College students, I suggest that you don’t do most of the assigned readings.
Syllabi are very intimidating. Generally they span pages and pages, listing numerous readings and assignments. I don’t believe that it is humanely possible to do all the readings for some of these classes. Some people try in the beginning, but then burn themselves out towards the end of the class (if they make it that far).
One of my favorite professors was a visiting professor, meaning he worked at another (smaller, less prestigious) university. This professor told me, “The University of Michigan professors advised me to make a long syllabus that assigned lots of readings. They said this would intimidate the students and make them work harder.” He also told me that we wouldn’t cover many of the things on the syllabus, and that he’d delete readings from the syllabus throughout the year.
My point here is that professors will put a lot of long, difficult readings into your syllabus either to scare you or to make their class look difficult, which makes them look like a good professor. You don’t have to fall for it.
I personally don’t think it would be humanely possible to do all the readings for a full-time schedule. Some people do it, and put in their 50 hours a week. They will get good grades, and they deserve them. But they also have to work too hard for it. We are going to cut down on this reading, so you get a good grade without the 50 hours a week.
Whenever you’re assigned a reading, think, “Why should I read this?” One reason might be that you’re interested in it. If you’re going to enjoy reading and learning the information, then by all means do it. After you employ the methods in this book, you’ll have plenty of time to read for fun.
Another reason is that your class will discuss the book in class. If this is the case, you’ll need to do some of the reading so you can participate in class, and more importantly, get a good participation grade. But this doesn’t mean you have to read every word. I’ve devised 2 strategies for this situation. The first strategy is picking out one section of the reading, and reading this section extremely closely. When class discussion comes, you can speak only on this piece, which you’ll know a lot about. The second strategy is just reading the introduction (first few paragraphs) and conclusions (second few paragraphs) of each section.
This will give you a broad understanding of everything that will be discussed in class. From there, you should be able to make broad generalizations in class. You’ll have to do decide which of these two strategies works for your particular class and that particular week’s readings. Regardless, one of the two strategies will prepare you enough for the discussion, without having to waste all of your time reading.
Yet another reason is that you will have to write a paper on the readings, or that you will be tested on the readings. If this is the case, will want to employ a different strategy. First, you’ll want to know what information you need to get out of the reading. If you don’t know the question you’ll be writing on or tested on, you’ll have to read it all. But if you look at the questions beforehand, you can just read the sections that will help you answer the questions. If a section doesn’t help you answer the questions (most won’t), then you should just skim it, or skip it entirely.
If you can’t answer “Why should I read this?”, then you probably shouldn’t read it. I’ve seen so many cases where people spend 5-10 hours a week reading for one class. Over a 16 week semester, that’s 80-160 hours. These students are missing one extremely important point.
I’d like you to take a look at all of the syllabi you have, as well as think about every syllabus you’ve seen. Now imagine the section that tells you how the professor calculates your grade. How many of them give you a grade for doing the readings? NONE! I have never seen a syllabus that grades you on doing the readings, and I don’t think there ever will be one. These students are spending 80-160 hours on something that isn’t even graded! How’s that for a waste of time?
The sad thing is, many of these students will spend all these hours on the readings, but then will write their papers in an hour or two the night before it is due. Does that make any sense to you? Why spend all this time on reading, but then so little time on the assignment that determines your grade? It doesn’t make any sense, and is a serious mistake. You aren’t going to make this mistake. You’re going to spend the brunt of your time focusing on the papers and tests that determine your grade.
Now you have the treasure map. Next time you look at a syllabus, you can go straight to the treasure: the way the professor determines the grade. Usually it’s just a few tests, papers, and/or assignments, each determining a certain percentage of your grade. Your focus should be on these items, and nothing else. Doesn’t that make a class sound easy? Well, quite frankly, it is that easy.
I haven’t read an entire reading in years, and I’m glad I haven’t. I’ve actually found that I understand the readings better this way, because I read closely the sections I need to read. Back when I read readings entirely, I found myself daydreaming and not understanding some of the important sections.
By not doing the readings, you’ll spend more time on the graded assignments, and do a better job on those assignments. This will improve your grades significantly, and you’ll be on your way to getting better grades the easy way!