The documents (syllabi, bibliographies) distributed during the first days of the term are critical to effective reading and writing throughout the semester.
Professors spend weeks creating their syllabi, which address the objectives of the course and the curriculum. Some are very long and give detailed assignments. Some are shorter, with details supplied later.
A quick glance at these documents will give you the basic timing of your reading and writing assignments. It will help you plan your calendar to allow for longer assignments. It will give you an idea of where the professor is headed by telling you the approach and "interest" of the course.
A deeper analysis of the documents can put you in control of your reading and writing in more profound ways. As you examine the assigned readings over the course of the semester, ask yourself how they relate to the topics of lectures, or to other tests and papers. How do they connect to your prior knowledge of the subject?
Will you need to write a paper in response to the reading? Answer questions on an essay test? Can you combine the reading and writing in ways that compliment your interests or goals? Can you build on something which interested you in another course? Could you later develop one of the assignments into a sermon, a Bible study, or a future article for a journal?
If you begin the semester by asking these sorts of questions, you will feel greater control and better understand the intentions of the professor. You will be able to remember more of what you read.