Tips for Reading from Professors at King’s

Student Success asked King's professors for their advice on reading. Today we're sharing their wisdom on this important topic for your success at King's.

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Student Success asked King’s professors for their advice on reading. Today we’re sharing their wisdom on this important topic for your success at King’s.

In the fourth week of the fall semester, you now know how important reading is to your learning and success at King’s. That’s why Student Success asked faculty for their advice on reading back in 2015. Because it’s still great advice, we’re sharing their wisdom here today. Continue reading for skillful guidance from your faculty who care about your experience of learning.

  • Some texts must be read slowly. Students at King’s read many primary resources. Note that some reading assignments may be shorter, but that does not mean they can be done quickly.
  • The more sophisticated the source, the slower you have to read. Time per page should vary widely across reading genres. Novels probably move most quickly. Then perhaps historical narratives, case studies, and non-technical textbooks. When you get into primary resources, you simply have to slow down.
  • Don’t confuse slow reading with careful reading. Careful reading is important to gaining understanding on a topic.
  • If you do nothing else, recognize that skimming is not reading. We skim to look for information we already know exists in the text. We read to gain understanding. Reading takes time.
  • Avoid reading for memory recall. Instead, read for understanding.
  • Focus on the topic indicated in the syllabus to direct your reading. Ask yourself as you read: What does this text have to do with the topic we’re going to discuss in class? What is the author’s main point in the assigned reading(s)?
  • Always consider the “why” behind the text. Why has the author come to this conclusion? What is the author’s rationale? Know the author (commitments, values, other writings).
  • Don’t read late at night when you’re tired. Go to bed and wake up early to read in the morning.
  • If you set aside a “sacred” time and space for reading, it will feel worthy of your mental energy. If you’re trying to slide it in between other more important stuff, you won’t remember anything when you read.
  • Go to a coffee shop to read where you won’t see anyone you know. This will help you focus. Try to avoid reading in your apartment.
  • Read literature distinctly. When you read literature– whether poetry, prose, or plays– focus on literary devices like imagery/metaphor/symbolism, word choice and language, tone of voice, character development, plot structure, etc. Consider the argument the author is suggesting about a topic or theme, and consider how the author uses this literary device to convey the argument or idea.
  • Read analytical works distinctly too. When you read analytical essays or books, or literary criticism, read it through once and highlight main ideas, jot down notes to help you track the logical flow of the argument, and underline anything you find confusing. After reading the entire article, try to write out in one or two sentences the author’s main argument. Read it through a second time, and see how the author makes the argument, what evidence he or she uses. Reading the introduction, conclusion, and first line of every paragraph is a good strategy. (Jim Pryor ‘s website has helpful advice on reading philosophy and writing philosophy papers.)
  • Read math to understand a concept. Reading math is quite different from other types of reading. You cannot read at the same pace and often you have to stop and write things down. Many students are taught to read math in order to find instructions on how to complete problems, but the real goal of reading math is to understand a concept. Reading math is a difficult skill to master, but students can start by reading in order to understand the logical flow of the concepts.
  • Consider why people write books. Get into the author’s mind (usually found in the preface). There is a person behind the text (even textbooks) who is making arguments and claims about the world. Google authors who you don’t already know to put a face to the name and see what else they have written, because a book represents just one facet of their intellectual life.

Consider today which tips above align most with the reading assignments you need to complete. Pick one or two to prioritize, and try them out. Be sure to notice when you’ve finished reading, or after your next class, how these approaches helped you. (Will you do this again? What might you do differently next time?) Then set a reminder on your phone to come back to this list is a couple of weeks to try another approach, after you’ve practiced the first.

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