By: Tory Dockree, Tabatha May, and Emily Meilleur-Rivers
We know that textbooks are used in most high schools, but they take on a different role in university. Depending on the subject area that you are studying, you may have to read large volumes of pages each week.
It is important to note that you often won’t read a textbook as quickly as you would a regular book. The standard rule according to Cornell College is that each page will take about five minutes to read, meaning if your assigned reading is 10 pages (10×5) your reading should take about 50 minutes (Cornell College). This is an important thing to keep in mind because in our experiences, long readings can certainly knock you off track when it comes to study schedules. The best thing to do is to calculate how long your reading will take according to this model and then factor that much time into your schedule.
Like we mentioned, reading academic texts is really tough, and it is definitely something that takes practice. There are a number of reading strategies you could employ to help make it easier. In high school, we skimmed through journal articles in search of perfect quotations to include in our assignments, but we definitely were not always active readers. Now that we are, here is our advice to you! We recommend the SQ3R Method. It’s been around for decades but the tips and strategies still hold up!
If you have a lot of reading to finish, you can easily lose focus. Here are some tips to make the most of your limited reading time.
First, preview the material. We suggest you read the titles and headings of the section of the book or article first and do a quick skim.
Using this information, ask yourself questions about what you already know and how this relates to your studies. Try to connect concepts and think about your own interpretation of the text.
Leave yourselves questions about the main topics while you are reading the text and answer them when you are finished. The goal of this is to ensure that you are reflecting upon what you just read.
[…] questioning requires the reader to examine [their] uncertainty.
(Tadlock, 1978, p. 111)
Reading is a lot more than simply decoding words. It involves taking in visual elements, making connections, anticipating information, and drawing your own conclusions. If you encounter concepts or words that you don’t understand, note them down to review later on. Keep in mind that textbooks and journals do not have to be read from start to finish. Refer to the headings to help you navigate the text so that you can make the text work for you. Pay closer attention to information in the introduction, conclusion and discussion sections
What if I read passively?
If we are not actively involved in reading, we will not receive maximum information from the print, and the information we do receive may not be appropriate to our needs in terms of reducing our uncertainty.
(Tadlock, 1978, p. 111)
Reciting or recording important information from your reading material helps both your memory and your review notes. This can be done through in writing or by reading aloud. Yes, it may seem weird to talk to yourself in the library but hey, it’s all for a good cause! Highlight key points (be selective!) and make brief notes in the margins. Put information in your own words and try to explain what you read to someone else.
What is the real value of reciting?
When we recite, we slow down the input of information, thus giving our processing system the time it needs to transfer information from short-term to long-term memory.
(Tadlock, 1978, p. 112)
After reading the assigned work, reviewing can help crystallize your understanding of it. Try to address the questions you asked earlier, review the notes you recorded, and identify areas that need extra attention.
Do I really need to review?
Immediate review interferes with the forgetting process and results in more complete retention.
(Tadlock, 1978, p. 112)
We also asked McMaster students to share how their approaches to reading changed in university. This is what they shared with us:
Gustavo Chen (Brazil), Engineering
“I always have google translate opened on my laptop. However, as you get more experience, you get used to the terminology used in class and eventually English becomes easier. Just make sure to go to class and always review the material covered!”
Emily, English and Cultural Studies
“Before I started my first year, I thought that reading was just an intuitive thing. I assumed that I would automatically know what to look for and how to isolate important points, but this actually came with practice and some critical thinking. I approached my readings passively at first, and didn’t realize that I needed to engage more closely than I would if I was reading a novel for fun.”
Katherine Grace (Indonesia), Engineering
“Read the whole sentence first, and see if you understand the big picture of the sentence. If you’re worried that some words that you are not familiar with may change the meaning of the whole sentence, always write the translation on top. Then use these unfamiliar words when you write or speak to practice the use of the new words in sentences. Watch shows with English subtitles, this will help you practice reading faster.”
About Tory, Tabatha and Emily
I’m going into my third year of Arts & Science with a combination in Philosophy.
I’m going into my fourth year of Social Psychology with a minor in Sociology.
I just finished my undergrad in English and Cultural Studies with a Minor in Women’s Studies. In September, I am sticking around at Mac to start my Master’s in Cultural Studies and Critical Theory.