Often overlooked documents, course readers and handouts are more important than most students realise.

Follow these five tips to make the most of your handouts at University.

Read the Reader

Course reading materialIf you’re studying full time you will likely be studying four modules a year, each worth 30 credits. Each module will have a reader but don’t make the mistake of filing them away: not only should they be at the front of your binders, the moment you get them there a number of things you should do. First, read them from cover to cover. The readers will provide a comprehensive overview of what you’ll be studying, when, and how. Then, if the essay questions are included, decide now which questions you may want to answer and source the books from the library – be the first on your course to check them out, and any other books listed as suggested reading.

Annotate the Reader

By the end of your first semester your readers should be a working document; essay questions are underlined, the bibliography is ticked off – and added to, and follow up notes from each week’s lecture and seminar have been made in the margins. If you only dig out your reader a few days before your essay is due and it’s still in mint condition, the odds of doing well will be stacked against you.

Read the Handouts

Course handoutsMost lecturers provide handouts prior to each lecture and seminar – and some are weighty. It’s important to have the right attitude with it comes to doing your background reading: don’t complain too much, your friends are in a similar position, and remember it’s possible to spend longer complaining about your reading, or longer putting it off, than it takes to actually read it sometimes! Get into the routine of sitting down at a certain time each day to read and make notes. If you struggle, use the carrot and stick approach: if you get all your reading done by Friday, you can have a night out.

Use the Handouts

Treat all handouts with due respect. Your lecturers are clever, so the material they have selected for you to read will be relevant, current and, hopefully, interesting too. As you’re reading make notes in the margins, you may even colour code – red ink for follow up questions, blue ink for brief summaries – but keep any system simple.

Don’t Kid a Kidder

Anything you think of your lecturer will have seen many times before. Don’t scrawl over the front page of the handouts to give the impression you’ve made notes on every page and, similarly, if you’ve not done the reading, don’t bluff because it’s really obvious. However – even if you haven’t done all the reading, don’t skip the seminar, there’s still something to be gained. Also keep a look out for anything in the handouts which looks out of place – such a picture of Peter Rabbit on page 94. If you’re not studying children’s literature, his inclusion is likely to test whether you’re paying attention.

More on attending lectures