To succeed at University, you have to read a lot. Your reading has to be effective, which implies understanding and engaging with the texts, making links, and applying what you learn.
Avoid wasting time, going through a sea of information without getting much out of it: always read with a purpose and actively.
Reading for an assignment
If you are reading for an assignment, think: what topics do I need to cover? What information am I looking for? You are not just reading everything related to the topic of your assignment; you are actively and purposefully researching information.
Set reading goals when reading for an assignment. If you have created an assignment plan already this will help greatly when knowing what information to look for when reading as you can focus on and read for small sections of your assignment.
Firstly make sure the text is relevant to your needs and focus the reading around your assignment question or even specific parts of your assignment.
Quick reading strategy for assignments
Making an assignment plan can help greatly with focusing your reading, as you can just focus the reading around one smaller section of your assignment and not the whole piece of writing.
Reading for seminars and additional weekly course reading
Seminars can vary depending on your course, but generally they are opportunities for you to take part in exploring a topic more deeply and to analyse and evaluate different viewpoints on a given topic. As such good reading preparation before seminars is vitally important.
When you read, it is very easy to fall into the trap of being a passive reader, and to read without understanding or questioning ideas, in order to get through it quickly. You will find if you do this, that once you get to the seminar you will not remember much because you have not engaged with it.
One tip is to try to read actively by entering into a conversation with the text/author. You can do this by asking questions of the text as you read!
Research indicates that students who struggle with reading do not ask questions as they read—before, during, or after (Antioch University 2020)
You can do this in a separate note book or on the text itself –
All the above can be brought to the seminar discussion and by asking questions of the text you are engaging in a conversation with the author and this will not only help you understand the material better, but it will also help the information to become stored in your long term memory.
Reading for exams
When it comes to reading for revision, if you have kept up with your weekly reading and note making during the term, extra reading should not be a mammoth task come revision time. However, you may still want to bring in the most current literature to your exams, so you may need to read a couple more current texts, possibly journals, to add to your module notes.
Firstly, plan out the topics you are going to revise and have a look at past papers if possible, to identify topics that have come up regularly over the last couple of years. You can always predict exam questions too and use coursework and seminar questions to practise focussing your reading on each topic, much like reading for your assignments.
Exam markers are looking for
As such how you read and take notes for your exam is important, as reading and writing are intrinsically linked!
Read critically for your exams - Think about how your topics link together as you may get questions with multiple topics. Here are some questions that may help to direct your reading.
For more help and support with this, see our guide on critical reading.
Are there any gaps in your knowledge? What do you need more information on? Are you missing any information on specific theories, concepts, issues, case studies, methodologies etc. You can then look out for these areas when you’re reading.
Weekly course reading
Try to keep up with your additional weekly course reading and note making. Always check the module learning outcomes and reading lists for each week, as this will help guide your additional reading choices.
Block out weekly reading time in the week as part of your independent study time!
How to find sources
See the guide about Library Search to learn to find sources in the library. Use your subject Library guide to find sources specific on your field of research. You can also use the internet and Google Scholar. See the library guide on using Google Scholar.
Broaden your search
Initially, broaden your search not to overlook relevant results.
Mind mapping for generating ideas and creative thinking
Place a blank sheet in landscape position and write the essay question in the middle. Draw branches from the question, which are possible ideas and topics to include in the essay. Add sub-topics (“leaves”) and connect ideas and evidence from your reading. You can use colours and images to stimulate your thinking. Some leaves can be used as key words for your search.
Play with your key words
Look for synonyms and related terms:
Topic: “The impact of Covid-19 on the British environment”
What to search?
Covid-19 British Environment
Synonyms and related words
Pollution; air quality; waste
Britain; United Kingdom, UK, England, Scotland, Wales, British Isles, Ireland
Keep an open mind but only look for and use sources which are relevant for your assignment (unless of course you are reading for interest!). It is crucial that you take control of the literature, and do not let the literature control you! The literature is a means to your end, that is, finding information and evidence to discuss the specific issues you have identified as relevant for your assignment. You are not just trying to fit into your assignment all the literature you find.
The quality of your sources will have a direct impact on the quality of your assignment, so when you’re selecting sources, be careful and check the following
Be critical: evaluate the validity of the sources
Be critical towards the literature: always enquire on the validity of the information you find. See Critical Reading for more information.
A key to active and effective reading is to use different kinds of reading:
Skimming is reading to form a general impression of the text to see if it will be useful to your needs.
You don’t need to read every word or in too much depth or detail. To quickly obtain information about the text, you can:
Example of skimming (yellow highlighter):
Skimming gives you the gist of it: this paragraph is about flexiterianism, that is, a mainly vegeterian (or vegan) diet with exceptions to the rule. Fexiterianism is becoming more popular for a series of reasons.
Scanning is looking for a particular piece of information. Unlike skimming, when scanning we only look for specific information without reading everything else and we usually know what we are looking for. Scanning gives you the opportunity to find the specific information you need and determine whether or not this text will be useful to you.
To scan: find a word/phrase or number and let your eyes move quickly through the text until you find the word/words you are looking for. When you know how the text is organised, this can be done even quicker!
Before you scan, establish your purpose. What are the key words of your assignment question or key purpose and argument? By knowing the purpose of the reading and what the key words/phrases are that you require, this will help you to locate the appropriate material.
Techniques that can assist in scanning:
Scanning example (green highlighter): why is flexiterianism more environmental?
Scanning through the text, you only look for the information required. You will therefore find that flexitarians eat less meat, and therefore contribute less to carbon emissions and depletion of environmental resources associated with the meat industry.
When your text is important, and you need to gain a thorough understanding of all or part of it, you need to read for meaning. Keep in mind your purpose and read actively:
• Use questions to stimulate interest: especially next to headings
• Use connecting questions: connect with your previous knowledge
• Ask yourself: am I understanding this? What does it mean? How does it relate to last week?
• Read difficult sections out loud
• Underline key ideas (only in books that you own)
• Make summaries
• Write in margins (only in books that you own)
In the following video Doug Specht, Senior Lecturer at the Westminster School of Media and Communication, provides six tips for effective reading:
This workshop on effective reading for your assignments will provide you with strategies and top tips to help you read more efficiently and effectively for your assignments. It will help you to locate relevant texts and the relevant parts of texts in order to save you time and help you to focus your reading.