Getting to grips with reading lists

by Melissa (Student Blogger: MA English Literature)

When approaching your reading list at the beginning of the academic year, you might find yourself in some difficulty comprehending which texts you will be expected to have read completely, and those which only require you to glance over a chapter or two. Of course, all academic reading is good for broadening your mind, but prioritising your reading will help you to manage your time effectively.

To begin with, you need to differentiate which texts are CORE, PRIMARY, and SECONDARY. This is an essential task to complete before buying any of your texts, as these boundaries will determine whether a book is necessary for you to own, or whether you can get by on extracts provided by your tutors.

A CORE TEXT is a text that is deemed essential to your learning. You will probably be expected to write essays on it and will need to read it thoroughly. You should own a copy of any core texts that you will need so that you can make efficient notes on them, and have them ready to reference in seminars. ‘Owning’ a copy of a text counts as either a physical or a virtual copy. You can identify a ‘core text’ as a text which will be used in multiple weeks throughout your course.

A PRIMARY TEXT is similar to a core text, but slightly less important. Where you will almost definitely be expected to write about a core text, you have the option to choose which of your primary texts you will discuss in detail. Your primary texts can be identified as texts that you will likely spend one week on during your course. You are expected to own all primary texts, but you won’t be writing essays on every suggested book, so it’s okay to forego the odd book if you are struggling scheduling your reading time.

A SECONDARY TEXT is rarely necessary to own, and is often as little as a chapter or journal article. Secondary texts can be identified as academic critiques which you will reference in essays to explain, reinforce, or add flavour to your own ideas. They will rarely be the main focus of any week in a course, but often appear at the end of reading lists as suggestions to compliment your primary and core texts. Secondary texts tend to be on the more expensive side of university reading lists, so in most cases, it is best to wait to see if your tutor will provide you with the necessary extracts, or whether the library has any spare copies. Secondary texts are suggestions, and while you will need them, you have more freedom over which ones you decide use in your essays.

DON’T WORRY! Not all courses (Maths) have lengthy reading lists. Some courses, like Philosophy, focus on academic journals and articles rather than reading entire books cover-to-cover. If you do have a long reading list, however, it can be useful to apply these terms to your buying and reading habits. Good luck!



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