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Reading Textbooks Effectively

Have you ever read an entire chapter, then realized you can’t remember a single thing you just read? At university, reading is what consumes most students’ time. Students need to learn to deal with the difficulty and volume of the material they must absorb.

One problem many students have is that they don’t read with confidence, often because they don’t expect to understand the information presented to them. Reading textbooks is different from reading for pleasure; effective textbook reading is an active pursuit. Look at it this way: your textbooks have the knowledge and information you want, and you need to use your skill and energy to get it.

Here are some tips to help you read more effectively:

1. Read actively

Many students use what’s called the “sponge technique.” They get comfortable, start at the beginning and read passively until the end, hoping some information will soak in. This technique isn’t effective because the next day you’ll probably only remember 15 to 20 per cent of what you read. An effective alternative technique is called “muscle reading.” This means getting actively involved and focusing on what you’re doing. Reading actively involves reading to answer questions, gather information and access material critically. Active reading actually stores information in your long-term memory. SQ3R is an excellent active-reading approach that is discussed later on.

2. Concentration

Some students have trouble concentrating while reading. If you’re having a hard time focusing, click here for more information.

3. Time management

Many students worry they won’t be able to finish their reading on time because they have so much of it to get through. One way to deal with this is to pace yourself by breaking your reading down into smaller chunks. For example, if you have 240 pages to read and six weeks before the midterm exam, you know you have to read about 40 pages a week to finish on time; you can even break this down into 10 pages over four nights. The thought of reading 10 pages is less scary than 240! Make sure you leave time to review everything at the end.

4. Signal words

While reading, you should always be looking for cues. Cues may let us know when to speed up, slow down or concentrate harder. Click here for a list of signal words.

5. SQ3R Method of reading (Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review)

The SQ3R Method has been used by students since the 1960s. At first many students worry it will take too much time, but once you know the steps it’s a fairly quick process. Students who use SQR3 actually read several times faster than the average because they’re reading to answer questions and they know what’s coming next. Try every step in the beginning, then choose which works best for each textbook.

6. Difficult material

Difficult material is usually easier if you read it more than once. Sometimes reading something out loud several times helps make it more clear. If the textbook is too hard, you may want to find an alternative one you can understand better. If you’re really stuck, make an appointment to see your professor. Distance students may want to call for help.

Keep in mind that authors want you to recognize what’s important. They use major headings and subheadings and they italicize important definitions. They use repetition and signal words to let you know what you should heed. Important concepts are usually restated in different words. To build your reading skills, you need to learn how to read critically and digest information. The best way to do this is to maintain an active reading approach.

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