What to do when you don’t understand your PWR readings

Burn it

Hello, non-philosophy major speaking!

Specifically someone who just knocked out her “Thinking Matters” and “Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR)” requirements. And what I’ve found is that these mandatory reading and writing seminar courses are sometimes like intense philosophy classes that you didn’t realize you signed up for but also kinda force you to rethink your entire life and your place in the universe (looking at you Albert Camus). 


So for when the readings don’t make sense and your paper is only two sentences long, here are some tips on how to deal.

Send help

Talk to friends and classmates

First of all, there’s probably someone in your section that is just better at understanding Simone de Beauvoir’s writings. Talking it out and discussing it together can go a long way in understanding.

Second of all, there’s power in numbers. Even if everyone is lost, at least you guys can be lost together.

Go to office hours

Bless office hours

As intimidating as faculty members are, your professor is definitely better at digesting Dante’s poetry than you are.

Taking advantage of office hours can often lead to the most productive hours of your day.

Ask upperclassmen for help

They’ve been there, done that – they hopefully have helpful tips!

Go for a jog to jog your intellectual mind into working

Fresh air, crisp wind, readings in one hand, water bottle in the other – all the makings for a clearer mind.

Make paper airplanes out of your readings and fly them to send your brain into a higher realm of thinking

I made a gif of one of my own high-flying, atmosphere-reaching, sky-is-the-limit paper airplanes made of a page from my reading

There are countless ways to fold a paper plane – symbolic of all the ways one can think about and digest an idea, of course. Fold’NFly and Fun Paper Airplanes are great educational websites to get your college level brain going. Note: how high your plane goes and how far it travels often correlates with how well you will do on your next paper.

Or if you’re fancier, make origami

According to edutopia, “Origimi  improves students’ skills” and “excites other modalities of learning” which may help in the quest to understand 18th century philosophers.

Use your readings as a pillow

Nap time

Sleep on it

Learn by osmosis. In my experience, I believe this also leads to “sweet dreams” (of not failing the course).

Throw your readings in the fountain

Drown it

You know what, maybe you don’t even need to read it to get by.

Burn it

Burn it

If there’s no hope for understanding it, this is a great, safe way to release frustration.

Throw yourself in the fountain

College is hard, and I think it’s time for me to drop out.

As a student who has fully realized that many readings in philosophy or philosophy-related courses tend to confuse me, I completely accept the fact that these philosophers and thinkers are smarter than I can ever hope to be. And if you are anything like me and are baffled by the big words in small print, know that I am here for you.

Stanford University