How to Read Your Way to a 4.0
I hear a lot of questions from my students that go something like this.
Katy… “how can I stay focused when I read, I can I stop re-reading the same paragraph?” “how do I know what to highlight?” “how do I know what the professor wants me to know?”
My answer. Active reading.
The idea behind active reading is to approach your reading assignment in a textbook differently then you would approach reading for a novel for personal enjoyment. Rather than passively let the words wash over you as you sit in the most comfy place possible, you want to unpack the presented content with a very specific purpose in mind__ to extract the key information, ideas, and themes.
This approach requires that you strategically bust up the dense, let’s be honest often boring information, that you encounter in a textbook into something you can actually work with. This means getting comfortable with a few ideas that might at first seem counterintuitive.
You don’t need to read every word
You don’t need to read the content in order
You’ve got to interact with the content
Okay…Ready? Let’s jump into to how using that reading assignment to make your way to a 4.0.
STEP 1: Choose the Right Time
There is a time and place for everything, right? When and where you choose to read is critical to reading success. If you’re anything like me, getting into a comfy bed with a book is a sure fire way to make sure you fall right to sleep. I am notorious for waking up with a book laying on my face!
This is because reading can be a super relaxing activity. Think about, as a child you were likely conditioned to associate reading with sleepy time.
Blocking out time to read when you are most alert can help combat the urge to snooze when you read. The time of day you select will depend on your own constitution, but be sure to find a time where your brain is rearing and ready to go. I write best in the morning, but read best in the evening and afternoon. Others read best first thing in the morning. I recommend playing around to find a time that matches you.
STEP 2: Choose The Right Place
You must also pick a place to read that will not entice you to sleep or succumb to distractions. Couches and beds are some of the worst places to read textbooks___remember that whole reading before bed thing. Instead select a quiet place with a good table like the kitchen, the library, or a study carol.
Choosing a boring, quiet, slightly uncomfortable space will also help limit distractions. Even though your brain has evolved to quickly move between tasks, it does not multitask very well. Studies have shown that all tasks suffer in quality when multitasking, but this is especially true when it comes to creating memories.
This means that a successful reading session should have little else going one. I recommend putting your phone on airplane mode, turning off music and other background noise, and closing all your tabs while sitting down to read. Just think of all the messages, likes, and mentions you’ll have waiting to reward you for all your hard work when you’re done!
STEP 3: Skim the Reading
Also, called surveying the reading prior to reading. Skimming gives you a chance to get a quick overview of the material before you really dig in.
Your skim should include reading over the intro and conclusion, glancing at images and headings, and taking a peak at questions and key terms. This step should take around 5 minutes, depending on the length and complexity of the reading.
Surveying or skimming the content provides your brain with a road map of the material. Learning relies on repetition. That is why practice makes perfect. Repetition signals importance. Skimming literally primes your brain by creating the very first imprints of the material in you mind. Plus, taking just a few minutes to warm your brain up can help it more efficiently identify important concepts and themes when you begin to truly read the information.
STEP 4: Ask Questions
Asking questions is the centerpiece of active reading. Questions act as sign posts as you progress through the reading helping you identify what’s important and what’s fluff.
The number one way to know what to highlight or what the professor wants you to know is to actively ask questions. The simple question___Why? “Why did my prof assign this?” “How will my mastery of this concept be tested?” “Why is this significant?” “What is the authors objective?” “How does this connect to other concepts I’ve learned?”
This line of questioning helps you to activate your mind to look for the answers. This intentionality will make it way easier to spot significant information. It will also help to lay deeper connections in your mind because it will build on the exposure to the content you’ve already accomplished in step 3.
Another way to use questions to guide your reading is to transform textbook headings and subheadings into questions. This means taking a plain old heading like “The End of the New Deal” and transforming it to something like “What caused the end of the New Deal.”
Changing heading and subheadings to questions helps you better identify main points, allowing your mind to create better connections, and allowing you to write more organized notes, which again further encourages your brain to create strong connections
Bonus. You can use these questions later when it comes time to study for the exam.
STEP 5: Take Reading Notes
Note taking isn’t only for in-class lectures. Active reading means jotting down information, highlighting and annotating. The number one question I get from students when it comes to reading is what to highlight or annotate.
You should note, highlight, and annotate the answers to those questions you created in step 4. There are a lot of ways to get notes done, but here are two of my favorites.
Highlight and Annotate Directly on the Book or Article
In this method you could write your questions right in the book. Then highlight or underline the answers in the text. You could also jot down questions and answers in in the margins.
Writing actual notes in an online document or separate piece of paper/notebook
This method is great if you are renting the book, intend to resell your books, or would just prefer to take notes somewhere other than the book it’s self. The idea here is to avoid simply outlining the chapter. Although this strategy can help with memorization, it will not help with long term understanding.
Instead, write your questions down and answer them in your notes in your own words. This helps you not only memorize the information, but process and understand the information. Plus, it creates a study tool for later when it’s time to prepare for an exam. You can use the questions to quiz yourself. Which is the absolute best way to prepare for an exam.
Bonus. Consider writing your notes directly on notecards or flash cards to quiz yourself with later.
STEP 6: Review
Reviewing is just academic speak for practice. Repetition helps you learn. Our brains have plasticity that allows them to learn and develop skills over the course of our entire lives. The things we repeat create stronger connections and the things we don’t use get pruned away. This is especially true in late adolescence and early adulthood.
Therefore practice is everything when it comes to learning. To not only remember material, but also truly understand it you must repeat it. Doing active reading helps you to do just that. By skimming, questioning, note taking, reviewing you’ve already practiced it 4 times and you haven’t even gone to the lecture or studied for the exam yet.
You must interact with information and concepts in little chunks over time to learn. Repetition makes studying for exams way less difficult because you’re just reviewing and testing yourself for mastery instead of learning from scratch.
Bonus: Look at your notes regularly. Instead of scrolling on your phone, take the few minutes before or after class to re-read all those awesome notes you worked so hard to create.
The idea behind reading isn’t to zap your life force and take away all the fun from you. Reading is there to help you learn. To provide you with a resource that supports your learning. Actually taking time to process the material being presented in your classes so that you can do more than just memorize will help you get the grades you want and actually help you learn some stuff. to get a good grade, you can actually learn some stuff.
**The strategies I’ve shared today are one of many ways to get it done. If you are a student with a reading learning difference, I strongly recommend consulting your campus’s Student Disability Services office to learn more about resources your campus provides to support reading learning differences.
Remember you really do have the power to create an awesome college experience. Help others create their best lives by sharing reading tips, tricks, and strategies in the comments below.
Your homework this week...
Try this reading technique and report back here in the comments or post a picture of you reading using the #collegehoodadvice over on Instagram. Let us know what worked and what didn’t. There are a lot of ways to get things done and this is just one of those ways.
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