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How to complete your academic readings strategically

Academic readings are a core component for every postgraduate program. They not only will help you learn the core theories and concepts of your subject, but will help you develop critically reading skills too. Quickly determining what information you require then locate it is an important skill to take with you into the workforce. 

But how can you read large quantities of text quickly, accurately and critically? Here are three steps to get you well on your way to acing your assessments, class discussions and even work duties. 

1. Before: Avoid the A - Z 

Before you even start reading the first resource, start by creating a prioritised reading list based on the topics aligned to your assessments. You can quickly figure out key topics by looking at the abstract, contents, index, sub-headings, graphs, tables, introduction and conclusion. This step will help you in the long run by teaching you how to decipher between what’s essential and what’s important background knowledge. It’s also helpful for when you run out of time or something else makes a sudden appearance.  

  • Put aside fifteen minutes to skim through the main content and begin to highlight key discussion points that match with the requirements for your assessments, class discussions or both. This way you will already have a gist of the primary argument. It’s also a great idea to read with questions in mind, instead of passively taking in the words on the page.  

TIP: Always create a quick timeframe with active deadlines for your readings and start early.  
 

2. During: Take notes 

Think of taking notes as half of the workload. Humans lose almost 40% of new information within the first 24 hours of being exposed to it. Taking notes is the best way for your brain to hold onto information. You can find the four stages needed for effective note taking here. Feel free to follow a format that works for you. Why not try a mindmap? 

Begin by highlighting sections that you feel are compelling and make a note of where these are located, the questions it raises, and how it could fit into your assessments. This will not only help your brain process the information but also help you concentrate. It’s also the perfect opportunity for you to take notes of threads you might want to research further.  

If you come across difficult sections or terminology that might need more in-depth research and extra brain power, always highlight the section and come back to it another day. Some information may need to be processed in bite sized parts over a longer period of time. 

 

3. After: Personalise your notes 

After you’ve taken a break, come back to your completed notes and summarise the why’s and how's in your own words. Expand these into a few paragraphs, using key terms you’ve learned from your readings and make sure you’re critically thinking about these. What argument is the author trying to make and how have they made it?     

To help with mapping out your assessment, organise your notes based on relevance and start thinking about how you will present and structure your new learnings. This is a good time to go back to the assessment requirements and make sure you haven’t missed anything vital. 

Now you can go back to the difficult sections you highlighted earlier. Try chatting about these concepts with classmates and ask for their conclusions.  
 

TIP: Always keep note of bibliographic details to save time when it comes to writing the assessment.