Student Problems: ‘I can’t cope with big books!’

“I’m hitting a text wall – I read a page over and over and the words just swim in front of me – nothing goes in.” Sounds like you’re having to mark too many exam scripts 🙂 .

I’m tempted to say, “Man up and get on with it” but that’s not very helpful. 🙂

Don’t try to ‘speed read’ – you’re likely to get confused and miss important stuff. Train yourself to focus on relevant bits as you read by underlining; the more you do this the better you will become at spotting relevant material, which will lead to you being able to read more quickly and effectively by sifting material as you go.

There are two kinds of texts: primary texts are the ones you’re studying and you should be reading the whole text unless told otherwise by your tutor.

Secondary texts are books which are about the book, writer, period or topic you’re studying. Learn to use the index – look up key topics in the index and plan your reading from there. You do not always have to read a book from cover to cover. In fact you will find that you do not usually need to read a secondary text from cover to cover.

When deciding whether or not to use a secondary text ie one you don’t have to read but which may help you because it’s on a relevant subject:

  • check out the index to get a feel for what’s covered
  • read the start and conclusion of a chapter that strikes you as promising to assess how useful it might be
  • if you can’t understand the book at all, go and find one you can understand
  • just occasionally you’ll find a book you really don’t get on with – go with your gut instinct, stop beating yourself up and find something that works better for you.

At university you need to learn to read in a different way. It will take time but like anything else the more you practice the better you’ll become and the more you’ll build up your reading stamina. Training the brain is not unlike training the body: it needs exercise. If you can’t face reading an entire chapter read one page, even one paragraph but read it well ie really focus on it. Then read another portion! Just going through the motions of reading won’t help much: you need to read and think at the same time.

Good luck scaling the text wall!