How-to: Complete difficult reading assignments

First off, if you're a teacher, realize that a good completion rate for reading assignments is 75%, especially if you assign a lot of work. If you're a student, getting through the reading can be a struggle, especially if you fall behind. Here are some tips for getting through difficult reading.

Low Difficulty

- Trace your place on the page with your finger. This keeps you focused and keeps you from jumping around the page. This also helps you avoid reading qua reading, where your eyes are moving across and down the page, but you're not actually absorbing the words.

- Go to Sparknotes or Wikipedia and read a plot or argument summary. Remember that the goal is not to read all the words, but comprehend and understand the arguments presented in the reading. Furthermore if you read a summary ahead of time, it will help you understand as you read, and stay on track. If you take 5 minutes before you start and 5 minutes after you finish for comprehension, you'll be able to contribute during debates and consolidate the things you just read in your memory.

- Print out your reading instead of reading it on the computer.

- Look up unfamiliar words. Let's say you don't know what "ignominious" means. Text "define ignominious" to 46645 (GOOGL) and they'll send you a text back within 10 seconds with the definition.

Medium Difficulty

- Remove all distractions. Reading is a solo activity; don't read with other people, as they will distract you. Put headphones in your ears, even if nothing's coming out, so people won't bother you. Go to a quiet place, because places can act as triggers for your mind. When I'm in my room or the lounge, I'm unwinding. When I'm at the gym I'm working hard. When I'm in the library, I focus.

- Find a way to make the reading interesting. Ask yourself why the teacher assigned this reading. Pretend you're a detective. Assume everything the author wrote is false, and find holes. Ask your teacher to give you a question, or make up your own question (or go to Sparknotes), to try and answer as you read.

- Don't try to cram everything into a marathon session. Figure out how long it takes you to read (for me, 60 pages an hour for light reading, less for bad translations and old works), and schedule it over a long period.

- Don't read on the couch or in a comfy chair, because you're going to fall asleep. If you're tired, sleep or get a coffee and then sit in a regular chair and read. Don't mix the two.

High Difficulty

- Change your mental model, the answer to your "how do you think of yourself?" question. Think of yourself as "a hard worker" or "someone who works super hard during the week, so he/she has time to unwind on the weekend." Then cognitive dissonance kicks in - if you believe in your mental model, and you're not meeting it, you'll feel uncomfortable, and that will help you get around to doing the reading. I'm going to write more about this later.

- Put money on the line. Write out a $20 check to PETA, the NRA, or some other organization you dislike, and tell your friend to mail it if you don't finish your reading. Essentially, you're making yourself poorer, then earning a cash reward for finishing your reading. You have to find a friend that will cash the check. For more see Yes, this is ruthless, but it works, and I assume that what you're doing now isn't working.

Spend more time reading. Read through the text more than once, or read and then describe the reading to a classmate and have him/her do the same to you. If you don't have enough time in the day, consider dropping some of your activities.

- 1. Get started, and 2. Keep going. The simplest way to get your reading done is to do it. Make time in your schedule for doing work - figure out what times of the day you are most alert and do it then. Once it becomes a habit, like brushing your teeth, you're in good shape.

Liked what you read? I am available for hire.

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