Hi there! Happy new year 🙂 So, this might be a bit of a dumb question, but… I’m a first year right now and for one of my classes (which focuses on literature/poetry, it’s a Vic One class), I’m really having trouble reading and understanding a book. It just really bores me and I end up reading 50 pages without actually retaining anything, and this just makes my social anxiety kick in because I’m worried that I’ll seem incompetent. Do you have any tips on how to read/understand/annotate better, especially when the reading is boring you? Thanks, I appreciate it. <3
happy new year to you, too!
i don’t consider that a dumb question at all. learning to read for university classes is a bit of a tough skill to learn, so i’m glad you reached out! the kind of reading you’re doing is demanding and designed to stretch your capacity to think, so of course it won’t come naturally if you’re not used to it.
while i’m not a literature student, here are some personal tips i can share on reading better and understanding your course material:
– if you’re reading a ton of pages but not retaining anything, you might try converting your readings to another format (that is, if you’re able to, and if you think mixing things up might help). i’m willing to bet you can find audiobooks for any classic literature you’re reading—try a local library. you can try listening to the audio version first and then do another quick pass over the printed one for annotations, maybe?
– read in chunks, instead of trying to tackle a whole book at once. sometimes when i don’t retain things, it’s because my eyes are moving over the page but i’m zoned out.
– in terms of understanding, keep track of any questions you have as you go through a passage. any words you don’t know, any references that fly over your head, anything that seems confusing or ambiguous… note those down and investigate them after you read. maybe even ask an instructor or fellow student about them. doing so will give you a better grasp of what you’re reading.
– think about how the particular reading you’re tackling may benefit you and add to your understanding of the world around you! see if you can find a little beauty in it. this seems like kind of a dumb tip, but finding purpose in my readings is always something that helps me engage with them more. you’re lucky enough to be working with literature—maybe seek out some exciting analyses or nerdy fandom blog posts about the stories you’re reading. it might spark some inspiration and motivation.
– spend some time developing an annotation or note-taking system that works for you. some people use special symbols or colour coding—and some make brain maps, spreadsheets, or summary sheets instead of annotating. a quick google search on how to annotate literature might be helpful to you, and i found some tumblr posts that might be worth a glance: here, and here.
– go to office hours and chat with your instructor about the subject material. the lovely thing about u of t is that we’ve got some of the best, most passionate professors in the country—and professors have dedicated their lives to studying what they’re teaching you, right? so if anyone can inspire a little more interest in your readings, it’s probably them. let them know that you’re struggling and ask them for tips.
apart from those tips, you can also check out these u of t resources on reading effectively, if you haven’t already seen them. booking an appointment with a learning strategist to talk this over might also be helpful! they might have tips for enhancing your focus and building a strategy for tackling your readings.
since you mentioned that this issue triggers your social anxiety, i feel like you may also benefit from chatting with an on-location counsellor about how you’ve been feeling. you didn’t really ask for my take on this, but as someone who’s struggled with anxiety and impostor syndrome at u of t, i think learning to work with your social anxiety is worth your time. however, on-location counselling is only available to you if you’re in toronto. you can check out mySSP if you’re not.
i hope this helped, and good luck with your winter semester.