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Reading and Understanding Texts

Much of the material we have to learn at university is presented to us in written form, most commonly in texts and readings from journals. Students may have problems with both the complexity and the amount of the material they have to read. We can help you deal with each of these concerns.

Tips

Build active learning activities into each reading session, since reading is an inherently passive process. Merely exposing yourself to material is not an effective learning activity, even if you do it many times.

Get the big picture first, so the details will have a structure and categories to fit into.

Find out what you don't remember (by reviewing from memory) to focus future learning.

  1. Figure out what's important. This will include material that is emphasized by size or other graphical techniques (boldface, italics) or position (beginning or end of a section). Sometimes the introduction or concluding paragraph will highlight the key points. Texts might even include objectives, study questions, terms, etc. Ask yourself about the level of detail needed for mastery, keeping in mind that you probably only need to know the main ideas and supporting points.
  2. Read what's important. Get the big picture first: don't try to learn detailed information yet.
  3. Review from memory. Using a concept map, write down everything you can remember, without looking back at the text. If you can't remember at least 80% of the key points you have covered, you read too much before reviewing. (Don't think that the material that you forgot will magically reappear on the exam when you really need it -- it won't!)
  4. Repeat the above steps as many times as necessary, going for greater detail each time. Stop when you can recall the key points.

Courses

Students enrolled in the Modular Learning Skills Course work through several modules specifically related to reading.

Handouts

The following handouts are available free from the Learning Skills Program:

 

Individual Help

The strategies above will provide you with a good start. However, if you are still having difficulties with reading, be sure to make an appointment with David Palmer-Stone . Some reading tasks (such as math and the physical sciences, poetry, and foreign languages) require additional strategies.

   
 
 
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