You took the plunge and are starting graduate school. Congratulations! Have you noticed your reading list, yet? The length can be intimidating… welcome to grad school! You can expect to read numerous articles and chapters each week. Yes, you will study and work differently in a graduate program than you did in your undergraduate degree. This includes how you approach reading for grad school.
The bar has been raised and you already made the decision to step up to the occasion by virtue of arriving. But you’ve got this!
For your time you are in grad school, you will be – and should be – reading, constantly. Always read, read, read. Be insatiably curious.
There’s no way to make the lengthy list of readings go away. Make no mistake; you’re going to read more in this program than you probably ever have before in your life.
But there are numerous ways to make the most out of your reading time and tackle these titles more efficiently. Here are some of the strategies I recommend for my grad students that I tried and found to be true through both of my master degrees and my PhD.
Scholarly/Academic reading is a different process than reading for pleasure.
One of the largest mistakes students will make in their approaches to assigned readings and research is to approach them as if they are leisurely reading. Scholarly reading requires a different approach. Be prepared to take notes, look up supplementary and related reading materials, and even rereading paragraphs.
Start at the abstract.
At the start of your chapter or article, review the abstract and the first two to three paragraphs. This helps you orient and assess what you want to learn as a result of reading the article (and is also why creating strong thesis statements and introductions is important in scholarly writing). Scan all of the headings and review the concluding paragraphs. You may find that your use of that article is complete – you may have discovered what you need or you may have realized the article is not valuable to what you need to learn. The latter will occur quite often when you are researching for your assignments.
When you are reading a textbook, flip to the end of the chapters and read the questions scripted at the end. Those are great insights into what you want to hone in on when skimming the chapter.
Make multiple passes.
Don’t read from start to finish. Scan the article numerous times, paying attention to the headings, tables, captions, and anything in exaggerated font style.
Begin to read more.
If you determined the article is valuable for your assignment or project, now you can read it. Read the introduction and conclusions, then go through and find out what was the method and how the authors approached finding their conclusion. Review the discussion portion of the article and examine the context of how the authors interpreted their results.
Remember that you can stop reading the article if you obtained all the information you need or if it is not valuable for you. This isn’t Harry Potter… sometimes all you need is a skim.
Be a problem solver.
Look at the article in the way you typically would a puzzle – outside in. Once you use the introduction, conclusion, and headings to create the framework, then begin to fill in the rest of the picture. Sometimes you will need the full article to see the picture, and sometimes you don’t. Approach textbook chapters and articles from a strategic vantage point, and once you’ve found the information that is valuable and necessary to you, move on.
Using these strategies will be a significant game changer in whether or not, or how much, you feel overwhelm. Get ready to “hack” everything you currently know about reading to get the best use of your energy and your time. You should intend to read a lot, but read smart. Identify the general theme of the required reading or research article then apply these targeted reading strategies to build your knowledge.