Reading and rememering

How to get through the reading?

Source: University of Canberra

HOW DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT YOU HAVE READ?

Consider this: why is it so easy to remember the contents of an article about something you are really interested in? It is because you get involved personally in the events and images the text portrays. You can harness some of the same memory potential in academic reading by adopting a particular kind of involved ‘active reading’.


Learn to use your own cognitive strengths—visual, oral-aural, systematic, etc.—to create memorability in your reading. Imagine, visualise, recite, act out your academic material, get it out of the dry text-on-page (or screen) context and put some real life into it.


A final hint—don't take notes whilst you are reading. Instead, try dividing your reading into shortish sections, closing the book when you have read a section, and writing a summary from memory. The things you recall are strengthened in memory by the act of recall, and the correction of things you leave out or get wrong helps fix them in memory as well.


There is another bonus: you will find that by reading in anticipation of writing a summary, your reading improves by becoming more analytical and conscious of ‘key points’. Try it and see.

THE PROBLEM

What is your first reaction when you look at the reading lists for your subjects? Is it something like: ‘How on earth am I going to get through all that?’


When you add up the pages of books, chapters, articles, etc., it comes to a raw total which would be difficult to just get through, let alone remember, organise, and synthesise.


And of course, there are always problems such as material being unavailable—the article the lecturer says is vital for everyone to read, but there is only one copy of the publication in the library, and it has gone missing…


SO—how do you manage to get through your reading, and retain what you have read?

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HOW TO READ ACADEMIC TEXTS

  • Don’t feel that you must read everything on the reading list.
    Use the reading list as a guideline—material on the list will often cover much the same ground, a list may sometimes have alternative items to cover different interests or library limitations, and some of the items on the list will be ‘optional’ to the extent that you can pass the subject without reading them.

  • Be selective.
    Check through the items on your reading list.
    Which are basic texts, and which are more detailed? (Will you need basic information or more specific information for your assignment?)
    Which are the most accessible to you? (Texts which are crystal clear to one person may be incomprehensible to another, and vice versa—this is not a matter of 'intelligence', but of a preference for a particular presentation and style)
    Which are reasonably available? (It is no good pinning your hopes on a book if there is one copy in the library and 300 students wanting it.)

  • Set a realistic time frame for any reading task.
    Do not read any longer than you can concentrate. It doesn’t matter if your attention span is short—just set your tasks accordingly.

  • Never read without specific questions you want the text to answer.
    If you want your reading to stay in your memory, you must approach your text with a list of questions about the particular information you are after, and search the text for the answers to those questions.
    Don't just read with the hope that an answer will appear.

  • Never start reading at page 1 of the text.
    If there is a summary, a conclusion, a set of sub-headings, or an abstract, read that first, because it will give you a map of what the text contains. You can then deal with the text structurally, looking for particular points, not just reading ‘blind’ and so easily getting lost.

  • Read only as much as you need to get the information you are after.
    For example, if a piece of information you need is in the abstract of an article, why read the whole article unless you have time to spare?
    If a point is clear from reading a summary, is there any benefit in reading through the complete text of a chapter?
    If you are interested in the overall findings of a study, do you really need to read the methodology and results sections?
    Always keep in mind what you need, what is relevant to the question you are asking the text.

  • There are many ‘tricks of the trade’ you will either learn or discover for yourself.
    For example, rather than reading all of a series of articles on a topic, consider whether the literature review in the last article of the series will give you enough to go on with. You can be infinitely creative with your time- and labour-saving strategies. Look for new ways, and talk with other students about how they manage.

  • Don’t panic if you cannot get hold of a particular text.
    Information may be found in various places. Think about looking further afield and being creative in your information searches.

REMEMBERING WHAT YOU'VE READ

Don't try to memorise everything! You don't have to be a parrot or a recording machine. Make sure you understand the main points of what you are reading.


A final hint—when you are reading, particularly for revision, think about not taking notes.
It is easy to fall into a note-taking mode that is almost mechanical transcription, and little of what you are writing gets into memory. Instead, try dividing your reading into shortish sections, closing the book when you have read a section, and writing a summary from memory. The things you recall are strengthened in memory by the act of recall, and the correction of things you leave out or get wrong helps fix them in memory as well.

There is another bonus: you will find that by reading in anticipation of writing a summary, your reading improves by becoming more analytical and conscious of ‘key points’. Try it and see.

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