Infrequently Asked Questions
Below are questions that I wish students would ask more frequently. If you are asking yourself any of these questions, please give yourself a pat on the back for doing so, and then look to the answers below. If you don't yet have any questions, I hope this list will give you some ideas regarding what you should be thinking about as you go through the course.
How can I best deal with the readings for this class?
Reading has a different place in a Humanities & Religious Studies course than in most other types of courses (math, science, business, art, etc.). In this and most other classes in our department, readings are a bit like problem sets or labs; they are often the heart of what we are concerned with in class, rather than simply serving as supplementary or optional guide that can help you figure out how to handle the main work of the course. If you understand this and take reading seriously, this course will quite likely be very manageable; without this understanding, however, you may have a hard time even obtaining a passing score.
In general you should plan two hours of study for every hour of class time. Students generally do best who plan blocks of time in their schedule to work with the readings, rather than simply attempting to get through them from start to finish as quickly as possible. Whether by setting aside an hour daily or a larger block of time several times week, the successful reader finds a time & place when & where she will be relaxed yet alert, and won’t be distracted by other things (e.g., early morning, and/or on a cozy couch, and/or sitting with coffee/tea).
Also, most people do best when taking frequent breaks while reading--especially when catching oneself not having absorbed anything in the past paragraph or page. The experienced reader avoids forcing herself to proceed from beginning to end of a reading if she gets stuck--instead skipping ahead when reading becomes impossibly challenging, and then coming back to the difficult section later to see if any further progress can be made. The key is to focus on fully grasping what you read rather than finishing every single page. It is advisable however to skim headings & first sentences of each paragraph for sections one hasn’t had time to read; and then make general notes on the content of what one hasn’t read in depth so that at least one knows which pages to go back to later if they turn out to contain necessary material. As well, guidance provided in homework assignments will suggest ways to annotate the assigned sources and/or draw concept maps of key ideas, which will greatly increase focus and abililty to remember what is read. If you need help with reading, the Writing Center (in Calaveras Hall) can assign a tutor to work with you; but you must make an appointment in advance.
- College level reading inevitably pushes a reader to expand her or his vocabulary. However, this does not happen automatically--it requires a dictionary! The gap between knowing how to use a dictionary and actually doing it is a huge one for many people. Keep in mind that you need to have a dictionary physically present next to you as you read in order to use it! On-line dictionaries do no good unless one reads at the computer; and a dictionary sitting on a distant shelf does almost as little good. Also, many readers benefit from answering questions using terms listed in the reading guide, since these are the basis of half the questions on every test. Many people find it helpful to do this on index cards, with each entry including not only the word and its definition, but where it appears in the reading (and where the definition was found, if not the dictionary) so that examples can be found again.
[Occasional statements throughout this document are derived, with permission,
from a similar document written by my colleague Peter Fosl, Associate Professor
and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Transylvania University.]