Textbooks can be daunting to many students because they tend to be dense texts that contain many terms and ideas. It can be very difficult to decide what parts of the textbook are most important and how to process and record that information. Active and strategic reading can help students to read their textbooks accurately and efficiently.
- Active Reading
- Textbook Goals
- Textbook Reading Strategies
- Managing the Reading Load
Active reading means reading with a determination to understand and evaluate the text for its relevance to your needs. Active reading involves questioning, critiquing, and developing ideas. The benefits of active reading include: 1) more efficient reading and studying time, 2) greater concentration and focus while you read, and 3) improved understanding of key information.
Textbooks give a sense of a field by presenting key questions, concepts and theories, as well as important vocabulary, case studies, and practical examples. Textbooks are usually densely packed with ideas and implications that need to be thought out and considered. The result is that your reading will take time – lots of it.
Textbook Reading Strategies
Many students attempt to read from the start to the finish of a 50-page reading assignment and assume they are done. There are better methods for getting the most out of your reading.
One of the best ways to read a textbook is to break it into a three-part experience: before, during, and after. What you do before and after completing your reading is as important as what you do while you read.
Reading is far easier if you have a sense of the purpose and the main point of a text before you begin reading in depth.
- Read prior to the lecture to get a better understanding of the lecture materials
- Read and understand the title of the chapter
- Examine the goals or themes of the chapter
- Look at the section headings
- Flip to the end of the chapter and read whatever is given: summary, list of key terms, or questions about the chapter
- Skim through the chapter and read the headings and sub-headings; look at the figures and images presented
- Write down the key themes of the chapter in your notes – leaving space to fill in other notes
Now you are ready to begin reading. Reading actively means reading with a purpose and taking (brief) notes as you go.
- Read a short section first without taking notes
- Write down 2-4 important points under the outline of main themes that you have created
- Keep a separate list or create flash cards to keep track of important vocabulary
- Use a highlighter sparingly, if you own the textbook. Entire sentences are too much and single words are too sparse
Critical analysis of the reading is also important. You need to actively read the text, not just by taking notes, but by thinking about the content and your response to it.
- Write down your response – note what you don’t understand, have further questions on, find interesting, agree/disagree with, and words that you don’t understand
Ask questions as you read: How does this information compare to lectures or to other sources you have read? Why is it important to the field? What could it help you to understand?
Try to get your reading done before lecture and then review notes from your reading for 5 minutes before the lecture begins. This will help you get the most out of the lecture and also help you to concentrate your thoughts on the upcoming lecture.
Use free textbook tools to help with understanding and comprehension of the content of the text. Use the summaries at the back of each chapter to help focus your understanding. Some textbooks have questions or problem sets to focus understanding and the application of concepts. As well, many textbooks have free online resources, such as quizzes to help reinforce details of terminology and vocabulary.
Review your notes for about 20 to 30 minutes each week to help study the material throughout the semester. Reviewing for a short time regularly allows you to absorb the course information, concepts, and issues and prepares you for the exam.
Managing the Reading Load
The reading load for one course can be 25 – 50 pages per week requiring about 2 - 4 hours. For five courses that grows to 125 - 250 pages and 10 - 20 hours per week. Strategies are needed to manage all of the reading assignments:
- Make time for reading. Schedule reading into your week and set a time aside for completing the reading of a particular course. With pre-planning, reading becomes part of your routine.
- Break reading time into sections. It is very difficult to maintain focus for long stretches, so break reading assignments into 10-page segments and vary the times of day that you do reading. Read for an hour at your lunch break, an hour in the evening, etc.
- Take lots of breaks. Breaks are important to refresh and to regain focus. Take a quick walk outside or go get a cup of coffee. Read for half an hour, then take a 5-minute break, and then repeat.
- Read each day. It is easy to fall behind in reading and then you may resort to skimming. If you read every day, then it becomes part of daily life.