How to Interpret a Reading Assignment

There are many parts to a reading assignment. Although the formal task is to simply read it, it is commonly understood that you’ll have to do a lot more than that if you truly want to dominate the assignment. Clearly, the teacher didn’t grace this upon you just for the entertainment of reading a story – he or she wants you to truly grasp the meaning of it. The purpose is for you to analyze different points, look at it from different angles, deeply understand the characters, etc.

This probably sounds like typical English class jargon, but it is in fact what you need to do. It is easy for students to think they can coast through the assignment by skimming the material and looking through a few cliff-notes, but that simply won’t cut it. It may get you by for the time being, but won’t help you anywhere in the long run. When you are tested over these books later on, you’ll find that giving an in-depth approach to the individual readings along the way would have been extremely helpful. Instead of discovering that when it’s too late, why not make sure you master it immediately and consistently?

The first and most obvious step to interpreting a reading assignment is of course reading it thoroughly. You must allot time for yourself to give an initial read-through the attention it deserves. Forget about all of the analysis for the time being and just read the pages in front of you. Don’t think of it as an assignment. Giving the reading a genuine approach will allow you to soak it up without any pressure and in the end understand it much better. You may also want to check out these tips for reading an assigned book you dislike.

After you have read it at a natural pace, take some time to reflect on it – not as a student, but as an ordinary reader. Have your own internal discussion about the events that were just described and ask yourself a few basic questions. What happened? Why did it happen? Who was involved? Why did those characters act the way they did? Such simple inquiries will lead your mind to explore bigger ideas. You’ll realize you have formed your own personal opinions about the events and before you know it, you’ll be ready to interpret like a pro!

At this point, you should do a second read-through. Assuming you have already digested the plot occurrences, this read-through can be more focused on searching for moments that you found particularly significant. Identify passages that stood out to you the first time and go through them again. Give them a closer examination in order to determine what they’re really about – aside from the obvious.

This leads to the main point of interpreting a reading assignment – looking past the main ideas. Anybody can summarize a story, but giving an in-depth explanation of why things happened and how they happened is what sets an interpretation apart. A well-written story isn’t one-dimensional; characters have more to them than names and stereotypical personalities. Treat the story like real life and try to understand what has been going on in these characters’ minds to make them act in certain ways. Look at their personal backgrounds and figure out how that relates to their current actions. Take the overall context of the events into consideration when making assumptions and do your best to connect them with one another.

By putting yourself directly into the world of this book, you will be set to interpret it naturally as you would a true event. Make notes along the way so you do not forget or overlook anything that is important to you. Having a pen and possibly a notebook nearby as you read is typically a good idea. Some people like to write in the margins of the book itself, others prefer to make separate notes on a sheet of paper. Either way, make sure you are jotting down every significant break-through you come across or else you may forget to work it into your interpretation later on. Here are some great tips on 3 note-taking formats that every student should try.

Those honest, thoughtful notes will be a great place for you to begin your final read-through. Going through your own thoughts is a great way to wrap up your interpretation because you can organize and re-evaluate them however you like. At this point, you will be incredibly familiar with the material and confident in the stance you are taking on it. You may find it useful to create one last page of notes where you re-structure your thoughts in a finalized and sensible way. With both your book and that last page of notes on hand, you will be armed and ready to deliver a fine interpretation that could hopefully spark a classroom discussion. You may also want to check out these tips on how to read a textbook.