Active reading works. In fact, actively participating in learning is linked to remembering information. Does that surprise you? It sure doesn’t surprise me.
What is surprising is the fact that students simply do not apply themselves to reading actively (even when they see their peers’ results improving as a result) – thus forcing themselves to spend more time re-reading texts, re-writing notes and re-viewing course material than is necessary. Why? So you can save time today; active reading takes time, effort and persistence. As with any good thing, learning does not come easy.
Step 1. When you engage your brain in what you are reading, you use the existing pathways between your memories by linking the information you are reading to what you already know. A simple way to do this is to start by surveying the chapter.
To increase your ability to remember, organizing information is key. You already know that your memory works associatively. However, if you store tomatoes in the category vegetable, you might want to rethink your fruits.
Thankfully over time books evolved into well organized tomes of information. Most modern textbooks actually make use of a full array of didactic measures to facilitate learning. Sadly enough, since you are not a professional educator, these measures are often lost on you. Reading the main text is hard enough as it is, right?
Even though you think associatively, clustering information will make it easier for you to remember. As you think of an elephant’s snout or massive body, it becomes easier to describe the other parts of this majestic animal, in turn making it easier to recollect any knowledge you possess about elephants in general. But it’s all categorized somewhere around elephant.
Before you read a chapter go back to the index, or table of contents. Here you will find a list of topics that will be covered in the chapter you are about to read. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I know about the topic I am about to read?
- What do I know about the first topic of the chapter?
- What do I know about the second topic of the chapter?
An example of a survey-question-doodle…
And write down what you are thinking! Either in a mind map create a short overview per topic of the knowledge you can connect it to, or scribble some notes; but be involved!
Why? There are two reasons. First of all, when you, before you take in new knowledge, access the existing memories on, or related to, the topic, you are building the connections in your brain. The more frequently you access these memories through these connections, the easier recall becomes. Every attempt counts.
Second, you immediately start organizing this new within the relevant memories. When roaming about a certain topic in your mind, you increase the likeliness of you stumbling upon the association you are looking for. This puts making the connection in a different light, doesn’t it.
Comprehensive reading. Now the reading starts. With the topic outline in mind, begin reading the text, sticking to the important topics and their context. Where you can, copy the key terms and their descriptors, while placing them in the context of the main topic. Can you do this? If this is hard, it means that you are constructing, through your effort, the frame of reference upon which you can build more knowledge.
If the learning is difficult, it does not mean that you are not intelligent; rather it means that you are stretching your intelligence, growing in your ability to comprehend and use this new information.
Our brain has the ability to easily recognize and organize known constructs; new concepts need to be formed and categorized. The latter takes time and energy – that is why you may feel very tired after reading just one page of neuroscience-related articles when your field of study is sports management.
By asking yourself questions while you read and paraphrasing the material, either in mind maps or notes, you engage your brain in the material.
You are almost there! When you have completed a paragraph, or a chapter read back your notes to yourself. You may do this out loud – it is called recite for a reason. Can you answer the questions you posed to yourself when you began reading? What do you remember? Which elements do you forget? Can you think of a way to connect these elements to what you do remember?
In the end, over time you can review your notes. When you start of by answering the questions you had at the onset, you immediately move from passively reviewing to actively searching your brain for what you remember about the material.
Reviewing get’s easier over time, and as the new becomes a part of your framework, you enable yourself to learn new, more complex concepts based on these fundamentals even faster. By putting in the effort in when you start with chapter one, you make comprehension of chapter eight easier.
So, Survey, Question, Read, Recite and Review. SQ3R. Give it a try – it works. Science fact.