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Textbook Reading Strategies

Reading is Important

Reading is probably the most important activity we can do to "get ahead" in life. However, many of us take reading for granted. We feel we are too busy to read, or maybe we don't enjoy reading. Not only is it important to read effectively when you study, but reading for pleasure at least 20 minutes a day will improve your life and your ability to read. Read whatever interests you - just read, be flexible, and remember to keep reading every day.

Flexibility in what you read is extremely important. Being flexible means reading different types of materials. Reading novels, newspapers, magazines, periodicals, or poetry will enable you to adopt different approaches to the different materials. Words may be words, but you read the daily newspaper differently than you read a novel and much differently than you read your textbook. An effective approach to reading is in the development of a successful strategy.

One successful strategy for textbook reading is: SQ4R

  • Step 1:   Survey
  • Step 2:   Question
  • Step 3:   Read
  • Step 4:   Record
  • Step 5:   Recite
  • Step 6:   Reflect

S = Survey / Preview

Rationale:

To become familiar with the material before you read, and to activate any prior knowledge you have of the subject.

Make the book your friend; look at the cover; review the Table of Contents, Introduction, and Index, and back cover to become familiar with the format and the material.

Survey the assigned chapter. Look at the chapter title and topic headings. See how the chapter is organized and how many pages are in the chapter.

Quickly read the chapter introduction, the first sentence of each paragraph and the chapter summary to see what material will be discussed in the chapter and how it is presented.

Q = Question

Rationale:

To make the reading process a critical thinking exercise and to focus your attention on what information you need to get from the reading.

Reading with a purpose (to answer questions) increases concentration, comprehension, retention, and interest in the subject matter.

Questions to have in mind to answer as you read may come from:

  • your instructor;
  • worksheets, take home tests, quizzes;
  • questions throughout and at the end of the chapter;

Change the main headings into questions, e.g., "Reduce Study Stress" to "How can I reduce study stress?" Then as you read the section write down the answers to your questions or make a notation in the margin. Get engaged with the material.

R = Read

Rationale:

The information is necessary in order to master the course material.

Read one section at a time to understand the material and answer your questions. Do not read to memorize the information. On paper write down chapter headings and titles to use as outline notes later in this process.

Keep focused on your reading. Helpful hints include:

  • write down problems on paper to be handled later;
  • schedule reading breaks every hour or half-hour if it is a difficult subject;
  • make associations or visualize the information to make it more meaningful;
  • do not take notes while reading;
  • read aggressively, with the intent of getting answers, noting supporting details, and remembering major points;
  • As you read, use a pencil to put check marks in the margin by important ideas. Be sure all your questions have been answered.
  • Reread sections as needed. Be an active reader.

R = Record

Rationale:

By incorporating the motor activity of writing information down, you will have review notes and you will better establish the information into your long-term memory.

After reading each section and page, reflect and summarize the information in your notes. Put ideas into your own words to reinforce your understanding of what you have read. Taking notes at this point in time will almost ensure that you are noting the important parts of the section. Go back over the paragraph and highlight or underline only the main ideas and supporting details with no more than 10-15% of the page highlighted. Use marginal notations as a way to separate main ideas from examples and each of those from new terminology.

Write brief study notes under your chapter headings and titles, which will help encode the information in your long-term memory for easier retrieval and recall.

R = Recite

Rationale:

Activating long-term memory storage is aided tremendously by hearing and verbalizing the material. If you can explain the concepts to another, you have mastered the material.

Recite out loud the information you have read. Tell yourself the major concepts of the section using your own words. Ask yourself questions on your reading and answer those questions out loud.

Study with a friend or in a group to discuss and reinforce the material. Studies show that students who recite forget only 20% of learned material within a two-week period. Those who do not recite or discuss the material forget 80% of the information in the same time period.

R = Reflect / Review

Rationale:

This is a metacognitive activity to make you a more self-aware learner. It also enhances long-term memory storage for successful retrieval at a later date.

Reflection weaves new ideas into old, by comparing the new ideas with ones you already know. By asking yourself, "Upon what evidence are these new ideas and information based?" and "How can I use this new material?" you should increase your creativity, your knowledge, and critical thinking skills.

Review the material within 24 hours. This moves the information from short-term to long-term memory. Review often. Revise study notes as needed. The more you review, the more information you will learn and retain. This avoids last minute "cramming" for a test.

Practice the SQ4R technique with one subject over a two-week period to become familiar with the process and to begin realizing the benefits.

There are many textbook reading strategies available, SQ4R being just one, which can aid you in mastering the volumes of content found in college texts. The importance of adopting a strategy, which is comfortable for you, cannot be underscored enough. Use a strategy to tackle those textbooks before they tackle you!

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