Sunday, January 13, 2013

End Your Reading Overwhelm Now!

English: students reading
Students reading (Wikipedia)
by Elana Peled, Ed.D.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the quantity of homework you need to complete every single day? Do you find it hard to remember what you read? Are you wondering how you'll manage getting your assignments completed by the end of the term?

No doubt about it, the reading load that accompanies college coursework can be the most daunting part of academic life, especially for new or returning college students.

To be sure, the average college reading assignment is not easy. Most college professors assign upwards of 100 pages of intricate, detailed text every week.

But it's not just the quantity of reading that overwhelms. If you are working towards a college degree, chances are that every time you take a new course you are going to be required to read materials on topics that are completely new to you. This means that you will be encountering not only new ideas and vocabulary, but also new language and text structures for expressing those ideas.

Sure, everything is written in English. But did you know research demonstrates that reading materials on an unfamiliar topic can parallel the experience of trying to read in a foreign language.

No wonder you struggle!

An easier way

If the stress and anxiety of all that reading is starting to take a toll, then you need an easier way to manage your assignments. The best approach can be learned from Jack and Annie, the two main characters in Mary Pope Osborn's elementary school level book series, The Magic Tree House.

In this series, brother and sister Jack and Annie discover a tree house in the woods near their home. The tree house is filled with many wonderful books. But it has another special quality, the power to transport its occupants to the time and place of any picture found in those books.

As Jack and Annie travel in the tree house, they quickly learn that they don't always have all the obvious skills they need to survive in the places they visit. But they do have their youthful curiosity and desire to learn.

And they have their books. In each adventure, one book serves as a valuable guide, providing Jack and Annie with the important information they'll need to explore their new surroundings.

Like Jack and Annie, every time you take a new course you are traveling to a different time and place. If your knowledge of this new place is limited, you can feel very scared indeed. But if you remember a few powerful tools, you will survive.

First, like Jack and Annie, you must always remember your sense of curiosity and adventure. These will help you to learn. Second, you must learn to read with purpose. When Jack and Annie open their books, they do so to make sense of a troubling situation. Sometimes the information in the book makes immediate sense. And sometimes, they need to gather more information from their surroundings to make sense of the book.

You can do the same.

If each new course you take is a visit to a foreign land, then your reading assignments are the guidebooks that will help you make sense of this land.

So before you sit down to read, determine your purpose for reading.

  • What questions do you have about this land and its inhabitants?
  • What resources do you already possess that will be useful to you during your time there?
  • What else do you need to know in order to survive?

Formulating your questions before you begin reading will help you to avoid the sense of overwhelm that comes from either the volume of the assignment or your lack of familiarity with your topic.

Having a purpose for your reading will give you direction. You'll be able to both absorb what the reading has to tell you as well as ask intelligent questions about what is missing from the reading.
And the best part of approaching your reading this way is that it will be far easier for you to remember what you've read.

If you ever want to get a refresher course on how to be a successful college reader, just pick up a book in The Magic Tree House series. You're sure to enjoy traveling with Jack and Annie.
Elana Peled, Ed.D., is the author of Academic Success for All: Three Secrets to Academic Success and the creator of The College Success Toolkit. Learn more at her website,

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