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An English Major’s Guide To Managing a Heavy Reading Load

I can no longer count on my fingers and toes how many nights I have called my mother in tears over not having enough time to finish all of the reading for three literature classes each quarter. In the English major, the expectation is that students can read one book a week for each course they are enrolled in, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that I spend a lot of my time nose-deep in a book. 

Luckily for you though, as the quarters progressed, so did my determination to rectify the devastatingly minimal amount of knowledge I had on how to read quickly, efficiently and holistically. Whatever major you may be or career path you’ve decided to pursue, it’s likely you’ll some assigned reading to accomplish in your future. Or, down the road, you may just want to carve out time in your busy schedule to have fun reading the stack of BookTok novels that accumulated over the years in the corner of your room. (No? Just an English major thing?) In any case, if you need enlightenment on how to manage a heavy reading load, take it from a third-year English major and look no further: I’ve got you covered.

Let’s say it together: audiobook!
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I’m sure you’re familiar with audiobook options nowadays, but if you’re more of a visual learner like me and retain absolutely no information from listening to books, I have a solution. We often get distracted when reading and find ourselves glazing over the same paragraph a dozen times. To keep ourselves on track, try putting on an audiobook while reading with the physical book in your hands.

Audiobooks are also great to listen to a couple of chapters on your long walks to class or while running at the gym. Whenever you have a spare moment, put your headphones in!

finding time throughout the day
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Nerd Alert: Yes, I bring my reading books to the breakfast, lunch, and dinner tables, but this helps with chipping away at large reading assignments throughout the week. Commit to reading one chapter at each meal period, or to finding time throughout your busy schedule to fit in a few pages. I enjoy reading while biking at the gym despite the judgmental looks I always get, but who cares? I end up finishing those books several days ahead of schedule!

start early (if you can)
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Bart Simpson Kids GIF via Giphy

I know what you’re thinking with this one: duh! But hear me out, again…Keep all of your syllabi on hand and create a schedule of reading assignments so that if you have a few hours to spare on the weekend, then you can start getting ahead on next week’s reading. It never hurts to start early, I promise.

Schedule it out, set goals
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Tinateamjordan GIF via Giphy

One or two scrolls through the Notes App on my phone would attest to how devoted I am to the practice of scheduling out reading assignments each week. Do you know the trick you do in class with the amount of time left? (i.e. I only have 20 minutes left, which is two sets of 10 minutes, so I only need to get through 5 minutes four times and we are done!) Do that, but with chapters and page numbers! Figure out how many pages you need to read a day to hit a deadline, this will hold you accountable and keep you on track.

Bonus Point: If you have more time and can read ahead of your set amount of pages for the day, KEEP READING! You can make up for a future day that you may not have time for homework or better yet, finish early!

sorry, but you’re not gonna be able to read everything
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Despite being told this by every waking English major and their mother, I have still struggled to come to terms with the very real fact of life that not every reading assignment will get done. Sometimes there are simply not enough hours in the day, so if you don’t get a chapter or two complete before class, utilize those resources available to you! YouTube summaries, Sparknotes/Shmoop/CliffNotes/LitCharts, and GroupMe chats are all at your disposal, take advantage!

Don’t force yourself
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Tying in slightly to the aforementioned concession of not being able to read everything: Don’t force yourself to read when you just aren’t feeling it. Don’t lose sleep over deciding to push through the last couple of chapters — reading when tired equates to very minimal comprehension (i.e. it’s a total waste of time).

Similarly, if you can’t focus because it’s been a long day and you’d like nothing more than to go devour a pint of ice cream while crying to Adele music, go do that. Reading requires focus for comprehension, so if you can’t do that, don’t stress out. Taking care of yourself is the number one priority.

I understand that most people will never look at reading as a favorite pastime or source of pleasurable enjoyment, but that doesn’t mean that all of their reading experiences in the future have to be entirely miserable. All it takes is a little faith, trust and good time management and organization (no, not pixie dust) to get started on the right track to being a lean, mean reading machine! Now get busy bookworms, you got some work to do.

Grace LaPlante is currently a third-year English major at UCLA. She’s a literature lover, music enthusiast and sports fanatic with dreams of traveling the world someday.
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