“Reading” for Class: How to Get Through those 300 Pages/Week in 2 Hours

In the wake of formal recruitment, it has been a week of very little time and so much work. Of course, this was the ideal week for my professors to decided to add an extra 300 pages of required reading to prepare for class. Over the last couple years of weeks like this, I’ve picked up some tricks to cut that reading down so you can still participate in discussion and write that essay without diving into every page.


Now in my third year of college, I am pretty familiar with the piles of reading that humanities and social science classes can assign. Professors have you buy at least 7 books every quarter and you’re supposed to magically read them all in between your other 3 classes worth of work, full calendar of extracurricular activities, and various social events. God forbid you actually sleep!

My first year, I would just skip the readings. Luckily my class relied more on personal experience than content from the text, so it was easy to skip them in favor of the piles of problem sets I couldn’t solve. During my second year, I assumed I could do the same, but my class required us to speak directly to the text (or worse, relate the assigned reading to the book I definitely didn’t read the week before). I had to find a better way.

Find a PDF online

Almost every book I’ve been assigned, from Marx to de Beauvoir, has been available in some capacity as a pdf. Often, an earlier edition from the same publisher is available (and searchable!) somewhere on google. When you get it, make sure you mark the chapter breaks and page number from the PDF in your hard copy so that when you need to reference a quote you found, it had the right page number.

Sometimes professors will only assign part of the book to read, so it is essential that when you’re searching for quotes for your paper, you make sure they are actually in the assigned reading. Although no professor is going to be angry you went beyond the assigned sections, they may get suspicious of plagiarism (thinking you took the quote from another person’s paper).

Read the First Few Pages

This is especially important in discussion heavy classes. If your grade is dependent on participation, make sure you have a sense for the tone of the piece and sufficient context to make meaningful points. As long as you refer back to the text once (even in comparison with another part of the piece), you’re more likely to seem like you know what is going on.

Additionally, having a sense of how dense the reading is and some of the terms that the author uses can make it easier to follow class discussion. Ideally, you can read the first page of every chapter and the last page of assigned sections. Your professor chose these boundaries on your reading for a reason, and will most likely refer back to the sections at the beginning and the end. Ideally you can scan the rest of the reading for the concepts that you identified in the first few lines or in your class debate, but as long as you have a few pages you really understand, you can always refer back to them.


Pay Attention in Class

If you’re not going to do the reading, then you do need to make sure you know what sections the professor refers to in class. Make sure you take down the page numbers and lines the professor refers to. This will make it easier to go back to later, when you’re trying to put together an essay. Additionally, include important terms your professor keeps using and the page numbers on which you can find them. You can use your PDF copy of the text to find these phrases elsewhere in the piece.

When you’re not reading most of the text, you have to rely on the professor to connect the dots between the sections for you. Write down what he or she considers to be important and make sure you have comprehensive class notes from the discussion. When I couldn’t follow the discussion (having already made my one or two points from the pages I did read), I kept taking the notes because when writing the essay it was incredibly useful to have the ideas written.



With a pen in my hand, I find it infinitely easier to follow even the densest text (I’m looking at you Hobbes). The system that works for me is assigning colors. Green is for my thoughts while reading on my own and in class. Red is for blocking sections of the text that the professor would read out loud or quote directly (underlining any line that was repeated or debated). Purple for sections that were relevant to the essay topic. This assigned color system kept me from highlighting every line and helped me to follow reoccurring concepts.


School is hard and sometimes assignments can get out of control. Having a systematic way to go through readings and pull information so that you’re ready when you have to write an essay is essential to success in these classes.

How do you handle your readings? Do you comb through every line? Or skip it all and hope for the best in your essays?

Let me know in the comments or on Instagram @xoxorosana.blog

Good Luck!

Xoxo, Rosana

Hello! My name is Rosana Rabines! I'm a student, stationery enthusiast, and runner constantly reorganizing my life to make the most of my college experience in Chicago.

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