Effective Reading

Reading is often associated with pleasure and study is associated with not-so-much-pleasure. The notion is entirely falsified. Reading is reading, whether for pleaure or pastime or for learning. Reading is a core activity for most students. However, the sort of reading we are obliged to engage with at university, is very different from the sort of reading we might choose at home, such as reading novels and magazines. When we read academic texts, we are often trying to understand ideas which we have not previously encountered, which may not be very interesting and which may be quite complex. Therefore, as well as being able to read, we also need  a way of ‘engaging with’ or ‘getting into’  the text. 

One highly academia-approved recommended method for effective reading is known as SQ3R, developed by Francis P. Robinson (1946). At first this may seem like a very clinical approach to a task which clearly involves thoughts and feelings and it may not be appropriate for every text.  However, if you are able to apply its broad principles you may find it helpful. SQ3R is explained below:

S  =  Survey

Q  = Question

R1 = Read

R2 = Recall

R3 = Review

Survey: Spend a minute or two, quickly scanning the text you are going to read in order to gain an overall impression. With a text book you might want to look at the title, date of publication, content’s list, summary and or introduction.  With a journal article there may be an abstract which summarises the key ideas and the text may be structured using subheadings. This process may prevent you from reading texts which are not relevant or helpful to your studies. 

I always use this method before purchasing or obtaining a book or paper or any piece of writing.

Questions: Write down some questions which you expect to find answers for in the text. While this does not necessarily make texts interesting it does give reading a purpose. Do not be afraid to begin with very simple questions and move on to more complex ones as you read more and begin to understand the subject better. For example, you may begin by asking ‘what do x and y mean?’ and  then go on to ask, ‘what is the relationship between x and y’ or ‘to what extent does x affect y’

Read: Read the text once without making any notes. If the text is particularly long you may wish to break it into sections or stages. Decide beforehand where the section breaks will be.  As you read, keep in mind your questions and also keep asking, is the text relevant?  is the author stating facts or opinions and can I make use of this information?

Recall: Most of us forget what we have read within a few minutes.  Therefore it helps to stop reading after a while and try to recall the important points of a text. This activity encourages us to concentrate, helps us to remember and allows us to put ideas into our own words.

Review: Reviewing is about checking your notes against the text to ensure you have either recalled all the main points or recalled them accurately. It is also an opportunity to see if you can now answer any of the questions which you set yourself at the start and whether any new questions have emerged. 

While this approach still requires some effort on your part and it may not always be appropriate or effective, it may encourage you to think more strategically about reading rather than avoiding it altogether or to spend lots of time reading with no obvious benefit.

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