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5 Tips on How to Read Big Books at University

These novels sit proudly on bookcases all around the world

George Elliot’s Middlemarch (904 pages), Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (635 pages), Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1,225 pages), Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (904 pages) and, the big daddy of all of them, James Joyce’s winding stream-of-consciousness modernist epic Ulysses (1000 pages). The question is, how do you actually read big books?

They make their owners look very clever and intellectual, but very few people have actually read them all the way through. When you decided on your English major, you probably underestimated how much reading would come with it. So how are you going to do it in time for your seminar?

1. Do your research

If you’re going to get the most out of your book, you are going to need all the help you can get. The more you know about the book before you start reading, the more sense it will make along the way. Try to find out:

  • Who is the author?
  • What was happening in their life when they wrote it?
  • What was happening in the wider society?
  • How long did it take them to write?
  • What had they written previously and how had it been received?
  • How was the book originally published? Was it serialised?

Also, find out if anyone you know has read it before. That person can become your expert to guide you through the huge world you are about to enter.

2. Divide it up

The bigger the book, the more daunting it will seem. But don’t sit in front of a 1,000-page novel panicking. Divide it up into manageable chunks. If you’re happy to fold down corners of pages, fold the bottom right corner of every 100th page. Then you can use the top right corner to track your progress. That way, you’ll be able to feel your way to the next milestone as you go.

Ulysses looks intimidating, but it’s already divided into 18 shorter episodes. If you attempt one of those a day for 18 days, the whole task suddenly seems less daunting. You can even draw up a reading schedule. Set out how much you want to get done in each sitting and if you manage to fall behind on a day, don’t worry. Fix the schedule and keep ongoing.

3. Find out where you read well

You’re going to have to be comfortable to read big books for your English course. Find a space that suits you and take advantage of it. You could even rearrange some furniture and build yourself a reading nook with cushions and a lamp and somewhere to put a cup of tea.

It’s important that you have as few distractions as possible. Turn off your phone. Ignore the outside world. There’s only you and this great work of literature. Give it your full attention.

4. Take breaks

There’s no point tiring yourself out attempting marathon reading sessions fuelled by constant cups of coffee, leaving your eyes tired and your brain frazzled. You’ve got to take some of it in.

Give yourself regular breaks. You could do some housework or get out of the house and see people. You might find that breaking up a particularly challenging section with a trip to the gym or a bike ride gives your brain the chance to process what you’ve read. Chances are, you’ll come back to it refreshed and ready to engage with it better.

5. Actually read it!

So, we’re stating the obvious here, but it’s true. If you’re going learn how to read big books, you’ve got to actually sit down and read them. The longer you spend tip-toeing around the task and making excuses, the less time you leave yourself to actually read it. With a big task like this, there are no shortcuts. It’s not enough to just watch the BBC dramatisation of Middlemarch – your tutor will definitely know.

The only way you will read a big book is by sitting down and reading it.

Enjoyed this? Why not check out one of our other articles.

5 Books All Aspiring Medical Students Should Read

Medical students are the unsung heroes of many healthcare industries around the world. They are fresh eyes and new ideas in an ever-challenging world of medicine. Whether in developing countries or developed, the experiences of these inspirational individuals make for some incredible reading. You may laugh, cry or some combination of the two. But if you want to become a medical professional, here are five top picks to keep you entertained on the journey.

Your Life In My Hands – Rachel Clarke

Formerly a television journalist, Briton Rachel Clarke decided to switch careers aged 29. For many doctors, medicine has been their only career. But for Clarke, she had thought that the experiences she had on the ground as a journalist would make another role pale in comparison. Hours “under fire in Congo’s killing fields”? They’d make medicine seem a walk in the park, right? Wrong. From the start of her engaging and charming book she makes it clear that the real challenges she has faced began in the wards of her training hospital.

Written with inimitable candidness, her honesty jumps off the page. You can’t help but like the narrator, and get drawn in to the story of her journey. From conversations with Prime Ministers about ‘water closets’ to letters to the national press decrying the state of affairs in the NHS that prompted national protests, the links between her current and past careers is undeniable. Perhaps because of this her voice is strong, her passion infectious and her perspective refreshing.

A must-read memoir for those wanting to switch up the monotony of the day job for the challenge of a lifetime: working in medicine.

The Real Doctor Will See You Now – Matt McCarthy

Skipping across the pond, Matt McCarthy‘s first year of med school is underlined with humour from the outset. His first line: “It started with a banana peel.” shows his bemusement at some of the experiences he had when starting out at Columbia University Medical Centre, New York.

He details his supportive relationships with his second-year adviser Baio, the trials and tribulations of night shifts and the fear associated with being ‘on call’. More importantly, though, he talks about what he has learned. Not from his university studies or even his supervisors…from the patients he cares for. Of course, like all of the books recommended here, there is a disclaimer at the start. It’s along the lines that whilst the stories are based upon clinical experience, in order to maintain the integrity of the Hippocratic oath sworn by doctors around the world, details have been changed to anonymise patients’ information. However, there is a reality to the words McCarthy writes, and a tenderness without saccharine sweetness in the manner in which he reveres his charges. In particular, the relationship with Benny who had taken up residence in the hospital waiting for a heart transplant is a pull on the heart-strings.

Definitely worth a read, and good for raising aspirations too – with his humble beginnings Matt is now an associate professor in medicine as well as serving on the Ethics Committee at a top NY hospital.

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

The topic of this tome – death – is one that makes many uncomfortable. It is, however, a daily colleague of medical staff. As someone with a conflicted relationship with medicine – a tone of disappointment in an absent father who was brilliant as a physician and lacking in consistency as a parent runs throughout this book – Kalanithi introduces himself as someone who wanted to be a writer rather than a doctor from an early age. This would clearly have been a great career path, evidenced by his careful craftsmanship as his challenging yet compassionate tale unfolds.

Paul, it turns out, has passed away and this book is his last foray into the world: an examination of his experiences from both sides of the table as a neurosurgeon and a cancer patient. In his own words, “Life isn’t about avoiding suffering.” By turns delighting and devastating, this tale speaks of humanity and the search for knowledge and joy regardless of an insurmountable illness.

Harsh but true, doctors must grow used to death. What better way to learn than through the words of one who’s experienced both?

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor – Adam Kay

Adam Kay is no longer a doctor. After many expensive years of training, and eye-watering experiences to last a lifetime, he hung up his stethoscope in 2010. What remains of his medical career are an assortment of tidbits and anecdotes hastily scribbled down during his time as a Junior Doctor working for the NHS.

A rallying cry for his comrades who were still under the cosh from political attacks, Kay sees himself as a counterbalance to the negativity published about the health service. From the absurd to the sublime, this book beggars belief and will leave you with no questions where the phrase, “It takes all sorts to make the world go round.” comes from.

Witty footnotes and translations of jargon mean that Kay’s book is informative as well as compelling. Contrasts of days filled with filing and night shifts that would make your hair curl (or straight-up fall out) are intertwined. His conclusion? A very heavily worded letter to the Secretary of State for Health that, if you’ve made it thus far, you’ll be vehemently agreeing with and echoing with your own shortly after. See him read from his book here.

Life as a Medical Student: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A dose of reality from 30 medical students – Sihame Benmira

Catchy title, but it does exactly what it says on the tin. This book is aimed at the multitude of young people who know they want to become medical doctors but have little understanding of what the training entails. The provenance of many medical tomes is clear through the authors’ prominence – and yet, who better to hear from than those who have walked the path before you?

Benmira successfully tracks the changing emotions and experiences of those pursuing long years of study to achieve that coveted title: Doctor ____. The chapters are organised for first to fifth years, and one for those who are intercalating in a specified area. Sleepless nights and high workloads are common themes, but this is a gem for people requiring a dose of reality…or reassurance that it’s not just you going through it!

5 Books For Students To Read Before Graduating

If you enjoy reading, you’ll love university. It’s where you’ll learn the importance and power of thinking, knowledge, and education. Learning to think critically about what you read is a key skill that you’ll develop during your time as a student, and it’s a great skill to have for life. Here are some of our favourite books about the power of knowledge and understanding your place in the world. They’re our top books for students to read before they graduate.

1. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury wanted readers to understand the importance of reading and thinking. One of his quotes that I think sums up much of what he was saying is, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Through the novel, he asserts that passive lifestyles consumed with modern conveniences such as TVs and cars can erode culture, critical thinking, emotional fulfilment, and happiness. Find out more.

2. Lord of the Flies – William Golding

What happens when a group of young schoolboys are stranded on an island? Chaos. Golding wants to teach his readers that thinking, laws, and culture are what separate us from our animalistic tribalistic instincts. Education and knowledge allow a healthy and happy society to function. Find out more.

3. This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay

The most recent book on this list, Adam Kay’s book is a collection of notes secretly taken during his time as a junior doctor. The reason why this book is important is that it gives an amazing insight into medical school, the workings of the NHS, and how doctors are not trained to deal with the emotional side of hospital life. Find out more.

4. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

The entire novel describes a dystopia in which intimate relationships, the ability to choose one’s destiny, and the importance of family are strictly opposed. In Huxley’s mind, however, these three principles are highly regarded as necessary for a meaningful and fulfilling existence. Huxley has a humanistic, deep and enlightened view of how society should be, and of what constitutes true happiness. Every student needs to read this book and explore the question of whether it is more important to accept things as they have always been or to fight for the things that will make you happy. Find out more.

5. This Side of Paradise – F. Scott Fitzgerald

If the author’s name sounds familiar to you, it is probably because you heard of his famous novel ‘The Great Gatsby’. One of the books that every single college student should make a point of reading before they graduate is ‘This Side of Paradise’. The classic novel is witty and romantic as it tells the story of a Princeton student who becomes disillusioned with life after graduation. It’s hard to tell whether Amory learns more from his life inside of school or his life outside of it. Find out more.

Books for Finance Students and Investors Alike

Finance is a constantly developing industry, and one it is ever more crucial to understand thoroughly in this technological age of enlightenment. There are endless fresh approaches to business and fresh opportunities, too. So it is little wonder that degrees in finance-related subjects are some of the most sought after in the world. An attractive proposition, here are some books that illuminate the diverse world of finance – from insurance to banking, real estate to investment. Here are our top books for finance students and investors alike.

The Finance Book: Understand the numbers even if you’re not a finance professional. Si Hussain and Stuart Warner

First, an introductory text designed for people without an in-depth understanding of the industry. This book is written in easily accessible language by a successful CEO (Hussain) and a Chartered Accountant (Warner). The Finance Book encourages you to think like a financier. Of particular interest may be the sections on interpretation of documents and dossiers or strategic theories for robust decisions in business. Other topics covered include pricing and costing, ratios, and debts and profit. Great for new managers, budding entrepreneurs and future finance students, this book is digestible and direct in its content. A must-read, full of insight and time-saving ideas.

Uncommon Sense: The popular misconceptions of business, investing and finance and how to profit by going against the tide. Mark Homer

Entrepreneur and investor, from the early age of 15 Mark Homer has dedicated his career to the pursuit of a financial career. He began by investing and reinvesting in several businesses. Now he’s known for writing a plethora of essential reads for those wishing to invest in the property markets.

This guide, released in 2017, is for all those wanting to know some hard and fast rules for success. A self-confessed ‘spreadsheet geek’, in his wittily titled ‘Uncommon Sense’ Homer outlines some lesser-known ways he has learned to enjoy success. How? By deconstructing the myths of the industry such as ‘Most assets make no money’ or ‘gut feelings’ which should be ignored!

Who is Homer to dictate the rules? A man whose portfolio of the property now ranges into hundreds of assets, and whose ‘algorithm’ when applied accurately can open up opportunities in commercial and residential property alike. He has now reached an audience of tens of thousands. Homer also enjoys the accolade of having written the top 4 books in the UK on property development. It’s a good starting point for those desirous of avoiding pitfalls that have befallen many in recent years hoping to ‘break’ the markets.

Broke Millennial Takes On Investing: A Beginner’s Guide to Levelling-Up Your Money. Erin Lowry

This book does what it says on the tin! It gathers together advice for the current generation of would-be investors to ensure that they make astute decisions when choosing where to place their money. Many questions rest on the lips of young people wanting to access the burgeoning market of finance: when, where and how to invest being just the tip of the iceberg.

From the basics of understanding the lingo to more hands-on guides written in a tongue-in-cheek tone. Opening with an ‘infomercial’ style intro, signed off by Lowry simply as ‘Erin’, there’s no doubt as to why it shot to the top of the bestsellers’ list in the US…the ‘221 pages of fun’ that detail how to avoid being risk-averse in a game that encourages (a certain amount of) risky business. Chapters that are titled as the questions framed by Millenials wanting to invest, Lowry’s answers are drawn from personal experience and hard-learned lessons.

Entertaining and enlightening – read ‘Broke Millenial Takes On Investing’ and if you enjoy it, look up Lowry’s other titles too.

A Random Walk Down Wall Street – The Time Tested Strategy for Successful Investing. Burton G. Malkiel

An oldie but a goodie, you can’t argue with over 1.5 million copies sold. This is no ‘easy reader’, however. Now in its 12th Edition, you may wonder how relevant a text ‘A Random Walk’ could be. Well, the publishers have acknowledged this in the new preface and they suggest the reason for another update is the ever-growing spectrum of tools available to the public and the industry to manage their finances.

Unpicking the financial crises of recent years, and analysing the impacts and uses of developed technologies, this is surprisingly enjoyable to dip into and well-written to ensure secure understanding can be gained. With a title derived from an insult on Wall Street, this text explores intricacies of the financial markets often deemed unfathomable by most aspiring investors. Best enjoyed in stages rather than settling in on a cold winters’ night, Malkiel’s book is essential reading nonetheless.

So those are your starters-for-ten. Enjoy! They’ll become your new best friend, whether you are hoping for a career in finance, studying for a degree or considering an investment of your own.

Enjoyed this article? Check out our other business subject guides.

A Guide To UCAS University Clearance

A-Level results day (August 15th 2019) is fast-approaching, and can be a day of celebration, or immense success. Although, it is good to be optimistic about your grades, it is also important to prepare in the circumstance that you do not make the grade.

You may need to use Clearing if you don’t get into your firm (CF) or insurance (CI) choice of universities.

UCAS Clearing may be your second chance to get into University, as it matches students who need a University place, to Universities who need places filling.

We have created a list of top tips to make the most out of clearing day.

Prepare in advance

If you are reading this article before 15th August then congratulations: you are already on the right path to Clearing success! Make a list of Universities and possible courses you’re interested in, this will help when looking at the Clearing listings after they’re published.

Remember: if you are studying a different qualification to A-Levels, then Clearing started in July.

Be present

Physically be present (this is no time for a holiday!) and get time off work. This is an important day and every minute does count.

But also be present mentally. Stay calm, and focus. If you do not get the grades you want then remember that it is not the end of the world and that you can still go to University and do the course you always wanted to!

Check, check, check

Make sure that you are regularly checking UCAS Track, to see if/when you become eligible to use the ‘Add clearing choice’ option, which will appear on your Track Choices screen. Also, keep checking the official clearing listings on UCAS or on university websites.

Ring up

You want to ring universities as soon as you can as vacancies at higher-ranked universities can be filled very quickly! Remember to have your clearing number at hand. Always make sure YOU are the one calling up as this will make the process faster as they have to speak to the candidate. If the university is happy to take you, they will either accept you straight away, or call back very soon to accept you. Clearing can be stressful, but don’t stop trying. If you’re not having much luck on the phone, try sending an email too. Remember, it’s not just you going through this process.


  • UCAS: 0371 468 0 468 (UK callers) or +44 330 3330 230 (if you are calling from outside the UK).
  • The SQA candidate advice line: 0808 100 8000, open from 8am-8pm on 6 and 7 August, and from 9am-5pm from 9-15 August. You can also email: [email protected].
  • Skills Development Scotland’s exam helpline offers advice on careers and university and college vacancies. It will be open from 8am until 8pm on 8 and 9 August and from 9am until 5pm from 10 until 16 August. The number is 0808 100 800

To view the current official list for Clearing open days, click here.

World’s Biggest Education Publisher to Phase Out Print Textbooks

Pearson is the biggest education publisher in the world, and we’d be surprised if you had never read one of their books before.

The company revealed that they had reached a “digital tipping point” with most of their sales being digital, and so they announced that Pearson will be slowly phasing out print books and going completely digital.

The publishing giant will be introducing a Netflix-style digital library, which will allow students to buy as well as rent digital books. There are also talks of implementing comments onto the site to allow students from all over the world to share what they thought of the textbooks.

John Fallon, chief executive, told the Financial Times: “We are now turning the page on college textbooks and moving much more to a digital-first model.

“There will still be [print] textbooks in use for many years to come but I think they will become a progressively smaller part of the learning experience.

“We learn by engaging and sharing with others, and a digital environment enables you to do that in a much more effective way,” Mr Fallon said.

Pearson will print new editions of only about 100 of its 1,500 university-level books next year, compared with 500 last year, while more regularly updating electronic versions.

Although this decision was made for financial reasons, people are rejoicing Pearson for reducing their carbon footprint by going digital.

Not only will the ebooks mean that students are happy about the environmental impact, but they will also be happy with the cost.

Pearson’s e-books can cost about $40 on average and go up to $79 for additional learning tools like homework assistance. That compares to prices that can go as high as $200 or $300 for a print textbook, according to Pearson CEO John Fallon, though students can still rent one for $60 on average.

It will be interesting to see if other competitors of Pearson will be adopting this new digital strategy, or if other non-education based publishers will as well.

What do you think? Are you a textbook-mad? A paper-person? Or are you ready to embrace a fully digital learning style? Let us know in the comments!