Thinking, Uncategorized

What can you do to learn more? Some Tips for Scholarship

Bibbia_con_rosaA new year has come and it is time to get motivated to make some good habits. I have often run into people who ask me how I read so much or how to explore these topics more deeply.  Let me be clear: I don’t think I’m really anything special. There are plenty of others out there who are doing more things better than I. But, hey, I have an MA degree in Apologetics. I can consider myself qualified to give tips for scholarship, right? I’ve credited them to others if I picked them up from others (and noted that I forgot where I forgot).


Set a realistic reading goal for yourself, but make it realistic and shoot for the lowest end of what you think is possible. My philosophy professor from my undergraduate studies and good friend, Stephen Parrish, told me about his goal: 2 pages a night from several different books before bed. Does that sound doable to you? I should hope so. Think about it this way (I’m not trying to be crude here): do you spend any time in the restroom? Are you just sitting there? I bet you could read two pages instead of twiddling your thumbs.

The best part about setting a realistic reading goal at the low end of what you think is possible is that you will often do way more than your goal. If you say “I have time to read two pages right now” to yourself, you’ll often get away with 5 pages or even a chapter. Find those 5-10 minute portions in the day (at breakfast over a bowl of cereal is another possibility) and fill them with reading.

Also, be aware of your own enjoyment and interests related to what you’re reading. Don’t just continue reading a book because you started it. If you’re halfway through and feeling as though it’s a huge bore for you and you’re not getting anything out of it–then stop reading the book. Be sure to engage in the highly valuable process of skimming–simply reading one or two sentences per paragraph/page to get to the main points. In particular, this is helpful for those books you really want to get through but are having the problem of boredom. Don’t feel obligated to read everything from every book. If it’s not valuable to you, then stop. I admit I’m a huge offender for this: I do often force myself through books I’m not enjoying. Remind me to stop! You and I don’t have time for that!

Note-Taking for Reading

Let me emphasize the extreme value and importance of taking notes on your reading. Yes, it will slow you down. However, these notes will become invaluable going forward. Tim McGrew was one who really stressed to me the importance of reading notes. He suggested keeping a running file which had all your notes in it on your computer. That way, it is searchable and you can easily find where that quote was you were interested in as you’re doing your own writing. I would suggest keeping a separate file for each book you read, and then one running document with all the book notes together (just copy and paste each book’s entire notes into this document when you finish).

The way I take notes is simply by typing the page number and my very brief summary of what was written. I really need to emphasize this: these notes are absolutely invaluable. Although it will take you longer to read books, if you take notes you will remember the books a lot better and you also will have all your own thoughts on what was most important from the book at your fingertips. Do this. If anyone is interested, leave a comment and I’ll copy and paste a selection sample of my own notes into the comments below.


Listen to things related to your area of interest. There are almost certainly podcasts on the topics in which you are interested. Look them up. Listen to them while you’re washing dishes, brushing your teeth, or doing the laundry. You’ll be surprised by how interesting these can be, and you’ll also learn and retain quite a bit. Plus, you can listen to them multiple times to get the core ideas down.

Don’t limit your listening to podcasts. Audiobooks are a great way to supplement your reading if you’re afraid you really don’t have a lot of time. Text-to-voice is a great feature on Kindle (and probably other e-readers, though I am not familiar with them) that will read you books out loud in an electronic voice. It’s not the most exciting way to listen to books, but it will help you dive in and you’ll learn a bunch. Another avenue to explore is listening to debates. Look up debates on topics your interested in, or find your favorite scholar and see if they have done any debates. It’s a great way to learn how to engage. Finally, look for lectures available for free. Very often, you’ll be able to find lectures on topics your interested in just by using Google to search for them. Again, this will supplement the materials you’re reading and expand your knowledge of the areas in which you are interested.

I can’t emphasize how important I have found the practice of listening to lectures/debates/audiobooks/podcasts. I listen to them while I’m brushing my teeth, working out, doing dishes/laundry, etc. The amount of material you can consume in those times you might normally not be listening to anything is astounding. Use that time!


If you’re going to engage in apologetics (or, really, any other field), you should try to get a feel for the trends and interest of those who are working in the same area. Try reading a blog article or two each week related to your interests. Don’t make this take away from your reading goal for books above. Think about it this way: do you spend a lot of time reading pointless junk from Facebook? (I’ll confess right now: I really do.) Why not use that time to read a couple blog posts you’re interested instead.

While we’re on the topic of blogs, don’t forget to comment on others’ blogs. Not only will this draw them to reciprocate, but it will also help you practice writing in a way which engages you with the topics in which you’re interested.

Try writing a blog yourself. It will bring along people who agree and disagree and give you a feel for how to handle such discussions.

Utilize Facebook and other social media to engage with scholars in the field. Find groups which discuss your areas of interest and join them. You’ll be surprised by how much you can learn if you just look for a little bit.

Avoid Wasting Time

Look, I already admitted I’m a big offender from wasting time on Facebook, but let’s just promise each other we’re going to try to stop that. I’m not saying you need to ignore friends and family. But if you do what I do, you spend a lot of time just scrolling through your feed looking at things that really don’t interest you because it’s mindless and vaguely entertaining. Sound familiar? Why not use that time to read a blog post, listen to a lecture, or send a message to someone else whose opinion you value about a topic you’re interested in? I bet you and I can get a lot more done if we do that.

Whatever your time-waster is, try to cut down on it. There is nothing wrong with taking a break. Let me be clear on that. I find my best way to take a break is to play some video games or read some science fiction and just zone out for a bit. Don’t give up on the things you love for the sake of scholarship. But if you find you’re really just wasting time for the sake of wasting time; cut it out! You have better things to do, and so do I!

Do What You Enjoy!

Be sure to remember you don’t need to have your nose to the grindstone 100% of the time. Make time for the things you enjoy, whether that is reading science fiction novels or watching your favorite TV show. Keep some “you time” for enjoying things outside of scholarship so that you don’t burn yourself out.

Stay Focused on the Goal

What are you working towards? Keep that in mind as you structure your reading, listening, and other studying. It’s fine to read outside that area, but you should always try to remain focused primarily upon your goal.

It is also incredibly important not to become entirely engrossed in studying. As Christians, we need to keep our “eye on the prize” and pursue our worship of and relationship with our Lord and Savior. Make time to read Scripture. Have it be a daily routine: a time to worship through commitment to Christ.

How about you?

What are some of your tips? Do you do any of the things mentioned above? Drop a comment and let me know what you do to increase your knowledge.


Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.


About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


13 thoughts on “What can you do to learn more? Some Tips for Scholarship

  1. I would be interested in your process of note taking while reading. I read in many places at many times (in bed, at desk, in chair with baby in one arm, on the train, etc), many of which I can’t have a computer. Perhaps your process could be adapted to a smartphone…

    I’m in my third semester doing the MA Apologetics at Biola (on campus)


    Posted by Adam | March 12, 2014, 9:58 AM
    • I’m certain the process could be adapted to a smartphone or tablet, though I confess I’m not technologically savvy enough to know how to bring that about.

      What I do when I am reading in bed or somewhere not around a laptop is just continue to underline as normal, and then later take a bit of extra time to go back over the material I didn’t get notes on and enter it into the document. That also gives me a nice review of the material alongside the benefit of having the notes.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 12, 2014, 10:02 AM
    • Evernote!

      Posted by dpatrickcollins | March 13, 2014, 12:57 AM
  2. J.W. Thanks for this post. I find myself to be a big audio consumer and read as much as I can (but I’m horribly slow). Just to add a few tips from my experience:

    Use the speed function in your player (if available) to speed up the audio. I listen comfortably at 2x. But I didn’t start that high. I began with 1.25 for a week or so, then incremented up. For podcasts, I use BeyondPod (Android), which has this feature built in. YouTube has also added speed adjustment, so watching lectures and debates can be done more quickly too.

    I also listen to audio while at work and on my commute to and from work. Combined with the 2x speed, it allows me to consume a lot of extra material that I normally would not be able to without taking away time elsewhere.

    Regarding taking notes: I use Evernote. That allows notes to be organized in notebooks and tagged (for multiple levels of grouping of notes). I often use it on my phone in class to bring up a relevant quote or to quickly review my notes regarding the topic at hand, and even find connections between notes that I didn’t realize existed.

    Reading books: I have recently discovered GoodReads (not ANOTHER social network!). The ability to track my progress keeps my friends abreast of my progress (and gives some accountability, if people are looking forward to my thoughts). It also allows you to enter quotes and add notes with each of your progress updates. I usually write a two or three sentence summary of what I just read. I’m not sure those are searchable, so I don’t think it will take the place of Evernote for me.


    Posted by Luke Nix | March 12, 2014, 11:05 AM
  3. Would love to see some sample notes!

    Posted by deathtoallpoets | March 12, 2014, 12:30 PM
    • Great! I’ll put some up tomorrow!

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 12, 2014, 12:49 PM
    • The way I write notes is to use a system that includes both asterisks (*) and arrows (=>) to break them down. That way, they aren’t using an outline form and so they’re more fluid and also could be copy/pasted to various forms of documents more easily.

      I have a system of 1-4 *s to mark sections I think are particularly important. Sometimes I don’t put any asterisk. I admit that this is fairly arbitrary and I’ll sometimes reread something I put 4 *s next to and think it’s not important or vice versa.

      I put each note on a new line, and write the page number and then my notes. If it’s my own comment, I don’t write a page number.

      I use arrows to show further comments on a topic, and longer arrows to show more argument regarding the subtopic. For example, if I were writing about my favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs:

      -34- the Cubs haven’t won a world series in over 100 years
      => 36ff- possible causes of lack of winning****
      ==> 37-39- the “curse of the goat”
      ===> we passed this on to the Marlins in the 90s, but perhaps it didn’t actually transmit! [joking]
      ==> 40- ownership lax on bringing in top talent**
      ==> 40-42- poor farm system****
      ==> 42-45- defeatist culture in the locker room and amongst fans****
      -47- possible ways to develop a culture of winning
      => 47-48- bring in top talent recruiters
      => 49-50- commit to winning and make the message public
      ==> 51ff- spread the culture to the fans by putting signs up in Wrigley, release more public statements on farm system****
      ===> I like this idea quite a bit
      => 57-60- developing the farm system****

      So yeah, that’s kind of how I write my notes. Here’s an actual sample from the book “Nature Red in Tooth and Claw” by Michael Murray:

      1-2- the basics of the “Darwinian” argument against the existence of God from evil****
      4-5- the modern objection increases the strength
      5ff- lack of response from a philosophical theist perspective surprising for a number of reasons***
      6-9- overview of the book with some interesting foretastes of the feast to come!
      11ff- problems of evil- a typology and explanations thereof
      => 12-13-options for denying the logical POE***
      ==> 14-15- the “necessity condition” and the logical POE****
      => 16ff- modified POE w/ gratuitous evil and the denial thereof****
      => 19ff- the evidential POE and a taxonomy of the same

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 13, 2014, 9:09 AM
  4. Hello J.W.
    I appreciate this post. I also am struggling with the reading/note taking discipline, and feeling I ‘should’ have been taking notes all along. I’m going thru lots of good books and not a single note to show for it…. plus being almost 60 with a less than optimal memory doesn’t help. Another issue I have is most of my reading is done in a rather awkward lying position (health issues) and typing on a laptop is not so easy. Hand written may be a better option but I loose the search capability 😦
    Anyway, if you could post a few examples of your notes that would be great. Thanks.

    Posted by chuck | March 12, 2014, 6:01 PM
    • Even taking hand-written notes will help with memory. However, as you noted, you do loose the search capability. Instead of following my system, you could use a kind of shorthand and perhaps have a laptop or tablet sitting next to you so you can just quickly enter some notes. Another thing you could do–and I’ve done this quite a bit–is do hand-written notes when its more convenient and then sit down and enter them into a computer later.

      For examples, see my above response to deathtoallpoets.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 13, 2014, 9:12 AM
  5. Great list. Will re-post.

    Posted by Karl W/ A K | March 13, 2014, 12:23 AM
  6. Reblogged this on Hope's Reason.

    Posted by Stephen Bedard | March 13, 2014, 10:00 AM


  1. Pingback: J.W. Wartick on Scholarship Tips | Human Action and God - March 13, 2014

  2. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg - March 18, 2014

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,865 other subscribers


Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason
%d bloggers like this: