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7 tips for keeping up with your compulsory reading

Several tips for reading large amounts of text as if it was a piece of cake.

Reading is an integral part of your studies whether you are a hopeful young philosopher or a future coach. However, sometimes there are so many pages to read that any attempt to open a book ends in disgust: I cannot possibly manage to read all this. But you can.

Here are several tips for reading large amounts of text as if it was a piece of cake, remembering what you have read and, on top of it all, actually enjoying the whole thing!

1. Do not read everything
Find out what you have to read, what you should read and what you would like to read. After putting together your reading list (for a semester, for a seminar paper or for your thesis), it is good to stop for a while and think about items on the list that you do not have to read. You simply cannot read everything, so be realistic and concentrate on what is most important.

'The basic step is to have a to-read list. I can recommend the Goodreads social network. When I come across an interesting book, I can add it to my to-read list in less than a minute. I sort my books by tags – from personal development to books relevant for my thesis. Another advantage is the social aspect of the network. You can add your friends and get inspiration from them', suggests Dušan Vystrčil from the mimoš project.

2. Get to know your enemy
When you open any given book, it is generally recommended that should first thumb through the pages to get to know its structure and the content of individual chapters. See what the book is about and how it is written. It is also good to think about what you already know about the subject.

'Do not try to study from sources that you don't understand. If you struggle with the literature because it is too sophisticated, you should start by finding something about the subject in a more accessible form. Concepts and mechanisms that we already understand serve as a structure which we then flesh out with more knowledge', explains Tatiana Malatincová from the Department of Psychology at the Faculty of Arts.

3. Find your reading heaven
It is important that nobody and nothing disturbs you once you start reading. Put your notebook away and turn off notifications on your mobile phone – even the smallest beep draws your attention to an undesirable direction and it can easily happen that you suddenly realise you are reading cooking recipes, even though you set out to read scholarly papers. Some people like to read in libraries, but if that does not work for you, create you own reading spot at home. Try and buy a nice little chair and put it in a corner or get some pretty cushions to sit on and you will see that you will suddenly start looking forward to reading. Do not forget to ask your flatmates not to disturb you while you read.

4. Do not waste time
Quite often, the problem is not where, but when. Use time management techniques to help you get organised, set your priorities and find reading time – as well as time for other activities! Put reading on your to-do list, give it a priority and set a specific time for it. For example, you can plan to read every day after dinner or before breakfast. Over time, this will turn into a habit and starting to read will not require any willpower.

Another way to save time is speed reading. It is a technique that allows people to read more signs in a text at the same time and move more along the lines more smoothly. It should also teach you to better internalise the text. By practising this method, your brain will learn to sort out the important information.

5. Have a strategy
The foundation for high-quality reading, which allows you to remember the essential information, is to realise that what you are after is knowledge, not a set number of pages. Malatincová explains it in the following way: 'Try to ask yourself questions about basic topics and try to find the answers in the literature. Reading a book from cover to cover with no prior expectations has several drawbacks. One of them is the “in one eye and out the other" effect: you do not attach the information to the knowledge that you already have and reading becomes a passive activity, similar to playing games on your mobile phone. Your goal is then to finish the book, not to understand the subject, and this means you do not focus on the content, as any delay caused by thinking is seen as a frustrating slowdown.'

For this reason, she recommends that you do not read books aimlessly, but focus on a specific issue. 'This helps you to break away from the structure of the book. It ensures you will not remember a certain theory just because it followed after another in the book. Questions are the basis of education. If a student does not approach education with questions, he or she is probably not studying for the right reasons', she thinks.

6. Make a lot of notes, but not mindlessly
We keep the information from books in notes. These do not need to be limited to writing down rules and theorems. You can use mind maps and note down keywords or the most important thoughts.

Dušan Vystrčil recommends highlighting interesting passages, which you then write down and store in one place, such as the EverNote app. 'However, that's of course not all. Afterwards, I select the most important thoughts from my notes – the ones that I would like to keep in my mind', he says. He sets reminders for his notes to remember when it is time to refresh and review the thoughts. 'This takes five minutes and it's a great way to retain the thoughts. The card method is also useful. You write the important points from a book on cards and then regularly refresh the thoughts that you noted down. The Studyblue app is one of the available digital alternatives', he adds.

7. Combine learning from books with other sources
Information is easier to retain if you already have a basic knowledge structure that you can attach it to. However, there are other sources besides lectures that can help us create this structure and retain our knowledge.

'I still like to listen to talks intended for the general public, such as TED talks and Great Courses, on the subjects that I study. Besides, I use text-to-speech software and listen to easier texts in audio format, for example while ironing. The advantage is that you can learn and procrastinate at the same time,' adds Malatincová with a smile.