Five Tips for Reading Your Prescribed Texts

November 27, 2020

Five Tips for Reading Your Prescribed Texts:
One of the best things you can do to succeed in HSC English is also one of the most obvious: read your prescribed texts! However, while it is easy to say this, it can be a lot harder to actually do it. Let’s face it: the texts set for study are often long and reading them can be a time consuming process particularly if you are a slower reader. The texts can also be confusing or uninteresting at first,making it difficult to remain motivated. So below are five tips on how to approach reading your prescribed texts:

Establish a reading plan
If it’s been a while since you picked up a book and you find it difficult to motivate yourself to read, you should start by establishing a reading plan. The idea of reading a 250 page book can seem a very daunting prospect, but if you break this down into smaller more achievable goals it suddenly becomes a lot more manageable. To make a reading plan you want to set yourself a deadline and then calculate how many pages you’ll need to read in order to finish it by that date. So, for example: if you want to finish a 250 page book in 30 days, that’s just over 8 pages per day – which is a lot more achievable!

Do your research
Diving into a text blind can often be frustrating and disorienting, so reading summaries and reviews of your text before you start reading can also be helpful. In particular, you want to get a sense for the purpose of the text before you start reading – look into why the text was written and why it is considered significant by experts. This will usually lead you into an exploration of context, which is incredibly helpful when it comes to understanding a text. Make sure you are broadly familiar not only with the composer’s personal context, but also their historical (time period) and cultural (art style) contexts.

Read the syllabus before you start reading
A lot of the time when we start a book and lose interest, it’s because we don’t really understand why we’re reading it. Every text you study will be studied in the context of a module – the Common Module is Texts and Human Experiences, Module A is Textual Conversations, Module B is Critical Study of Literature, and Module C is the Craft of Writing. By familiarising yourself with the module first and then reading the text, you will already be in the mindset necessary to understand and ‘decode’ the text. This will also give you a head-start with respect to notetaking, as you’ll know which parts possess particular relevance for your essays and assignments.

Read chapter summaries as you go
Consider reading chapter summaries each time you finish a chapter or portion of the book. This will be particularly helpful if you are struggling to follow what is happening, but can be helpful even if you are enjoying what you are reading. Chapter summaries will help you consolidate your knowledge of the text and alert you to anything you missed out on or didn’t pick up on. By reading them alongside the text, you will remember the text a lot more thoroughly – which will come in handy for your Trials and HSC exams.

Make notes
While this can be a little tricky when you haven’t begun formally studying the text, you should consider making a note of important quotes, moments, pages, or sections as you work through the text. If you already have some concepts in mind, you can allocate different colours for different concepts as you come across them. This will help you know where to return to for quotes and other evidence later on when it comes time to start writing essays. In summary, having read your prescribed texts will give you a broad and deep knowledge of your texts. This will make it a lot easier to understand the analysis your teacher provides in class, make the process of writing draft essays a lot quicker, and will give you the flexibility necessary for answering difficult HSC questions.

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