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'It's like being in a jungle', one university student said about the amount of reading they were asked to undertake. Well, although a full-scale rescue is not possible (because no-one can actually do the reading for you) you do not have to feel lost. You can learn how to prepare yourself in advance and find paths to make the going easier; you need to be efficient not exhausted.
You need to get the most out of your reading in the limited time available. Before you begin, make sure you have identified the reason for undertaking the reading.
Reading at university is a fundamental way of learning, but you can not expect to remember everything you read. So, if trying to remember everything is not your purpose, you need to ask yourself 'Why am I reading this?'
Your answer should determine the pace and the way you read, that is, what reading strategies you use. For example, think about the way you would read to get some idea what a chapter might be about, compared to how you would read to understand a complex and detailed concept.
With the amount of reading in each unit, you will certainly not have enough time to read everything in detail. You need to make decisions about how much time you have available, and what is essential reading for you. Often your unit guide or your lecturer will indicate prescribed reading (reading you are required to do) and other suggested reading.
Sometimes (but not often) you need to know a whole chapter or journal article in detail. At other times you are looking for specific information relating to an assignment topic and only a couple of pages or even a couple of paragraphs in a text are useful. Once you locate the parts of a text that are going to be most useful you may not need to read the rest.
How should you select?
Remember that you may have some prior knowledge of any subject you are reading about, and linking new material with your past experience will help you read more actively. You will remember more if you read with questions in your mind, rather than adopting the 'sponge' approach - simply trying to absorb everything.
What should you do?
After having completed the first selection process, you may still have a lot of reading to get through.
Firstly, break the reading up into manageable segments, e.g. chapters, individual articles or simply a certain number of pages.
and finally, focus (set your mind to the task).
The tasks and goals may be large or small. Reading for an essay may require you to timetable ten or more different reading tasks. They may be something like this:
Task: Read over lecture notes
Time: 15 mins
Goal: Clarify definitions; recall key terms
Task: Read and take notes on Chapter 4.
Time: 90 mins (10 min. break)
Goal: To summarise chapter, and outline child development theories.
Efficient readers use reading strategies to save time and cover a lot of ground. Your purpose for reading should determine which strategy or strategies to use for handling a reading task most efficiently and effectively.
The main strategies are: gaining an overview of a text, skimming, scanning and intensive reading. You will also need to use critical analysis when reading.
When you gain an overview of a text you get an idea of what it contains without actually reading the main body of the text.
Gaining an overview is useful for several reasons:
You gain an overview by reading only the parts of the text that 'jump out at you', that is, the segments with changed print and graphics.
Changed print tells you that something is important. It is designed to stand out. It includes any part of the text in bold, in italics, underlined or in CAPITAL LETTERS. This will most likely be headings, subheadings, key words or technical terms, bullet points, numbered lists, captions, photos or illustrations.
Graphics are there to illustrate and support the text. They take the form of diagrams, maps, graphs, cartoons or photos. They can give you a lot of information relatively quickly.
After gaining an overview you should be able to:
Skimming involves running your eye very quickly over large chunks of text. It is different from gaining an overview, because when skimming you deal with the standard print. You are trying to pick up some of the main ideas without paying attention to detail. It is a fast process. A single chapter should take only a few minutes.
You would choose to skim read if there is very little changed print to gain an overview of a text. Skimming adds further information to an overview.
How to skim:
Always familiarise yourself with the reading material by gaining an overview and/or skimming before reading in detail.
Scanning is sweeping your eyes (like radar) over part of a text to find specific pieces of information.
How to scan:
When you have used the techniques of overview, skimming and scanning to narrow down the reading field, then you can settle into intensive reading, which is detailed, focused, 'study' reading of those important parts, pages or chapters. Remember to organise what you need to do into manageable segments with their own time frames.
How to read intensively:
Remember, when approaching reading at university you need to make intelligent decisions about what you choose to read, be flexible in the way you read, and think about what you are trying to achieve in undertaking each reading task.
Marshall, L & Rowland, F 2006, A guide to learning independently, 4th edn, Pearson Longman, Frenchs Forest, NSW.