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How To Cut Down On Assigned Readings And Study Time


Assigned readings: if you are like 90% of students, you won’t do them.

Why? Because you simply don’t have the time. You have 6 courses. And every prof has stuff for you to do. And no, they don’t acknowledge the existence of any other course but their own. And you barely have time to study the things that were covered yesterday, let alone study in advance!

But on the other hand, every time you actually do your readings – once or twice a semester, usually at the very beginning while you are still determined that this time it is going to be different and that you are going to put some serious effort into school and have good grades – when you actually do your readings, you feel as if everything you did that day was a piece of cake.

You come to a challenge: “I need to do my readings but I don’t have the time to do them.” So what do you do?

Well, it’s quite simple really. Don’t read. Glance. Just look at the pretty pictures if need be.

Simply give the material a quick selective read ahead of the lecture. The whole point of assigned readings isn’t for you to study ahead. Studying alone takes a lot of time and besides, schools exist because you can learn a lot more quickly when you have somebody who already knows the stuff (the prof) explain it to you. The reason behind assigned readings is just so that you know what lies ahead, not so that you can study it. Does giving study advice that discourages studying seem odd to you? Let me give you an example:

Consider something you studied in high school, like derivations. By the time university calc 1 rolls around, you have completely forgotten most of the things you were taught in high school and couldn’t derivate if your life depended on it. However, when the prof starts drawing little tangents on graphs, you’ll go “oh yeah, I remember that bit”. Pretty soon you’ll remember details too, like that when a derivation is a flat line that is the minimum/maximum of a graph. So even though you don’t know anything in particular, random details like this are enough to make relearning derivatives a piece of cake.

Now imagine that you are a math mayor and you are sitting in a computer science lecture. You don’t know the first thing about today’s lecture, except that it’s on a new chapter (which you didn’t even open). The lecturer starts by saying that the new chapter is on Turing machines and saying that one consists of:

… an infinite memory capacity obtained in the form of an infinite tape marked out into squares, on each of which a symbol could be printed. At any moment there is one symbol in the machine; it is called the scanned symbol. The machine can alter the scanned symbol and its behavior is in part determined by that symbol, but the symbols on the tape elsewhere do not affect the behavior of the machine. However, the tape can be moved back and forth through the machine, this being one of the elementary operations of the machine. Any symbol on the tape may therefore eventually have an innings.

Wait, what was that mass of words just now? The only thing you know about the subject is this single massive description. You are confused even though the definition isn’t even that arcane: it’s just about a machine that can read symbols off a tape and do operations based on them (a definition of a computing machine). However, you don’t have a pre-existing knowledge base on this subject which would help you decipher this block of text and learn something. That makes the lecture very difficult to follow, so you concentrate more on notes, less on understanding, and you end up studying at home.

By pre-glancing material some things will stick: a graph, an illustration, an application… A single partial read-through will do: You are merely getting acquainted with the material. With those little pieces of information, you will have a base to build on when the prof starts writing on the blackboard (you will already have an image of a computer in your head when you hear the definition). Instead of not understanding a thing and just scribbling notes and learning afterwards, you will be able to prepare yourself with minimal effort in 5 minutes and learn in class. You will only need a fraction of the time you are spending studying now, because the learning is happening in the classroom. You will neither struggle at home reading and trying to learn before the lecture, nor will you skip readings and struggle to learn on your own after class.

Makes sense, right? What do you think? The comment button is below.