How to tackle University reading and stay sane!

It’s called ‘reading for a degree’ for a reason.

The phrase may not be as commonly used as it once was but ask any Professor or Lecturer and they will tell you that reading is an essential skill to master to become a good academic writer. But it’s a stage in the research process that’s often misunderstood and leads many motivated, high potential students to overlook this incredible tool.

What are the necessary skills required to be a successful reader at University?

There are millions of students at Business School. Only a tiny percentage of them understand how academic reading differs from regular reading, and even less reach their academic reading potential.

If you study high-performance academics, they all share a few common traits. However different their study areas are, they all employ these three essential reading skills. They are:

1. Purpose

2. Discipline

3. Insight

Let’s begin to break it down. I’ll explain how each of these skills contributes to how successful your academic reading becomes.

But first - let me tell you a story.

I started out knowing NOTHING when I began University.

Literally nothing. I didn’t know there were techniques to improve my academic reading and writing. I didn’t seek them out. I just went along, for months, on my own merry way.

Whoever said ignorance is bliss . . . it’s a LIE!

My reading was chaotic, disorganised and downright depressing. I engaged in two types of reading. I either read in fits and starts with no real plan in mind and then came away from the library miserable that I’d achieved nothing. Or I sat down to read entire textbooks at home and then beat myself up when I found my mind would wander after a few minutes. I also wrote out copious notes, only to find hours later I couldn’t remember what I’d read OR what I’d written.

I didn’t understand how much reading in order to write differs from reading for pleasure (now I understand this distinction is critical for my success AND sanity).

I didn’t know any tools or techniques to aid me or to allow me to make the most of my time reading. I didn’t even know how to choose the most robust, authoritative sources to read.  I had absolutely no idea what to do.

But then I began to research ways to improve my reading and writing so that I could put them into practice and attain better marks. I began to read purposefully in a disciplined and insightful manner and I noticed a significant difference. As I paid attention to what techniques, tactics, and tools worked best, I started to achieve serious results.

Suddenly my academic reading felt well-organised, worthwhile and competent. I felt on top of my game. My improved reading skills meant that my academic writing began to have clarity, authority and a professional, scholarly feel to it. I went from essays in the low to mid-50s to essays and assignments in the mid-70s that consistently gained me merits and distinctions.

I know from experience that these three skills will make your academic reading more effective, efficient and enjoyable. Yes, academic reading can be enjoyable! And when you use these reading skills, your academic writing will also benefit. Your essays and dissertation will stand out and you will feel like the accomplished student you were always meant to be.


1. Purpose 

Let me just say this: University staff rarely read books cover to cover or read entire articles from abstract to references. They rarely read whatever they want, whenever they feel like it. Effective academics have a specific purpose in mind when they search for content and read it.

When I first became an undergraduate waaaay back in 1991 there was no online library service (it was the same year that the public got access to the world wide web). I used to have to check books out of the library and return them in person to renew them. Seriously, my friends and I used to joke that we’d “taken our books for a holiday” because we would lug 10kg of books across the city to our student residence, let them chill on our desks for a while and then haul them back to the library in our backpacks a week later unread.


You need a strategy. You can’t afford to have 10 hardback textbooks sat unopened on your desk or spend time re-reading articles because you started to daydream about your weekend part-way through. It will demoralise you and crush your confidence. I don’t want you to waste any more money on books you won’t read or waste time as you search for articles that aren’t useful. You will waste hours of your University life reading irrelevant or inadequate material unless you develop a strategy and read with a clear purpose in mind.


2. Discipline

Like I said, my original approach to reading for my University course was chaotic and super disorganised. Textbooks from the library cluttered my desk, photocopies of the journal articles I’d collected lay unread in a pile. I had no clue what to read first - so I read none of it.

I believed I had to be in the right mood to read. I used to think that I needed the “perfect” time and the “perfect” place to begin. And guess what? My perfectionism trumped my progress every time.

If you wait until everything is “perfect” and you “feel” like reading then you will end up distracted, dejected and get nothing done.

While a suitable environment to study in with few distractions certainly aids your academic reading, it’s really not about that at all. It’s about behaviour.

It’s about showing up for your academic work like you would in a professional job. It’s about using a SYSTEM so it’s easy to pick up where you last left off. It’s about having the right tools at your disposal so there’s no excuse to quit before you start. Discipline makes it extremely straightforward to manage your reading on time and to a high standard.

You could call it your secret weapon :)

There are two main types of discipline. There’s the self-discipline of the ‘I-am-not-leaving-this-library-until-I-read-what-I-need’ variety. And there’s the extrinsic discipline that comes from having an orderly approach and like-minded people to hold you accountable. We dive into the detail of both kinds of discipline in Lesson 4 of my course.

There you’ll audit yourself against common areas of difficulty – I provide a worksheet for this exact purpose! Afterward, you’ll apply my proven, actionable techniques that allow you to work with your natural strengths and address your current weaknesses.

The orderly approach that makes self-discipline soooo much easier? That’s what I teach in my upcoming course, Your Best Essay Ever so be sure to get on the waiting list now. Once you have a step-by-step system to follow it eliminates any confusion or fear – you’ll know EXACTLY what you need to do at each stage of the process. 

I also HIGHLY recommend you support your self-discipline and join a community of like-minded students (such as those at Joined-up Writing). Why? Because it can be tough to implement change and go it alone. When you work alongside other people who all want the same goal it provides encouragement and motivation as you share in each other's achievements and victories.


3. Insight

Successful University students know how to gain insight into what their Professor, Lecturer or Tutor wants them to learn.  Whether it’s background reading for a lecture, targeted reading for an essay or assignment, or a search for information to go into a presentation - there’s no reason to start from a blank page.

This probably goes against what you’ve heard about University.

You think:

“But my Professor doesn’t reply to student emails”

“My Lecturer is too busy to meet up with me one-to-one”

“Nobody on my course has an insight into what our Tutor wants”

Yes, some of that may be true. But it’s not where your insight comes from.

Let me tell you something. It’s important. Listen carefully...

You will learn more from resources that are freely available to everyone on your course than you will from emails, one-to-one conversations, or your fellow students.

This means that you must learn to squeeze the maximum possible benefit from course outlines, lecture slides, recommended reading lists and the online portal your University uses to host them.

Students can struggle on with snippets of insight gleaned from a snatched conversation with the person who teaches their course. But it’s not the same level of insight that successful students gain when they use common materials that the Professor or Lecturer who teaches the course created especially to guide you.

Think about it; a Lecturer or Tutor wants you to be successful. They want to guide you to make the most out of their course so that you learn and more importantly RETAIN that knowledge. They also want you to have a good experience at the same time. But I know from the other side of the relationship, the frustration at the amount of time consumed by high numbers of students who ask the same questions again and again when the answers are already out there. 

Do you want to be the student that waits for an email reply or a rushed conversation?

Do you want to be seen as an inconvenience to your Tutor, or worse still, an annoyance?

Or do you want to be the one with a head start, the student who is able to quickly and effectively apply information that most students ignore?  Do you want to sit back and wait for help that may never materialise or instead, turn readily available information into knowledge you can use to forge ahead in your studies? You must decide!

Earning a degree at University has changed so much in the two decades since I was an Undergraduate. Obtaining great results has gone from a “nice to have” to a complete necessity. If you (or your family) pay out a four to five figure sum in fees and daily living expenses while you are at University, and you ignore insights that can boost your degree result, then you are leaving cash on the table. LOTS of cash. But I think you already know that and you're here because you are ready to do whatever it takes.

Your Best Essay Ever  will show you step-by-step exactly how to approach your University assignments in a manner that delivers the results you desire. You’ll learn how to arrive at the destination AND enjoy the journey too. If you're serious about your degree, and you want to enjoy your years at University without time wasted on methods that don't work, then grab your notebook and pen and prepare yourself. I’ll show you how to achieve your potential.

Just to recap,

The three most important elements for successful academic reading are:

 1. Purpose:

You must read with purpose. You’ll only be ultra-effective if you have a strategy.

 2. Discipline:

 A strategy only works if you do. Give yourself a fighting chance with discipline.

3. Insight:

Successful students gain insight from experts and insiders. Learn to look beyond the surface.

If you want to be a world-class student, then you need to act like it now. Start to develop the skills and use the strategies, tactics and tools like the scholar you want to be, even though you're not quite there yet.

Ready to take it further?

Then read How to read with purpose + three reasons why it's crucial. It introduces the system I developed as a student, academic professional copywriter and communicator. It's the first in a series of posts filled with detailed and actionable content teaching you how to take your academic reading and research skills to a whole new level.

I know you’ll love it and in less than a month you'll have fast tracked your University skills. To ensure you don't miss a lesson join up, tell your friends, and stick around for more amazing value!