Strategies for Reading valuable tools for a lifetime



Strategy #1 "Don't you dare read that chapter!"

Strategy #2 "Label in the Margin"


1. skimming

3. alternative sources

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          The following strategies are presented with the intent or providing you with ideas of how to absorb written information more efficiently. This is oriented toward science and technical applications but are generally just as effective for other applications where the primary information source is a written document. These also can be applied to web based content with some modifications to accommodate, or leverage, the technology.

     Using strategies like these, if you do not already, will have at the very minimum one of these results:

1. Either you will learn what you learn now in less time, or,

2. You will learn and understand much more in the same amount of time

          The first approach was commonly used by myself and my fellow Engineering majors for required non-core electives at UCI, normally in Humanities or Social Science. Some of us took it to the extreme of showing up for the first class, the midterm, and the final and still getting  As in the courses. On more than one occasion this was done by reading only the chapter summaries for the assigned reading.

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strategy #1

'Don't you dare Read the Whole Chapter'

This strategy is based on the knowledge that few subjects in school, and in the real world, require that you read a specific text in its completely to suit your purposes. Rarely do you need all of the information contained in a text.  At the same time it is rare that every word, sentence, paragraph, or even chapter contains information of value to you. So why read it?

Many of you may do it now for some things you read. Do you do the same with reading for school?

Think about what you do when reading your favorite magazine or newspaper like such as a sports page or  music magazine. Maybe you do it with manuals for your computer or stereo or a repair book for your motorcycle or car. How about the program at a ball game or other event? (Normally you would not use these strategies for recreational reading but I do use some of them to check out a book before I invest much time into reading it.)

  • Think first about why you read something.

    What do you do first?

    What do you notice first?

    What would make you stop and read something?

    Do you just look at the pictures? read the captions?

    How do you know you aren't missing something you would want to read?

  • When do you actually read an article or section, if ever?

    Why did you pick that one?

    Do you always finish reading what you start even if you find it  boring?

    Do you ever finish reading something and not had a clue what it said?

    Have you ever read an article that was not about what you thought it was based on its title or headline?

 Textbooks have headlines and pictures just like those papers and magazines! They even have more tools to help you out. Things like summaries and questions to ponder are scattered throughout most textbooks.

Nearly every author, especially those writing textbooks, use  visual clues to help focus your attention on important concepts and facts.  In fact, they do such a good job that it is rarely necessary to read a complete chapter to get the required content from it. Modern textbooks are so full of pictures and illustrations that many people can get away with just reading the captions for the pictures and diagrams! Virtually every text has fluff  in it. This fluff consists of extra or redundant information that do nothing to enhance ones understanding of an idea or concept. Why read something if you don't want to or don't have to?

Important stuff is covered more than once in most modern textbooks. In an effort to address readers with different learning modalities or intelligence biases crucial content is presented in more that one form. These various formats include detailed language based explanations (i.e. wordy definitions), language based analogies and comparisons, graphical illustrations of a real world examples, shorthand symbolic representation (formula), schematic drawings (Free-body diagrams, circuit schematics, magnetic flux flow lines, emf lines), charts, graphs, plots, data tables and others. What this means to the reader is that if he recognizes his preferred mode he can more quickly cut to the chase and not spend time trying to decipher the info in forms that are not his preference. By hitting the preferred format first you have a better chance at getting it 2quicker. It may be that your preference is not addressed by a particular text. This is where alternative or supplemental references would be essential.

Many jobs require that a great deal of information must be absorbed to not only do your job at hand but to also keep up with current technology, market trends, competition, and other essential aspects of survival in the business world. Most people do not have the time to read everything they should so in order to use their time effective, successful people employ pieces of these strategies to stay ahead of the game.

Here is a sequence of things I do before I ever even consider reading something completely. The bottom line is: Do not start right in and read straight through to the end.

  • Before opening your book...

    • read through any assigned homework, worksheets, handouts, or labs you have been given

      Teachers don't make up questions purely at random. By reading the questions you know what your teacher expects you to learn. They should serve as your study guide. If you do not have pre-assigned questions, use the questions from the end of the chapter. If you have been given a study guide it makes this that much easier.

    • Make a list with either keywords and/or concepts with related problem numbers next to them.

      Take notice of  any items on your list that have seem to have a lot more numbers next to them.

  • Make A Crib Sheet for Future Reference

    • Start out with a blank sheet of paper and make a outline of the reading by listing the section headings from the table of contents

      Compare the topics with your list from your homework problems, note which sections look like they would apply.

    • Look at the table of illustrations (if there is one) and note any of them that may be important on your note sheet

  • Take a Quick Test Drive

    • Take a quick lap through your text. Look at the pictures, graphs, tables, etc. and get a feel for the layout and organization

    • Look at any example problems  and read the problem statement. Don't worry about the solution yet. Do any of them sound (or look) like your assigned problems

  • 1Skim the Introduction and the Chapter Summary

  • Fill in Your Outline With Things in Bold Type  (or otherwise highlighted as IMPORTANT)

    These will normally be definitions, laws, concepts, people, dates, constants

    Add a short note in your outline where you find them including the page #

    Use post-its or similar to mark locations where you find things that are listed on your crib-sheet.

    Add locations of definitions or concepts for each section, these are usually in bold type or in a box separate from the main text.

    Read captions for any illustrations that appear to cover concepts from your list

  • Go back through your questions again

    Answer the ones you can and note where the answer was.

    Note the ones that you can't solve or answer on your outline where you think the answer may be.

    Look up keywords from the questions in the index in the back of the book and in the chapter summary an write down the page numbers on your crib-sheet

    Go straight to those pages and sections and skim the body paragraphs and illustrations to find information or examples for the specific problems.

  • Learn to know when to quit

    Never go at a particular text for so long you go cross-eyed, take a break and give your eyes and mind a rest

  • Finally, learn to use 3alternative resources

    Other books, web sites and study guides are available by the thousands fro virtually every subject.

    One of the worst mistakes is to continue to flog a text that is not well suited to your learning style. It is far better to read 5 different articles about something than it is to read one article 5 times.

    The internet makes this a simple process. Learn how to search for relevant pages. I would be willing to bet that there are examples of worked out problems for virtually every question on the web! If you can find an answer you either need to learn how to search better or you aren't trying very hard!

    When sites work for you, bookmark them.. You may find that your textbook becomes your secondary resources rather that your main one.

  • Conclusion

    Try this strategy on your next unit. There are many other benefits to approaching your assignments this way. Some of them serve to make your time in class more fun, interesting and rewarding. The worst things that could happen is you will free up time to do something you really want to!

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strategy #2 'LABEL IN THE MARGIN'

Did you ever find yourself reading a chapter in a textbook and not being able to remember what you read? There is a sure way to remedy this. It's called label in the margin.

  • You should begin by surveying what you are about to read. Look at the major heading, the charts and pictures, read the summary, study the review questions. In addition, search your memory for anything you already know about what your assigned reading. The more you know about what you're reading, the easier it will be to process it into your long-term memory.

  • Read only one paragraph at a time, and before you begin to read that paragraph look for a reason to read the paragraph. Use clues such as the heading or topic sentence. Do not mark as your read.

  • When you finish the paragraph, put yourself in the position of your professor. What test question will you ask from that paragraph? Actually write that question in the margin of your textbook.

  • Now mark the answer to the question by underlining, numbering, boxing, circling, etc.

  • Want to make sure you always do well on pop quizzes and cut down on study time for major tests. Put this information in your long-term memory now by covering the text and asking yourself the question written in the margin.

  • Recite the answer in your own words.

  • You are now ready to read the next paragraph.

It may take you longer to read a chapter this way, but there are definite advantages:

  • You can read it a bit at a time--a page here and a page there--taking advantage of short periods of time you usually waste or didn't have time for a whole chapter.

  • You never have to re-read the chapter.

  • You know the test questions in advance.

  • You have a systematic way to study you textbook.

end of 'notes in the margin'

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1. Skimming is an art in itself. One approach is to simply read the first and last sentence in each paragraph. A slightly more thorough method is to also read any sentences with bold, italicized, underlined, or otherwise highlighted text at the same time. This idea can be expanded on to a section or complete chapter by skimming the first and last paragraphs of the introduction and summary sections first and then skimming the first and last paragraphs in each section.

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3. Alternative resources: books, videos, tapes, web pages, software tools, hands-on experiments

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Copyright 2005 -  S. B. EglI