For many students, a chunk of their time is going to be spent reading books, articles, textbooks, and other forms of literature. If you’re a student who struggles with reading 50 pages in one sitting, you might find it difficult to retain much of the information you’ve read. As a result, you might feel underprepared in class discussions and while writing tests. However, what can appear impossible to do becomes possible with organization, strategy, and a lot of patience.
So, let’s get to it! Here are five basic tips to help you efficiently read literature. These strategies have helped me throughout my university and post-graduate studies, and I hope they will be as helpful to you.
Preview your reading
Previewing your reading means that you look at a text or chapter without reading it all. Doing this is especially important when deciding which research articles are relevant to an essay you are writing. Being able to quickly preview the title, abstract (if there is one), and main headings or sub-headings will help you efficiently pick articles you need for your writing.
So, start by looking at chapter titles. If there aren’t any titles, look at bolded terms, the first couple of sentences, or the last paragraph to get a summary. Also, look over graphs and charts and any summary sentences beneath them. Once you’ve done this, ask yourself what the main topic of that section is about and write it down.
Establish what you know
After previewing the reading material, ask yourself what you already know about the topic. Are there any questions that pique your interest? If so, write them down, because they could possibly be answered in your reading.
Then, skim the text briefly to see what the chapter is about. This is different from previewing, because it involves running your eyes over large bodies of texts without paying attention to detail.
Chunk your reading
Sitting at your desk with a 200-page book can seem like a daunting task, so break up your reading into chunks throughout the week. For example, read a chapter (roughly 10 pages) each day. If you can manage more, feel free to do so. This will help you easily retain the information and not lose interest in your reading.
Read with a purpose
Now that you have previewed and skimmed the material you’re reading, it’s time to actively read the chapters. Active reading means reading with determination, so you can better understand and relate your reading to the questions asked in class or your essay prompt. After reading a paragraph or section, stop and take notes. Write down questions about what you have read for later.
If you bought the textbook yourself, grab a highlighter or two (trust me: they will be your best friends throughout your academic career) and mark down important information on the pages itself. If you cannot highlight the book or don’t want to, make summary notes on post-its and stick it in the textbook.
Review what you’ve learned and write it down
With the questions you wrote down, check if any of them were answered within your reading. Grab a notepad and, in your own words, jot down summaries of the chapters for easy retention. Another important thing to remember is for every piece of literature you read and mention within your essay, make sure you write down the bibliographic information in the format you are required to do so (i.e. APA, MLA, Chicago).
Repeat these 5 tips as you read all types of literature. Believe me – it will help with improving your time management and critical thinking skills. Also, remember to be flexible with your time and the way you read, and approach these texts with a goal in mind of how much you want to get done. Doing this will make reading a more enjoyable and rewarding experience for you.