Study skills
By Gregory Mitchell - Copyright © 2003
Chapter 4 - Reading Techniques
Reading includes not only the recognition and assimilation of the written content, but also understanding, comprehension, retention, recall and communication.

The most common approach to the study of a new text is the 'start and slog' approach. The reader opens the book at page 1 and reads through to the end. This might seem the most obvious approach, as indeed it is necessary when reading a fictional novel, but when studying instructional material it is an inefficient use of the student's knowledge and time and has a number of disadvantages: 

  1. Time may be wasted going over material that is already familiar, or that is irrelevant to the study in question, or which may be more conveniently summarized later.

  2. The reader has no overall perspective until he finishes the text, and possibly not even then.

  3. Any information that is retained is usually disorganized; it is seldom well integrated with the rest of the book nor with the student's whole body of knowledge.

A linear approach to study is like going shopping by systematically walking along each street, going into every shop, hoping to find something but not knowing what.

The holistic approach to study parallels the normal activity of shopping: one prepares a list of what is required, goes only down the relevant streets (noticing other shop windows on the way in case they contain unexpected items of interest), and visits only those stores that contain all that one needs, with time and energy to spare. 

In-Depth Reading
With an initial survey or pre-reading (scanning quickly through the text), one grasps the context and main concepts that are being presented. The in-depth reading which follows requires critical and analytical thinking to interpret, evaluate, judge, and reflect on information and ideas. There are four main aspects to in-depth reading:
  1. Gathering facts and ideas.

  2. Sorting facts and ideas for relative importance and their relationship to one another.

  3. Measuring these ideas against one's existing knowledge base.

  4. A process of selection, separating the ideas into those that you wish to remember or act upon, and ideas that you wish to reject.

In-depth reading techniques are a form of self-questioning. As we read we try to answer questions of HOW and WHY together with the implied suggestions: explain, describe, evaluate, interpret, illustrate, and define. 

When reading non-fiction and other serious material, the full procedure is as follows:

1. Establish Purpose 

Answer the following question as carefully and completely as possible:
What do I want to learn from this material?

Your answer to this question is your purpose for reading. It may help at this stage to review your current knowledge of the subject. This increases expectancy of what is to come, and exposes gaps in one's knowledge and a corresponding desire to fill the vacuum.

2. Survey 

A book or publication should be surveyed as follows:

Read the title, any subtitles, jacket summaries (in the case of a book), and identify the source of the publication, i.e. the author and publisher. 

Read the date of publication or copyright. The book may well have gone beyond its sell-by-date, e.g. a book on electric motors written in 1950 would be irrelevant, unless perhaps you were trying to mend Grandma's lawnmower. 

Analyze the Index. The particular concepts listed and the way in which they are organized will tell you a particular author's bias and whether or not the book will cover the ideas that you are trying to get wise on. Frequently, the Index is a better guide for these purposes than the Contents page. 

Read the Preface. Nearly always written last, it will often provide an excellent summary, and usually a statement of purpose for the book and a note on the author's perspective on the subject. Also scan the Forward and Introduction. 

Read the Table of Contents. Note the sequence and check for Chapter summaries. Chapter summaries are an abstract of the Chapter contents. They will frequently inform you whether or not a particular publication is suitable for your purposes. 

The next step is to look at the visual material. Read the maps, graphs, illustrations, charts, and bold headings. 

Get a close feel for the actual contents of the book by looking at beginnings and ends of chapters, subsection headings and anything else which catches the eye - bold print, italicized sections, etc. Read any summaries the author may have provided. If there are study questions at the end of each chapter, you should look at these also. This will give you an indication of the level of the book in relation to your present knowledge. 

Now you have completed these steps, then decide to use the book or not.

3. Revise Your Purpose

Once you have surveyed the material and gained more information and if you have decided to use the book, then revise your original purpose for reading the book. Ask yourself: Why am I reading this? This will establish your specific learning objectives.

4. Study in Depth

Keeping in mind what you want to learn, speculate on what the material will tell you. Begin to read with the satisfaction of your objectives in mind. Sometimes it is inappropriate to start at the beginning, so decide where to start reading. Your overall purpose for reading the material is your best guide. 

Note: the manner in which the author presents his ideas will demand that you vary the rate of reading appropriately, if you wish to be efficient. Sections that are complicated, introducing new terminology and concepts, need to be read carefully, every word digested. Other sections may be much easier and so can be read through quite quickly. If you continue reading at the same rate for a prolonged period, it is a good indication that you are not reading flexibly and that you are allowing yourself to become inefficient. 

It helps to mark or underline key words and concepts in the book itself, with a soft lead pencil that can easily be erased, to aid review. If it is your own book, do not be afraid to use different colored highlighter pens; it helps memory and distinguishes different themes and topics. You can also add Post-it notes to summarize your understandings and insights about key passages.

Be prepared to omit sections that are irrelevant, already familiar, padding, repetition, outdated, or excess examples. Also reject false arguments, such as: generalization from the particular; false premises; undefined sources; misuse of statistics, etc. 

Continually ask WHO, WHY, HOW, WHERE, WHEN and WHAT questions, as an interactive dialogue between yourself and the study material, in order to extract the important facts. 

The Who question helps you to hold in mind any significant people. Why classifies purposes. How classifies cause and effect sequences, time sequences, procedure or process instructions or where the new information fits into your life. The Where question points to where the action is taking place or where the new information can be used. The When question can both denote when a subject takes place and when you can use the information. Finally, the What question allows you to take a quick survey of your current knowledge. 

Take regular breaks every thirty or forty minutes. After each short rest break, take a minute to review the previous work: this consolidates the retention.


5. Evaluation

Describe the things that you have learned with a focus on your primary purpose. Your thoughts may be organized in the following way:


1. Introduction
2. Barriers to Learning
3. Setting Objectives
4. Reading Techniques
5. Key Word Noting
6. More on Note-Taking
7. Associative Networks
8. Asking Questions & Listening
9. Thinking Clearly
10. Word Definitions
11. Defeating the Decay of Memories
12. Physical Learning
13. Sight, Sound, Action...
14. The Decision to Fail
15. What's Next?


Copyright © 2004 Gregory Mitchell - Published by Trans4mind

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