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How to Make the Most Out of Those Summer Reading Lists

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You’ve studied, stressed, worked hard at your extracurriculars and woken up at a ridiculously early hour each and every morning for the past nine months. Studying for that very last stretch of exams felt nearly impossible. When you were waiting for that final bell to ring, it may have felt like you were waiting for paint to dry, but it’s finally here: it’s summer.


After the school year you’ve had, chances are the last thing you want to be thinking about is doing more reading. There is no sense in denying that some summer reading assignments might not be the most compelling, but with the right attitude, summer books can probably function as more than just a pillow for you to rest your head on as you relax on the beach. This post will offer some helpful advice to conquer those summer reading lists and start school in the fall feeling both rejuvenated and prepared.


What are summer reading lists?

Summer reading generally consists of books and reading assignments to be completed over the summer prior to taking a certain course. These readings might be assigned school-wide, or they might be up to the discretion of a specific teacher. Summer reading is commonly assigned as a component of summer work for AP courses, but it might also be assigned for honors or other parallel courses.  


Every assignment will differ based on your school and what classes you are taking. You might be assigned to read parts of a book, or you may just be told to read the entire thing. Some colleges even assign summer reading prior to freshman year! Columbia, for example, has students read a portion of Homer’s The Iliad.


What are the advantages of summer reading lists?

As was mentioned before, while some summer reading might be dull, it’s more than just something to help put you to sleep on a muggy July evening. Summer reading can help you prepare for the courses you are about to take in the fall—while it might take weeks or even months to read a book altogether as a class, assigning students a book to read over the summer allows you to jump right into assignments and class discussion once school starts.


Summer reading can also help keep you sharp and up to speed in terms of reading comprehension during the long summer months. If you’ve ever walked into a math class on the first day of a school year and noticed that doing simple multiplication felt about as confusing as trying to solve a puzzle while blindfolded, then you probably know that summer learning loss is no mere myth. While it’s most commonly discussed in the context of mathematics and other more quantitative subjects, it affects students’ reading comprehension levels as well—and completing reading assignments during the summer is a great way to combat this.


Tackling a summer reading assignment is also a great way to prepare for college-level courses! Depending on which college you decide to attend and what you decide to major in, you might be assigned hundreds of pages of reading in a week for just one course. Learning how to break up your readings and retain the information in them will no doubt be great practice for your college years.


So how do you make the most of your summer reading?


Try to enjoy the material

This one should be a no-brainer, but not all summer reading assignments are tortuous. Some courses and teachers will actually assign books that are very compelling, depending on what you’re interested in. If you happen to be an avid reader, then you might just look at summer reading as a means to finally check out that novel that you’ve been meaning to delve into for a while now.


It may help to try to connect the readings to your interests — if you’re a future STEM major and all of your summer readings are about neuroscience, then this will probably be easy for you. If you’re an arts/humanities major reading about phosphorescent jellyfish, however, this might be a little more difficult. Try to draw in connections to your interests as much as you can, even if they’re tangential. You might be surprised at how much you learn, and how much different disciples can connect with one another!


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Break it into chunks

If reading during the summer irritates you, then staying up all night to finish an assignment during the summer is probably the last thing you’ve ever want to do, second only to skydiving without a parachute. Some students actually work better under pressure, but if you prefer to take your time, do not save your readings until the last minute. You will probably end up hating even the most interesting novel if you cram all of your summer reading into the last week of August.


See how much time you have to do the assignment and then split up your reading into small bits: 30 pages a week, 30 pages a month, 50 pages a day — whatever you are most comfortable with. You might find that you can devour up to 100 pages in one sitting, or you might find that you enjoy your reading much more when it is broken up into small bite-sized bits. Learn what works for you! Managing your time this way will also be great practice for college.


Don’t be afraid to read whenever you get a few minutes of free time — pull out your book when you ride the subway or the bus, or while you’re waiting at the doctor’s office. Bring your books to the pool, the beach, or even your backyard. Reading can be a great way to pass the time while you get a tan, too!


Take notes

While you may want to be proactive and finish all of your readings in the first month of the summer, you don’t want to end up forgetting everything by the time school starts. Don’t be afraid to summarize, highlight, underline, and scribble things that are important to remember from your readings. Sticky notes can also be helpful for note-taking if you don’t want to write inside of your books.


Be aware of when you’re the most receptive

Similarly to how different people prefer different environments to study in, different people read in different ways. Do you have more energy first thing in the morning, or at night before you go to bed? Do you like to read at the local library, or at home with no distractions? What about doing your readings in a local coffee shop?


Ask yourself these questions and take the time to experiment and figure out what works for you. If you find that coffee shops have too much noise and libraries are too quiet, try taking a picnic blanket and your book to a local park. If you fall asleep every time you try to read at night, wake up early one morning and work on your readings while you sip your coffee. Determining your ideal learning/study environment will also be helpful for your college years.



Be sure to turn off your phone and any other distracting devices while you read. You wouldn’t have a conversation with a family member while trying to read a book, so don’t attempt to carry on a text conversation in the midst of your reading. After all, it’s nearly impossible to focus on anything if all that you can hear is dinging, buzzing, and beeping!


Start a book club

If you have friends who are taking the same course as you or who have been assigned the same readings, you might find it fun and helpful to start a summer reading book club. Assigning chapters or pages to read for a weekly, biweekly or monthly book club meeting is a great way to make sure you stay on schedule to finish your summer reading in time. You and your friends can also bug each other and make sure that everyone is actually taking the time to do the reading.


If you happen to enjoy your summer readings, then you might actually get some memorable discussions out of your book club. Even if you hate the readings, it might be cathartic to bond with your peers over the things that you didn’t like.


Utilize incentives

If you feel like you’ve really been dragging your feet in terms of doing your readings, try promising yourself small rewards in exchange for finishing portions of your summer reading. After the first 50 pages, eat an ice cream bar or watch an episode of your favorite TV show. When you read 200 pages, allow yourself to take a nap or go for a run. When you finally finish all of your summer reading, do something really nice for yourself—take a day off at the beach or go visit your favorite museum. You deserve it after all of your hard work!


For more tips on what to do with your summer, take a look at these CollegeVine blog posts:


How Can I Have a Productive Summer If I Live in a Small Town?

Pre-College Summer Programs for High School Students

What Do I Do If My Summer Plans Fall Through?

5 Things You Can Do This Summer Instead of an Internship


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Devin Barricklow
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Devin Barricklow is a Political Science and Creative Writing double major at Columbia University. She’s really excited to be able to share her expertise about the college process with students who need advice. When she isn’t writing for CollegeVine, she enjoys reading the poems of Mary Oliver, going to concerts in the city, or cooking (preferably something with lots of bok choy and ginger).