How to Make Assigned Readings Suck Less

Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m the worst when it comes to following through on reading assignments for class. I just can’t ever seem to focus on those pages and pages of droning words.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of times the books are on topics I genuinely have an interest in, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the class. But honestly, I’m not the best at learning-through-assigned-reading. I can pick up a 300+ page book for fun and have it done in a couple of days. But a 20-page textbook assignment? It seems to drag on for years.

So here are my tips to staying focused while reading, because if you’re anything like me, you’ve had this problem to.

Find Good Study Music

If I just sit there in total silence, I will zone out. My eyes will autopilot and I won’t absorb a thing I’m reading. I’ll start playing with my jewelry. I’ll pick up my phone and start texting. I’ll do every little mundane task at my disposal…except the reading.

If I listen to music with words in it, I get distracted and start to sing along. I know, I know, songs with lyrics are fun! People are good singers! I recommend finding music in a language you don’t speak. Not only will it fulfill your lyrical desire, it’ll expose you to musicians from around the world. Just don’t spend too much time procrastinating looking for foreign artists!

Yet, I still get distracted with this, because I love foreign languages and trying to figure out what their songs are about. My go-to study playlist? Film scores!

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 18.50.17
Best Hans Zimmer Music #1 (Top 10 HD), composed by Hans Zimmer and compiled by Heilay on Youtube

Hans Zimmer is perfect for study sessions. His music is composed specifically to maintain focus, plus you feel kinda awesome listening to it.

Use a Little Imagination

Remember when you were a kid and you liked to pretend you were someone else? My friends and I loves to pretend we were superheroes or spies. Dig back into that and use it. I find reading assignments are a lot more enjoyable when I pretend like I’m a research analyst in an action movie, finding sources for a major assignment.

Suddenly, I’m not a bored college student trying to pass my Contemporary Middle Eastern Politics class, I’m a hot international superspy on a mission.

jamesbond
Sean Connery as James Bond in Dr. No (1962)

Pro-tip: adding the Hans Zimmer music to this makes it 1000% more awesome. Not only are you a hot international superspy, you’re a hot international superspy who’s background music is composed by one of the greatest action-film composers of all time. You’re in an Oscar-worthy movie here, you better get those readings done.

Find a Good, Sacred Study Space

I know, I know, just about every study blog post on the planet suggests having a designated study zone. And the reason is because every study blog post is right. If you find a nook, a table at a café, a corner of a library, where the only thing you do while there is get things done, you’ll train yourself to be super efficient when you’re there.

I used to do homework in my bed, but I can’t do that anymore. I just want to snuggle into my covers and take a siesta. If you’re disciplined about having certain designated areas for work, play, and rest, your mind will subconsciously get into the purpose of that space when you’re there.

There’s one desk in the basement of my library and all I do when I’m there is get reading done. The minute I notice I’ve completely lost focus for the day, I don’t taint that space by hanging out there on Snapchat, I head upstairs to the café, grab a chai, and see if a break elsewhere is what I need. There’s one study room in the library I never work in, because my friends and I have club meetings and movie nights in there, so when I’m in that space, I’m in the mood for watching Star Trek (2009), not reading about soil taxonomy.

And hey, going into that hot international superspy narrative, you could even get real creative and call your personal sacred study space your “headquarters.” *cue Da Vinci Code (2006) theme*

Study-Buddies!

Find friends to work with! Preferably, ones who have the same reading assignments as you. If there’s another person working on it with you, you can hold each other accountable. Bounce discussion questions off of each other. I know, not the most exciting thing to chat about, but every good hot international superspy knows how to use the people around them to get information. Talking about what you’ve read will help you retain what you’ve absorbed.
Did you read chapter 5?
Yeah.
Why do you think Stalin told Trotsky the wrong date for Lenin’s funeral?
It was definitely a power move, I think. That way the public thought Trotsky wasn’t actually loyal to Lenin.
I know. It’s so crazy. Plus it made Stalin look better by being one of the few from Lenin’s cabinet to attend.
Stalin was an evil genius.
Yeah man, one of his better moves for sure.
(Note: I’m not endorsing Stalin here, this is just an example. Although you gotta admit that was a deliberately clever move.)

Odds are, there’s someone in the class who took it because the material sounded interesting to them. Find those nerds, because they’re the ones who will likely have these conversations with you.

Doing this can make any drab textbook chapter into a casual conversation. Plus, built in studying, double-whammy.


So there you have it! Assigned readings don’t have to be absolutely awful. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to do some background research on the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire for a top-secret mission while the Inception (2010) theme plays in the background.

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