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Organizing my Reading

UNC student reading a book.

Kathleen D Thayer (Director Academic Success Center Purdue University)
October 16, 2018

Once you start college you may realize the many differences between high school and your college courses. You will realize that there is a lot more to do for each of your courses. As well as, your professor not going over all the topics detail by detail. The professor may not also have time to point out the important areas in the book or direct you on how to approach the text.

Therefore you will have the responsibility to study/learn the information independently. Some questions that you may approach when doing your reading may be: 

  • How can I schedule time to read all of this material?
  • How do I know what is important?
  • What areas of the text should I focus on?
  • What is a realistic amount of reading to do in a one or two hour period?
  • How do I know what is relevant?
  • What should I mark? I've never underlined before?

There are many methods you can use to organize your reading.  Some of these methods are: 

Survey, Question, Read, Recite and Review.

Preview, Read, Organize and Review

Explore, Review

Benefical steps before, during, and after reading a textbook:

Perhaps you will use different strategies based on the content of the textbook you're reading. At first glance you may feel that you don't have enough time for this process. However the preview and review process take only a few minutes and will increase your efficiency and understanding tremendously. 

Before Beginning the Reading Process
Previewing or surveying the organization of the textbook and then the content of each individual chapter is the best way to motivate yourself to read and to maintain concentration while reading.

  • This step should take only a few minutes
  • Note only the key words in the title and the subtitles and how they relate.
  • Do NOT get too involved in the details.
  • Remember you only want a general concept of the ideas the author is going to talk about and how they build on the ideas from the previous chapter. The author has spent much time laying these key words and ideas out for you

You will find them by looking at:

  • Chapter Title
  • Chapter Outline
  • Major Subheadings
  • Minor Subheadings
  • Diagrams, Figures, Graphs and Captions
  • Bold Print
  • Summary, Study Questions, and perhaps a Glossary

When you are reading over the material and skimming through it, you may realize that you have some previous knowledge and background information. The background information will really help you throughout the reading. It will give you more confidence, concentration, and motivation. 
If you use the mnemonic 5 W's and H - Who, What, Where, When, Why and How, you can predict test questions by placing these words before the title and subtitles. Remember to ask higher level questions that will challenge you! This will make you focus more on the material and improve on your exams. 

Remember the study process is often slow. Difficult concepts will require some thinking time as well as reading time. As you preview the chapter, set a goal to read several subsections or pages during a one to two hour period.

During the reading process

As you read each paragraph, stay actively involved adding, deleting and revising information as you discover the answers to your questions and compose new questions.

Don't lose the answers to these questions but mark them in your text. During this marking process, you'll begin to understand how these key words and ideas relate. It is important to have your own notes and not rely on another students. Therefore, you should always do the marking yourself and do your own summary on the text. You will be able to creat a a study guide that will help you prepare for the exam. 

Always read an entire paragraph, or if the material is easy for you an entire section, before underlining/marking anything. This is the best way to avoid underlining too much material - which is self-defeating.

What are some ways to underline/mark your text?

  • Use pen or pencil rather than highlighter
  • Double or single line, indicate the major and minor ideas.
  • Dont 't underline whole sentences 
  • Aim to mark the major idea in each paragraph.
  • Use the left margin:  summarize and paraphrase main ideas and details
  • Question marks can be used to indicate areas in which understanding is "fuzzy".
  • Distinguish between definitions and examples
  • You might underline definitions and put () parenthesis around examples.
  • Write "def" or "ex" in the margins
  • Use numbers to make lists
  • Some students like to circle/box  important concepts, ideas , or subheadings
  • Use figures and graphs can help you visualize the text.
  • Read the text. Then apply the information to the figures, graphs or example problems.
  • Underline/mark the corresponding captions just as you would the text

After the reading process

It's important to spend some time reviewing the material you have just finished reading. This may seem like an unimportant duplication of effort; however, it will increase the retention of information by almost 80 percent. 

Review the subheadings and recall the main points This is an excellent strategy because you are forcing yourself to recite the major points without looking at your underlining. It will help you discover which concepts are still difficult for you.

Reread your underlining This is a good test of whether you have done a good job of underlining. You should be able to read only what you have marked and understand the main points. Reread the summary - You'll find that understanding has increased. The gaps in knowledge that were there when you read it during the preview have been reduced. Reduce your underlining by making annotations in the margin Reducing your underlining further by making annotations in the margin is one of the best ways to review before an exam.

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