Study Skills: text book reading comprehension tips

adapted from Steve Douglass

Class is out and the weekly lecture is over, but the work has just begun. Consider the following tips when it’s time to hit the books and study what’s in your lecture notes and textbooks.

Understand how you learn

Understanding and using your learning strengths and adjusting the settings in your study environment to suit you will make your study sessions more effective.

For example, are you a morning or a night person? Figure out what time of day you study most efficiently and schedule your studying time for those times of day. Trying to study when you’re sleepy or distracted isn’t the best idea.

Be selective in your reading

If you’d like to be quicker in doing your reading, keep in mind that only some material is worth studying, and the rest is just worth skimming.

Begin with an overview and getting a bigger picture and context of the book or reading by skimming through:

  • the table of contents;
  • book jacket;
  • introduction and conclusion;
  • key chapters;
  • first and last paragraphs of each chapter.

This will give you a sense of the overall theme of the book and the main point the author is making. Comprehension of where the author is going will help your speed of reading.

Ask questions continually

As you read, constantly be asking what’s important and what’s worth your attention.

How does chapter relate to overall purpose of book? Is it a side road or central to the plot/thesis?

Focus on and mark key points

As you read, focus on key points and passages and mark them for quick reference.

Underlining slows you down, so put marks in the margins. Use asterisks or arrows by key points, numbers for sequence of events.

Learn how to take breaks

Instead of talking on the phone, watching TV or surfing the internet as a procrastination tool, avoid the guilt and plan activities you like as breaks and rewards.

Set a goal of reading a certain amount of pages or completing a certain number of problems.

When you’ve accomplished your goal, reward yourself by taking a break and doing something you enjoy. Think of things you’d like to do and make them incentives.

Plan smaller breaks for smaller tasks and larger rewards for larger goals.

Learn to like what you do

Remember why you’re doing it and why it’s important. Is it a required class for your degree? Remind yourself of the career you’ll have down the road with the help of that degree.

Study with a friend

Enlist a friend and study that dreaded subject together. If you’re not spending the time loving the subject, at least you’ll be spending the time with someone you at least like!

Be accountable to that friend when you’re not studying with them. Tell them if you call them up to just chat, they should ask you if you’ve done your reading first before they will chat.

Justine studied Communications at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. Her friends tell her she thinks in multiple choice and bullet point lists. Adapted from Steve Douglass’ How to Get Better Grades and Have More Fun.
Copyright 2000 May not be used without permission.

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