It doesn’t matter what it is—a play by Shakespeare, a peer-reviewed journal article, a classmate’s paper—when I am asked to read for school, a sense of dread falls over me, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. But a recent graduate-level course at Rice University helped me realize why reading for school is so important, and why I should skip it only if absolutely necessary. Here is what I have discovered (or confirmed) over the past several weeks:
- You risk disappointing both your classmates and your professor if you don’t read—or worse.
Suppose your professor sorts you into groups to discuss the reading or do some sort of mini activity on it. Suppose now that you haven’t read the reading and everyone else has. Then you’re the weak link in the group and it’s likely to show. If this happens, your classmates may not say anything, but they might be seething underneath (no one likes to do all the work). Here’s another scenario for you: what if you’re assigned a role based on the reading, and you alone are supposed to fulfill that role? What are you going to do then? The worst case scenario is no one reads and your professor notices and you all get reprimanded for your lack of dedication to the class. I have not had this happen yet, as we as students tend to be good at making something out of nothing, but really, you’re just cheating yourself out of some really useful information when you choose to BS instead of actually doing the reading.
- By reading, half the research is already done.
Aside from one reflection paper, I’ve had to conduct some research for every paper I’ve written in grad school up until this point. But here’s the thing: we were encouraged to pull our supporting evidence from our class readings. This means that if we already did them, all we had to do was essentially go back to the readings, look at our markings (notes in the margins, highlighted passages, sticky notes, etc.) to refresh ourselves on the article’s content, and then violà! We were ready to incorporate that information in our papers. Sure, you have to think critically and carefully about where to put it and how to use it, but you’ve already taken care of most of the research portion by reading ahead of time like you were asked. How awesome is that?
- You will need something to spark ideas for open-ended assignments.
There was at least one or two assignments this past semester that were left so open-ended that I had to go back to the notes I’d taken on my textbook readings, compare my notes on the various concepts, and then pick the most appealing one to write a paper about. But I don’t take notes when I read, you say. Doesn’t matter. Just glancing at the titles of your readings will help you to get an idea of what kind of material you’re working with, and what you could possibly write about.
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