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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

As an English major, most of my assignments are focused on reading and analyzing novels. When I started taking courses in my major, I found it hard adjusting to reading so much while making sure I retained as much information as possible for each book I was assigned. Here are some of the tips I learned that can help you read assigned readings that can sometimes feel… soul-sucking:


Annotating is the first step to making sure you are reading attentively and processing the plot of any novel. There are many ways you can annotate your readings, from highlighting and underlining to using marker tabs to mark important information in the books you have read. My personal favorite is using these marker tabs because I can still borrow books from the library without damaging the novel.

In your book, you can mark anything you find important or compelling for the plot or theme. I am never too shy with tabbing anything that may seem important because it makes it easier to go back and find any scene in the book that can be brought up in my essays.

read in a quiet place with no distractions

Although some people may be used to reading in a loud area, the best environment to read in is one that has little to no noise or distractions. If you become distracted in the middle of a chapter or section of your novel, you may forget that you were reading and the specific place in the text you were at. Similarly, setting aside a specific amount of time to complete your assigned reading before the deadline helps you process the novel faster.

look for any major themes while reading

This tip is extremely helpful when writing an essay based on your assigned reading. Most thesis statements are developed by looking at a specific theme in a new light by responding to a specific question or topic within your essay. For instance, if the theme of reliving the past comes up multiple times in a novel, it should be noted for your future assignments in the course.

look for scenes that support claims made in the lecture

Whatever the professor mentions in their lecture about the novel is usually important and includes a recurring theme that will appear in different scenes as well. In lower-division English courses, the prompts for essays usually include these claims and ask new questions about them. Marking scenes in the novel that remind you of something the professor said in a lecture can help you get a head start on finding evidence for your next essay.

Note places in the novel that were confusing

Everyone, including myself, has had moments where we were confused about what exactly happened in the novel after reading, especially books that are figurative and vague. Make sure to mark these moments as well because you can mention these in discussion posts. Moments of confusion can also spark a thesis statement for a future essay by closely reading the scene and finding a new meaning or purpose behind its inclusion in the novel.

Now go out there, start reading, and ace your upcoming essay!

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Samantha Herrera

UC Berkeley '23

Hello! My name is Samantha Herrera and I am currently a Junior English major minoring in Journalism and Creative Writing. In my free time, I love reading, writing, and community service. I love talking about books and reading so if you ever need any book recommendations I'm the person to talk to!