How to Keep Up with College Reading

There's More Than One Way to Stay On Top Of a Heavy Reading Load

College student studying at table
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The level of out-of-class reading required in college can be pretty intense. If you're new to college, your reading load is likely significantly higher than what you experienced in high school; if you're a senior in college, the level seems to go up each year, just as you think you've adjusted. Regardless of your specific situation, knowing how to keep up with college reading can be a serious challenge.

Fortunately, there's no "right" way to stay on track with your reading load. A manageable solution comes from finding something that works for your own learning style -- and from realizing that being flexible is part of any long-term solution.

Figure Out How You Best Make Progress on Your Reading

Completing your assigned reading is more than just scanning your eyes across the page; it's understanding and thinking about the material. For some students, this is best accomplished in short bursts, whereas others learn best by reading for longer periods of time. Think about and even experiment with what works best for you. Do you retain more by reading in 20-minute periods? Or do you learn better by spending an hour or two really diving into the reading and not doing anything else? Similarly, do you need to have background music on, be in a loud cafe, or have the quiet of the library? Each student has his or her own way of doing homework effectively; figure out which way is best for you.

Schedule Reading Time Into Your Calendar

Most students are great at scheduling things like club meetings, football games, classes, and other activities into their calendars. Additional things, like homework and laundry, often just get done whenever possible. This kind of loose scheduling with reading and assignments, however, can lead to procrastination and last-minute cramming.

Consequently, write down (and make sure you keep) time in your schedule to do your reading each week. If you can make an appointment to attend a club meeting, you can certainly make a similar appointment to get your reading done.

Read Effectively

Some students take notes; some students highlight; some students make flashcards; others have their own system that works for them. Doing your reading involves more than just getting from page 1 to page 36; it involves understanding what you're reading and, possibly, having to use that knowledge later (like during an exam or in a paper). To prevent yourself from having to reread later, be effective during your first read-through. It's much easier, after all, to go back through your notes and highlights for pages 1-36 than it is to completely reread all 36 pages before your midterm.

Acknowledge that You Can't Get Everything Done All of the Time

It's a harsh reality -- and great time management skill -- to realize that doing 100% of your reading 100% of the time is nearly (if not actually) impossible in college. It's important to learn what you can't get done and then to go with the flow sometimes. Can you work with other students to break up the reading, and then discuss in a group later?

Can you let something go in a class you're already doing well in and focus more on a class you're struggling in? Can you skim materials for one course, thereby allowing yourself to read materials for another course with more time and attention? Sometimes, you just can't get all of your college reading done, no matter how hard you try or how good your intentions are. And as long as this is the exception and not the rule, learning how to be flexible with and adjust to what you're realistically able to accomplish can, in fact, lead to you being more effective and productive with what you're able to do.