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spring semester study tips: how to read

17 January 2012

"study time" by calebcherry shared with CC license via Flickr

First, I recommend getting a book. The good, old-fashioned kind made of paper. Sure, you can read a lot of books on fancy gadgets like Kindles, Nooks, and even iPads, but you probably won’t read as quickly as you would read a book, and apparently, reading a book feels more relaxing.

I’m of the opinion that you don’t need utter silence to read, but studies show that college students who don’t normally listen to music when they read will comprehend less in a setting where music is playing (print out the study for your music-blasting roommate, if needed). Essentially, read somewhere that is comfortable for you.

Get a notebook and pen (perhaps even one with varying ink colors). I’m sure some of you will want to pull out your laptops, but writing things down can be faster and allow you to perform equally well down the road. Also, students in my class will not take any of the course exams on a laptop — they’ll be writing using pen and paper — so, it’s best to be consistent while also boosting your handwriting skills.

Then, I recommend using the SQ4R method (similar to the SQ3R method). SQ4R stands for: Survey, Question, Read, Respond, Record, Review:

S = Survey
Before you crack open your book to page one and dive in, take a few minutes to read the preface and introduction to the text, and browse through the table of contents and the index. This will tell you the main topics that the book will cover, the author’s particular approach to the subject (i.e., why he/she wrote another text on the subject when there are probably twenty on the market), and what the basic organizational structure will be.

Q = Question
Before beginning to read, take the subtitle of the section (or the first sentence of a paragraph) and turn it into a question. For example, if you’re reading part of a chapter called “Functions of the Spinal Cord,” ask yourself, “What are the functions of the spinal cord?”

R#1 = Read
You then read, not passively sliding your eyes over the words, but actively engaging the text, trying to find the answer to your question. Be cautious, however, that you don’t end up skimming for the answer to your question and missing other important information.

R#2 = Respond
Once you’ve read the section, close the textbook and answer your question, either orally or on paper, in your own words. If you can’t answer the question, you should reread that section until you can. If, after several tries, you still can’t answer your question, go on to the next few sections and see if things become clearer. You may find that you need to change your question. For example, you may have first posed the question, “What is the Treaty of Versailles?” for the subtitle “The Treaty of Versailles,” but, after reading the section, you may find that a better question is, “;Why was the Treaty of Versailles created?” If changing your question doesn’t help clarify the reading, it’s time to get some help. Your instructor or TA are good places to start, or Learning Services in the Learning Commons can also help with effective reading strategies.

R#3 = Record
Once you’ve understood the material and can summarize it in your own words, the next step is to record the information in some way. Some common methods are to highlight and/or mark the text, or take notes, or some combination of both. Whichever method or combination of methods you choose (some pros and cons are summarized next), it’s critical to remember to read and understand the material first, and then go back and record.

R#4 = Review
In courses where there is a lot of factual material to remember, a regular review period (usually once a week) can be a very effective strategy for retaining information. Integrating a weekly review period into your study routine will help you remember more of the information longer, thereby changing the nature of the studying done at exam time. Rather than relearning material that has been forgotten because you haven’t looked at it since reading it or writing it down, preparing for an exam can include a review of familiar material and rehearsal strategies like trying old exams.

Essentially, I recommend you read with a purpose (something beyond “because my professor told me to”). If you can think of no other purpose, try reading as devil’s advocate — find ways to disagree with the author’s argument(s). Write things down that assist you in this goal, and think about those things you’ve written. Could you tell a roommate what you learned from the reading, in your own words, in a minute or two?

In case you are interested in more reading tips, I recommend:

If any haba na haba readers have other suggestions, please share them in the comments.
This post is part of a series on studying in college.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. 18 January 2012 12:48 pm

    Sharing on our department Facebook page – you are the best!

  2. Brigitte Zimmerman permalink
    18 January 2012 2:24 pm

    Hi Kim! Clark and I are teaching an honors seminar on research design this quarter at UCSD. Do you mind if we systematically incorporate your study into the materials for our course? We’ll obviously give you credit. Let me know…

    • 18 January 2012 5:42 pm

      You are most welcome to, Brigitte! Tell Clark I say hello.

  3. 27 January 2012 1:48 pm

    One additional tip: read some of your assignment(s) aloud. Apparently, our memory is improved by saying words aloud.


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