Magoosh GRE

No substitute for reading in history

| November 16, 2011 | 0 Comments

 

 

If I could visit my young self again at university and give him one piece of advice, it would be to read; although I did leaf through some books, a patchy understanding of history was often worse than no knowledge at all. Reading history is something for which there can be no substitute, it is the one regular action or behaviour that will put you, the student, ahead of the game.

When you arrive at university, you probably have many of the ideas inherited from A level that you’ve brought with you. As the experience of A level must have shown, the leap from GCSE to A level was probably quite big, and the transition to your undergraduate days is big as well, but in a slightly different way.

It was all so simple at school or college, when you were given an essay to write or coursework to complete, you would be presented with reams of handouts and your teacher might well point out the vital part of the text.

Now at university, things are different, you need to integrate regular reading into you whole lifestyle, being a student means that the lion’s share of the responsibility for your learning now rests with you, your lecturers are more guides to knowledge than teachers.

It is a mistake to fall into the trap of thinking that when an essay or your dissertation is due, that simply reading intensively for six weeks beforehand will be enough, if you want to do your degree justice you need to be fluent in what you are talking about.

If you were holidaying in Italy and didn’t speak a word of the language, it would be farcical to expect a few hours with a teach yourself Italian CD and a phrase book to give you fluency. You might be able to bumble around and ask for an ice cream, but not with any degree of skill.

This being the case, why do countless students think they can buck the trend by reading a few pages from a history textbook the night before an exam or a essay hand in, and hope they can blag their way through?

Thorough subject reading gives you confidence, it enables you to develop beyond simply having a grasp of the ‘narrative’ of history, the ‘what happened when’, and allows to engage with the ‘why’.

Reading empowers you as a student to become confident with the arguments of other historians, which is perhaps the most important skill you must grasp. Learning a standard historical narrative about the Russian Revolution is far less important at degree level than understanding the arguments and perspectives that surround the events themselves.

Reading as a history student isn’t what you do when you absolutely have to, it is the practice you must make as regular to you as exercise is to an athlete.

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