Fake It Like You Read It: How to Make It Look Like You Read the Material When You Didn’t

It’s November, which means that your semester is about to kick into warp speed. November seems to go by in a blink—maybe it’s the combination of all the assignments piling up at once, the massive amounts of due dates throughout the month, or the holiday that acts as both a respite from, and a catalyst for, all the craziness. As a student, you’re forced into survival mode, and survival mode means that you can’t read everything. You simply can’t. You won’t make it. You’ll be one of those students, strewn across a couch at the library while others stare at you with pity. You won’t have enough energy to reach your coffee cup that sits one-inch-too-far away from you. But here’s the good news: you don’t need to read everything to achieve a 4.0 GPA. Here are some tips on how not to read everything that’s assigned, but fake like you did read the material and get good grades.

Expecting yourself to read every assigned word is like putting yourself in the cone of shame--you're just going to be miserable.  Don't put yourself in the cone of shame.  On a side note, this is my dog, she had a surgery to remove a growth that she kept chewing on, and she's healthy and cone-free now. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston
Expecting yourself to read every assigned word is like putting yourself in the cone of shame–you’re just going to be miserable. Don’t put yourself in the cone of shame. On a side note, this is my dog, she had a surgery to remove a growth that she kept chewing on, and she’s healthy, happy, and cone-free now.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

1. Pick and choose what you can read and what you can skip. This seems like a “duh” step, but it’s a crucial step nonetheless. There are classes that require you to read everything or else you risk the chance of flunking the test. For me, those classes were always economics courses. You better believe that I read Posner through and through. So choose your hardest course, and assume that you’re going to have to read everything for it. This means that you identify the class that you’re doing the best in (or that’s the easiest for you), and you accept that you won’t be reading all of the assigned materials for that course.

2. Just because you can’t read the material now doesn’t mean that you can’t read it later. I’ll admit it. I didn’t read Beowulf until after the semester ended. I was too inundated with my other homework, and I already had a 98% average in that class. So, I skipped Beowulf, got an “A,” and read the book during winter break because I was interested in it. If there’s something you’re anxious to read but don’t have the time for (and don’t really need to read it to get an “A” in the class), then save it for later and treat the text as recreational reading material.

3. Wikipedia—Wikipedia like you’ve never Wikipedia-ed before. It’s easier to read a Wikipedia article that summarizes the book’s plot, characters, symbols, etc. than to read the entire book itself. I know that most teachers hate Wikipedia, but it’ll do for knowing the basics and for not showing up to class thinking that “Beowulf” is the monster’s name. By the way, it’s not. The monster’s name is “Grendel,” and you’ll know that by reading the Wikipedia article on the book. I guarantee you that that will be on your Beowulf exam if you’re getting tested on that text. Admittedly, Wikipedia doesn’t cover all of the materials that your teacher may assign though. In that case . . . .

4. Google—Google like you’ve never Googled before. Look for reviews on the text and any analyses. You can also check your school’s scholarly databases. Someone somewhere may have already written a paper about the text. Don’t use this information to write a paper though without citing it, because that would be plagiarizing, which means possible expulsion. Therefore, use the information to educate yourself on the text, but not necessarily to write a full-blown paper. Also, I just need to say this: don’t try to pass another person’s paper off as your own. Again, that’s grounds for expulsion, and your GPA won’t matter then.

5. Look for names, concepts, and/or terms that your teacher has mentioned, and highlight them in your book. Use your class notes to help you accomplish this. Doing this allows you to jump back to this section in the text during future classes, quickly read a sentence or two that describes who that person is (or at least his/her importance), and then answer any questions or participate in the conversation like you actually read the material. Also, this method of highlighting lets you easily find important people and concepts in your book when it comes time to study for the test (at which time you will probably need to actually read the material instead of just pretending to).

6. Look for bold or italicized terms and highlight them. Even if your teacher didn’t mention them in class, bold or italicized terms are still good to highlight because they’re easy to test students on. You don’t necessarily need to read what you’re highlighting right now. You can do that later. Just highlight in the meantime, and read when you get free time. Hey, that rhymes. 🙂

7. If you’re in a history class, look for dates and highlight them. This is pretty much the same deal as #6.

8. Take advantage of the lists of terms at the end of the chapter. If you’re dealing with a textbook and don’t have time to read every word of every chapter, flip to the end of the chapter that gives you a list of “key terms.” Look up each of those terms, read and highlight the few sentences describing them, and then move on to the next term. This method of “reading” helps you to make sure that you cover the important parts of the text, but allows you to skip some perhaps superfluous stuff.

9. Read parts of the text. Sometimes, you can’t get away with completely skipping the reading. For instance, I had a teacher who assigned a book that was over 500 pages. He was running behind in the schedule, so he told us to read the first 250 pages one week and then read the rest of the book for the next week. Yeah, I had three other difficult classes, I was working part-time, and I was trying to finish up all of my makeup work from being sick for a few weeks and missing school. I’m a fast reader, but me reading that much in that short of a time wasn’t going to happen. However, I couldn’t just not read the book because we were going to be talking about it in class for two weeks. I couldn’t be silent for two weeks—I’m a talker, so it’d be pretty obvious that I didn’t read. If you’re caught in a situation like that one, here’s what you do: read the first two chapters (or 50 pages) of the section, read one chapter (or about 20-25 pages) in the middle, and read the last one or two chapters at the end of the assigned reading. After you do this, make sure that you’re the first one to raise your hand so that you can control the discussion by talking about what you read. By reading a part in the middle, you help to make sure that you don’t miss any plot twists, and by reading the end you ensure that you don’t miss the death of a character or something off the wall happening. For example, does Pip die at the end of Great Expectations? If he did, that would be a huge event in the book, and your teacher will definitely know that you haven’t read if you don’t know about Pip’s death. By the way, spoiler alert: Pip doesn’t die.

10. If your teacher asks a question in class and you didn’t read and/or don’t know the answer, keep your head down and flip through your book as if you are looking for something. This one is a 50-50 shot. I’ve still had teachers call on me despite doing this. I’ve also been skipped over because of doing this. Heck, I’ve accidentally found the answer and then voluntarily responded to their questions by doing this.

I wish that I could tell you that you can read everything that you’re assigned in college, have a social life, stay in touch with your family, hold down a job, and still get sleep. But that’s not reality. You should still try to read as much as you can, but you shouldn’t feel like a failure if you don’t read every assigned word. In truth, sometimes you have to skip some readings, or at least read them later when you have time. The above list will help you get through the semester and get good grades until you have time to read what you need and want to read.

Bonne chance, mes amis!

Have any questions about this blog post, or have questions that you want answered about some other aspect of college and obtaining an awesome GPA? Do you think that I might have missed something? Write it in the comments below, and I’ll give it a go. 🙂


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