Reading critically and efficiently
By: Tory Dockree
This week, we are going to be focusing on reading. Throughout your time at Mac, your professors may choose to use course texts to supplement and support their lectures. While you may be familiar with textbooks, as they are used in many high schools, they take on a different role in university. Often times, depending on the subject area that you are studying, you may have to review many readings each week.
I found acclimating to amount of reading very challenging in my first year. This is because the texts themselves were more complicated, and ultimately ended up being more time consuming than I was used to. As a result, I found that I didn’t budget enough time to complete my readings each week and ended up feeling overwhelmed as the semester progressed.
I came across this cool trick from Cornell College that helped me estimate the amount of time that I would need to dedicate to each assigned reading. Cornell’s general rule 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. Keep in mind that the amount of time per page can fluctuate depending on the subject, but it is a great rule of thumb. This is because having an accurate estimate of how long a reading should take will allow you to accurately set aside enough time in your study schedule to complete your readings.
The SQ3R Method
Now that we’ve discussed the general time commitment associated with each assigned reading, let’s take some time to discuss a reading strategy that you can employ to help make synthesizing texts themselves easier. Here at the SSC, we recommend the SQ3R Method. This method has been around for decades, and the tips and strategies definitely hold up! SQ3R stands for survey, question, read, recite and review. By following this process, and not just simply skimming your readings, you will be able to develop a more complete understanding of the content in each assigned text. So let’s discuss the SQ3R Method!
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.
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 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 the 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, Dolores Fadness (SQ3R: Why It Works, Based on an Information Processing Theory of Learning, 1978)
Reciting or recording important information from your reading material helps both your memory and your review notes. This can be done by either writing or 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, Dolores Fadness (SQ3R: Why It Works, Based on an Information Processing Theory of Learning, 1978)
After reading the assigned work, reviewing can help solidify 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, Dolores Fadness (SQ3R: Why It Works, Based on an Information Processing Theory of Learning, 1978)
While the SQ3R method may appear tedious at first, once you get the hang of it, it begins to feel like second nature. I really struggled a lot with both reading and the SQ3R Method in my first year, but now I instinctively use this method when reading my course texts. It really has made my life a lot easier.
I hope that you found this post to be a helpful introduction into the world of reading in university. If you would like to continue the conversation, be sure to tune into the Academic Skills webinar this Wednesday, July 29. where we will be discussing reading critically and efficiently.
Don’t forget to check out our Webinar Wednesday and Feature Friday Webinar. Both go live at 5:30 p.m. (EST). Learn more about our webinars and contests by visiting the Academic Skills Prep Series page.
Don’t forget about our contest and grand prize! Write a 250–300-word response sharing what you found interesting and new in the Academic Skills Prep Series and how it may help you prepare you for your first year of university. Find more information on the contest by visiting the Academic Skills Prep Series page.
Tory is going into their fourth year of Arts & Science with a combination in Philosophy and currently works as a student staff in the Academic Skills area of the SSC.