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How to Read Effectively in the Sciences

To read effectively in the sciences you need to:

  1. explore your science textbook(s);
  2. check the vocabulary;
  3. analyze for comprehension; and
  4. synthesize for understanding.

Explore Your Science Textbook(s)

Explore The Textbook: go over the course outline; the table of contents; and compare the course outline with the table of contents. In addition, explore the Lab manual. Go over the course outline or lab sheet; and go over the table of contents, and compare them. This process helps you to develop a schema for how the material that will be covered in your science course is organized. Knowledge of how your science texts are organized is key to understanding the course, or course contents.

Explore Your Assignments: similar to other reading tasks you need to know what you're required to learn. After the aforementioned process, read the introduction of your assigned chapter and connect it with previous chapters or your prior knowledge of the topic. It is important to read the headings, subheadings, summary, and review questions. Remember that most science texts contain review questions; use them to guide you readings.

Look Over: the pictures, tables, diagrams, photographs and the likes. Sometimes those elements are easier to understand than the words.

Explore Your Lab Manual Assignments: pre-read lab directions before going to class; read the captions of diagrams; look to see if writing is involved; and check to see what materials are needed. Try to see the connection between your class lectures and notes with those of your lab assignments.

Check The Vocabulary

As For Vocabulary: learn basic scientific root, prefixes and suffixes; use glossary and indexes; use context clues contain in the paragraphs; and as last resort, use dictionary or encyclopedia to understand and develop scientific concepts or vocabulary.

Analyze For Comprehension

Remember that scientific texts usually deal with writing patterns. Once you can recognize and analyze them, your comprehension will increase.

The Classification Pattern: it is a pattern or writing procedure used by scientists to group and sub-group various things, objects, or areas. For example, a scientist who wish to discuss the structure of a plant may break his topic into various subheadings as roots, stems, leaves, or flowers. Even within these subheadings, the scientist may break down the parts even further. Recognizing these structural parts in order of importance or position is essential to good comprehension and note taking.

The Process Description Pattern: this pattern is concerned with what the process is and how the process works. You need to understand what the description pattern is about. Is it about the process? or how the process works?

The Factual-Statement Pattern: facts are usually used in defining things, in comparing or contrasting things and citing examples or illustrations. In science, the word fact has a more exacting meaning that other areas. Factual Statement refers to a statement which, because of scientific observation and experimentation, defines something, or explains its actions, and which, so far, has not been disproved.

The Problem-Solving Pattern: this pattern is usually found in passages from science tests which describe or recount past problems in science or discoveries in science made through experimentation. When you're confronted with the problem solving pattern, use the following questions to help you understand and analyze the passages. What is the question or problem? How was the question answered? How do we know it was answered? In addition, application of these questions can help you to separate the major and minor points.

Experiment-Instruction Pattern: to understand the experiment-instructions pattern and to make sure that you follow the instructions exactly, use the following questions. What is the purpose of the experiment? What equipment is needed? What, in order, are the basic steps involved? What are the results? Usually you must alternate between the reading matter and the experimental tool, so have the questions firmly in mind before attempting the experiment. In addition, use the questions when you have been given an assignment from your lab manual.

The Combination Pattern: not all science texts follow one pattern. Sometimes the writer may use a combination of patterns. For instance, a reading passage may begin with factual statement of definition, move to classifying the components or parts of the term being classified, and end up discussing a process. An awareness of all patterns is needed in this case to aid in distinguishing the main ideas and supporting details in the various pattern used.

Synthesize For Understanding

Taking Notes: is important for several reasons: (a) it helps you keep your mind on what you are reading; (b) paying close attention as you read will result in longer retention if you connect it to what you already know; (c) good notes are helpful for review; and (d) if you mark correctly, not only will you connect the author's ideas with your own, but you will also have a record of your thoughts and reactions.

Marking Your Texts: use a pen marker, not a pencil (pencils will smear and fade away); underline the main idea in a paragraph, circle important words or phrases, draw boxes around the names or persons or places that seem important; put a check mark in the margin next to any important statement that is an opinion rather than a fact; underline minor but important facts or statistics with broken lines; use numbers or letters in the margin to indicate chronology or a series of items; use margins to write in anything that you feel will be important to you in the future, as you read, questions can pop up in your head [write those questions in the book so that you will remember to ask the instructor for the answer]; use margins to write personal reactions to what is being said; and note page numbers where related subjects are discussed in the text, don't feel that you must use all or any of these marks. Whatever marks you decide to use should make sense to you.

Writing Notes From Texts To Notebook: there is no right way to write out notes; however, here are some guidelines: (1) always put down the title of the book, chapter, date and number of pages being covered; (2) write the main ideas of the passages as your major headings and list the minor ideas or facts under them; (3) let the writing pattern of the author help you write your notes, if he defines a term, be sure your notes contain a good definition of the term, if she compares and/or contrasts, be sure you notes compares and/or contrasts the ideas, If he/she is classifying, your notes should contain an outline; (4) make sure you avoid copying the exact wording used in the text [use your own words]; and (5) make a list of words you don't know in order to look them up, and if you're having problems with your notes because of vocabulary that is unfamiliar, look up the words as you write your notes.

Before The Test: think of questions your professor may ask, if you're not sure, ask your professor. Try writing a brief summary of commentary for each chapter you have studied. Recite to yourself the important names, theories, dates, terms, and any relevant information connected with what you have been studying in class. Take time to define the words in each chapter. Put together what you've learned from lectures, class, readings, and outside readings. Look over the last test you took to figure out the type of questions you can expect and to recall the instructor's comments on that text.

During the Test: read the directions carefully before you mark in your answers. If the directions are not clear, ask your professor to clarify them before you start. Make certain that you understand the grading system. If some questions are worth more than others, devote more time and effort to them. Keep track of the time. Explore all questions, then begin with the ones you can answer most readily. Answering what you are sure of first will help you bring out all that you know and remember. Save some time at the end of the testing period (if you can) to fill in possible blanks and proofread your written response. Write legibly, your professors usually don't have time to decode your scribbles.


Textbook Study Skills

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