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Question re reading for advanced degree types


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Question: how do you read?

I'm having to read and absorb a lot of pages of new material and things are starting to blur together. I need a better system for processing the sheer volume of stuff that's being tossed at me these days.

In my previous degrees, I would just sit down with the materials and a highlighter and go through it all. At the end, I'd be done. Easy.

Now, I need to retain more AND cover a higher volume :(

Should I be rereading stuff once I finish my first thorough pass through the material? Taking notes? Rereading and taking notes?

What am I not doing?

I would ask the others in my program but, apart from the guy who admits to not reading half of the material, they're all in the same situation that I am. My old methods worked for MDiv-type courses, but they aren't working for the more advanced classes. Any tips, o wise ones?

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Highlighters don't cut it anymore. For all of my PDF-reading, I use Mendeley and keep a running outline of the most important points of an article/argument. I highlight/underline in books, use flags, and write all over the margins. Then, in the blank space usually left on the last page of a chapter, I summarize. 

 

I also skim and make copious use of book reviews, typically reading two or three for a book I really need to know well.

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I use Growly Notes to organize everything by class/topic/article (but Mendeley sounds very interesting!) and synthesize as I go. I don't just hit the high points, but note questions, work out the logic of the argument, recognizing its underlying assumptions/what it does well/what it fails to answer. At the end, I feel I've engaged the text pretty well and retain more of the information as a result, and I imagine my Growly Notes strategy is going to serve me well come comps time.

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The best reading advice, (though I cannot always follow it) came to me from the inimitable J.Z. Smith.  It has been essential as I prepare for comps this year, as well as in the past, especially when reading difficult theoretical work:

 

1. Read through the entire work quickly - no highlighting, no annotating, etc. Just plow through it and get the big picture of what the author is trying to do and how she or he is trying to do it.

2. Re-read at a more regular pace, making your notes, flags, etc. as you need them.

3. Close the book and make the best outline that you can from memory.

4. Rectify your outline, paying close attention to those areas where you had a difficult time doing so from memory.

 

Obviously, this takes some extra time that you may not have, but I have found that if I take #1 very seriously and literally just blaze my way through, not stopping to re-read or mark something, even if it seems incredibly important, that this step really doesn't take long.  I strive to keep it at about 6-8 pages a minute for that step, so I can make my way through anything up to about 450 pages in an hour.  For one reason or another I have to have print versions, and I handwrite everything out first prior to typing (otherwise I don't retain the material) - so nothing from me on the PDF/annotation front. 

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