text and Headers Are Your Friends
Many textbooks will have important words bolded or written in a different color, which makes skimming easy. Read the sentences or paragraphs around these words and move on. If you’re not so lucky to have helpful textbooks, take a look at any headers in your reading. Note important terms and skim through the section for those words. Treat them like you’d treat bolded words and read their context.
3. Don’t Have a Fit if You’re Reading Lit
If you’re in a literature class you’ll be reading novels, so skimming may take too much time. Instead, find a plot summary or two. Or three. Or basically as many as you can afford; novels are complex and you can never have too much information going into your discussion. For popular literature, make your way to Sparknotes. Figure out what happened in the book, get to know the characters and figure out the major themes of the novel.
4. Listen When You’re Uninformed
When it’s discussion time, pipe in when you can and listen when you can’t, but don’t force it. As long as you get a few words into the discussion, you’ll have done better than if you’d done no reading at all. If you speak even once you’ll be counted as participating for that discussion section. If you didn’t fully read the content, it’s better to stay silent than to embarrass yourself by saying incorrect information.
5. Don’t Flounder, Formulate
If you’re one of those people who can explicitly prioritize school above anything else then reading won’t be a problem for you. If you’re like me and procrastinate, are busy with work or are just a slow reader, getting through everything (even with skimming and Sparknotes) can be a nightmare. Pro tip: rank your classes. Those relevant to your major go at the top, electives toward the bottom. Just make sure you touch on each one for at least a little while.
6. Last but Not Least, Skim Sparingly
As long as you gather the main points, pay attention in lecture and provide valuable input in discussion, nobody will know you’ve skimmed. That said, I’m not giving you the secret to getting out of your assigned readings—Lord knows you get the most out of your classes when you engage fully. Plus, you’re paying for your education and your bank account wants something to show for it. But when you’ve got sixty-some pages of reading per class, it’s pertinent to practice some fast-paced perusing.