Journal articles are a staple for anyone in academia who is past middle school age. Whether you’re reading about the Moorish conquest of Spain, the discovery of DNA, or a study of teenage internet use, journal articles are inseparable from the education process. And, with textbooks ballooning in costs in recent years, teachers and professors have increasingly turned to article print-outs as a way of saving money.

But plodding through a dense journal article can be an incredibly tiresome affair, as anyone who has done so will probably acknowledge. When the semester starts to drag, or when you find yourself besieged by other obligations, reading that article about Latin American theater may seem more burdensome than reading the dictionary or doing medical coding. However, ideas from the article could be on a final test or paper. What to do?

Here are some suggestions for getting the most out of a journal article in the shortest amount of time:

Read the Abstract

Most journal articles have an abstract that accompanies the article and was written in order to secure its publication. As a short and condensed synopsis of the paper, the abstract can be very helpful for the hurried student. It should, in the space of one paragraph, convey the article’s hypothesis, general findings, and general conclusion.

Focus on the Conclusion

When the abstract comes up short in providing sufficient detail, you may want to check out the article’s conclusion. While not all articles will have an explicit section dedicated to the conclusion, each one should include a few final paragraphs that sum up the article, much in the same manner as the abstract, but do so with a bit more detail involved. At the same time, however, make sure to focus on the evidence presented in the conclusion and less on any broader implications of the study.

Prioritize and Pick Out What Matters

Many teachers and professors assign a journal article with the only goal being that their students understand the main idea contain therein. If this is the case in your class, reading the abstract and the conclusion should be sufficient. If the details matter, however, you can still refrain from having to plod through the whole thing. One way to do this is by focusing in on the topic sentences, which – in true expository form – often convey the fundamental point of a given paragraph. Another approach is to find a digitized form of the article online. The article can then be searched by keyword, allowing you to narrow in on those ideas that are most important to your class.

Ultimately, reading an article slowly and carefully is always the best way to understand its meaning and reasoning. But if you want to more efficiently gain an effective level of comprehension, focusing on the abstract, the conclusion, and the most important details is likely the surest way to make that a reality.