How is reading in college different from reading in high school?
There’s a lot more of it, and it has to be done, rather than simply should be done. In high school, there’s a lot of memorizing of facts. In college, it’s different. If a professor assigns something, you’re expected to read it. What I’ve been hearing from students is that when they were in high school, the teacher would assign a book and no one would read it. So the teacher would wind up reading aloud to the class. When that happens, students don’t get the practice, they don’t get the exposure to language and they don’t get the time to read and reflect. If they don’t have the practice, and they don’t have the exposure, they might give up easily. If students get frustrated and they just give up, it affects their confidence and their self-esteem.
What’s the biggest challenge for students moving up to college-level reading?
Many students just haven’t practiced. If students haven’t read much before college, their background knowledge is limited. There’s a significant drop-off in newspaper reading. That’s a problem because the more you read, the more language you’re exposed to. I’ve read about students spelling valedictorian as “valid Victorian.” They’ve never seen the word before. It almost doesn’t matter what you read as long as you read. People who don’t want to read Hemingway might be able to read “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Some people will say, “That’s kind of trashy.” I don’t care if it’s trashy. Practicing makes you better.
What’s the biggest reading mistake students make?
There are a few. Avoidance of reading is a big problem. Some of it occasionally has to do with a learning disability. Some of it has to do with attention span. Most students just haven’t had the practice. Reading is a skill you build up over time. Another one is that students will see unfamiliar words, and they just skip over them without looking up the words. They admit it. I tell them, “You’re walking around with a dictionary in your pocket. Why don’t you just look up the word on your phone?” But if students don’t know what the word means, they miss a lot of meaning, and that translates into errors on tests.
Some material is going to be difficult for anyone, even avid readers. Say my professor assigns a complicated legal argument or a highly technical paper. How do I approach the assignment?
Attitude is very important. If you’re going to read something difficult, just tell yourself, “This is going to be the best thing I’ve ever read.” Keep an open mind, and stay positive. Break it up into chunks. Take a break — get up and move around every few minutes. Not everything is going to be fun. Keep your ultimate goal in mind. A lot of students are in college because they want good jobs, and when you’re in the workplace, you’re going to have to read things you’re not crazy about, whether it’s technical material or correspondence or annual reports. I tell students, “Welcome to adulthood. Sometimes you have to do things you’re not crazy about.”
How about note-taking while reading? What tactics should students use?
Too many students want to highlight. Highlighting is OK, but it can be coloring after a while. Writing a little summary in the margin is much more effective because it forces you to put the material in your own words. If you realize you can’t summarize a section, that tells you to go back and read it again.