Reading and remembering information from textbooks can be one of the most challenging aspects of learning at school. Since there can be a lot of variation in how texts are used from one subject to another, the strategies that will be effective for reading and studying texts will vary from course to course as well.
Some strategies that can be effective for learning from textbooks in subjects where the text provides much of the material on which tests and exams will be based is shared below. These strategies will not work effectively for all texts in all subjects. For each of your subjects, it's important to analyze what role the textbook or readings play and how readings are related to the subjects objectives, lectures, homework, class work and assignments. Once you've figured out how the pieces of a subject fit together, you can choose the study strategies that will be the most effective for dealing with each component.
There is a school of though that watching TV has turned us into passive receivers of information. Students who have trouble concentrating and remembering what they read may have a passive reading style — they slide their eyes over the words and assume that somehow something will sink in. "Active" reading requires interacting with the information, or creating an "internal dialogue" with the text. To read actively, comment on or ask yourself questions about points in the text. Look for major points and supporting evidence or examples as you're reading. Students who read actively remember the material better, and therefore are using their time more effectively.
Speed & Comprehension
Many students are concerned about their reading speed. However, the speed with which you can flip through a reading is not nearly as important as whether the reading technique that you're using is "appropriate for the task." The way you read a novel or newspaper should be different from the way you read a textbook. With a text that you're required to know thoroughly, a slow, careful pace is time-consuming but necessary for comprehension and retention. It's usually smarter to spend an hour on five pages and know the material well than to spend an hour on fifty pages and remember nothing. However, it's just as inappropriate to spend hours memorizing every detail of a chapter when all that's required is a general understanding of the main ideas.
Research has shown that most speed reading aspects rely on a method similar to skimming, rather than one appropriate for the task of understanding and retaining the complex, challenging, academic material usually found in textbooks.
Reading & Concentration
One way to improve concentration while reading is to analyze the distractions that are interfering with it. For example, consider when and where you're reading. It's not surprising that students get sleepy while reading if the bulk of it is done early in the morning, late in the evening, or at any time of day sitting on a bed. Planning reading sessions for times when your energy and concentration are high can make a big difference in how efficiently you read and how much you remember. The distraction of noise or siblings or household noise can usually be eliminated by changing where you read.
Good concentration is often closely related to time management. Because you are attempting to remember most of what you read, it's a good strategy to read in short stretches, spread out over a period of time. If you read for two or three hours at a time, it is unlikely that you'll remember the material in any detail. Students often set a time or page limit on their reading, then waste time and inhibit concentration by frequently checking the clock or the number of pages left in the chapter. Don't impair your effectiveness with one of these artificial limits — instead, monitor your "learning." If you read the same page several times and still don't know what's there, it's time to take a break and/or switch tasks. It doesn't matter if you've read three pages or thirty — the point is not to sit wasting time once you've realized that you're no longer learning. Be sure to plan reading sessions carefully (a number of short sessions distributed over time can be difficult to fit in) so that the task gets done when required.
Even when you're reading in short stretches, you may find that your mind sometimes seems to wander back to a personal situation or problem. In these situations, a focusing strategy might help. For example, reserve a specific time when you'll think about the problem. Then when you notice that your mind has wandered back to the problem again, say to yourself, "Back to work now... I will think about that at 4 o'clock." Then, at 4 o'clock or whatever time you've designated, sit down and think through the problem, without worrying about the work you could be doing. Some students like the "checkmark" technique. Keep a blank sheet of paper beside you when reading, and each time your mind wanders put a checkmark on the sheet and go back to work. This helps to get you re-focused quickly and keeps track of your level of concentration during a particular study period.
Dealing with Difficult Texts
At some point in your senior school, you may encounter a textbook, which you find difficult to understand or follow. There are several strategies you can try to improve your comprehension of difficult texts.
Improve Your Knowledge of the Subject's Terminology:
Any text will seem difficult to understand if you don't know the definitions of the special terms which are the building blocks of communication in the discipline. For example, it would be difficult to read an introductory Political Science text if you're unsure of the significance of terms like "democracy," "society," or "politics." A regular dictionary often won't provide more than a basic definition, so you need to look for a specialized dictionary in the reference section of the Library. It's probably worth your money to invest in a special dictionary or reference book for the subject where you find constant difficulty.
Assess Your Knowledge of the Basics:
It's possible that your text and even the subject itself could be "above your head" if you lack an understanding of some basic concepts in the discipline. If you're struggling with an subject, talk to your teacher to make sure that you have the necessary prerequisites and prior knowledge expected for the course. Meanwhile, check the Library for an introductory book on the subject. Even reading an overview in an encyclopedia may help fill in some gaps.
Read Out Loud:
Reading out loud can help to increase your comprehension of difficult material. If you read aloud with a classmate and take turns analyzing, explaining, and summarizing the text, you may also find that another person's perspective helps to clarify meaning.
Try Another Text:
The problem may simply be that the text is poorly written, or for some reason the author's style is difficult for you. Although you can't abandon your required text, it may be helpful to find another book on the same topic in the Library. Sometimes a different explanation of the same topic is all it takes to make an incomprehensible subject more accessible.
In some subjects it's important that the material from the texts and class lecture and outside reference books be learned together, so integrating your notes can be an important study strategy. You may want to try mapping or diagramming as a way of putting text and lecture material together. At the end of a topic or a chapter, you draw a diagram or picture, which summarizes how the learnt material and text material fit together. Diagramming can improve retention of material because it enables you to re-organize and integrate information from both the lectures and the textbook, and see it in a different format.
Try this study system that may in the long run, help you with text reading and will will save you time. Even better, you will retain more of what you read. By learning and following the system each time you read, you'll find that you can review rather than relearn when preparing for exams.
Let us summarize and understand it better.
First - Glance quickly at the key parts of the book or chapter to get an overview of how the material is organized and developed. This helps you to grasp the main ideas before you begin actual reading and mastery of the details.
Read the preface or introduction to the book and scan the table of contents.
Scan the title, headings and subheadings. These give you an outline of the chapter.
Read the chapters’ summary if one is included. If not, read the introductory and concluding paragraphs.
Study any pictures graphs, charts, etc. which are included. These can provide a visual summary of an idea.
Quickly scan the entire section by running the eyes rapidly down the page.
Key in on topic sentences - and repeated words or phrases.
A similar process should be repeated before each chapter. Read all the titles and subtitles, study any pictures, charts or graphs, and, if there are any, read the summary at the end of the chapter and any study questions. Surveying a chapter in this way gives you the "big picture,"; a framework of the main ideas which will help to hold the details together later.
Formulate questions about the chapter content based on your preview reading.
Turn headings, subheadings, and titles into questions. When reading each section, you will read to find the answers to these questions.
Remember the six classic questions, who, what, when, where, how, and why.
Jot these questions down to use later when reviewing.
Read actively with the questions you just formulated in mind.
Look for the answers to the questions you posed.
Try to summarize and restate ideas as you read.
Keep in mind the overall organization of the chapters as you incorporate details.
Read with the intent to stop periodically and reconstruct what you have read.
Mark key words and phrases after you have read, using the suggestions on the following page.
Stop at the end of a section or chapter to test your recall. Half of your study time should be spent on this step because this is where the real learning takes place. Most forgetting occurs soon after learning, so immediate recall is important. So recite what you have read
If you can't recall what you've read as soon as you've read it, you've wasted all the time you spent reading it.
Immediate recall is the first step toward continued retention - this step will save you time when you review for an exam.
Review the material periodically. This helps to fix the material in your memory, eliminating the need for last minute cramming and test anxiety. The most effective review comes soon after your initial learning.
Reread marginal notes, underlining and questions posed at the beginning.
Review class notes on the same topic.
Get your body ready. Get off the couch; sit at a desk or table or stand up!
Set a time limit and goal for how much reading you want to complete.
Practice speed-reading with simpler material at first. That way you can pay attention.
Study the table of contents as if it is a road map to understand what is coming up next.
Read the chapter title and subheadings first and then dive in.
Eliminate the habit of pronouncing words as you read.
Avoid re-reading passages. Use a card to cover passages already read.
Develop a wider eye span.
Adjust your reading rate based on the complexity of the subject.
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