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Reading & Taking Notes

Reading Skills

Of course, reading is one of the most important skills for college because it is one of two ways you obtain most of your information; listening is the other. So, if you have difficulty understanding what you read or taking solid notes on what you read, then you will have difficulty passing tests in HIST 1112, POLS 1101, and just about every other class you take.

Of course, you could also try a few of these ideas:

  1. Skim headings and subheadings to get a general picture of the text. Heading and subheadings offer an outline or skeleton of the material that each section will cover.
  2. Read only the first and last sentence of each paragraph. Most paragraphs follow a pattern: either "General to Specific" or "Specific to General." The generaltopic sentence that explains the main point of the paragraph should be found in either the first or last sentence, though sometimes it might be second or next-to-last.
  3. Skip some sentences as you read each paragraph to get a general idea of the meaning. If you read a sentence and think, "Whoa! Where did THAT information come from?" then go back and read the sentence or two you skipped.
  4. Do not feel shame if you look for an online article review or abstract, maybe even a reliable book review, that you can read to get a general idea of the overall article or book.
  5. If you have to read an article, make sure you read the abstract of the article and then skip to the section labeled "Discussion" or "Conclusion" or "Results." THAT's where the main point of the article is found; the "Methodology" or "Process" section is important if you want to dispute an article's conclusions or if you want to recreate an experiment.
  6. If you are a social person, why not form a reading group of classmates so you can sit around and discuss the book chapter by chapter or section by section?

Reading is one of my skills, so if you need help here, let me know.

Taking Notes

Okay, so you've improved your reading skills some with the tips above, but do you remember them? Did you take notes? HOW did you take them? Your note-taking methods can be as individual as you are, especially when you consider your learning style.

I am more auditory, so when I take notes, I tend to write very little, choosing only those bits of information I did not already know or thought I might forget; otherwise, I might try to audio record the lecture/discussion. I doodle sometimes when I take notes, but the doodles help me remember because I am also somewhat visual with my learning. Taking notes is already an action, so those of you who learn more by DOING can use taking notes as part of your style.

But what should you write down or pay attention to in class or the audio playback? Focus on what the professor repeats, or any item the professor emphasizes with louder volume or more intensity, or any item the professor underlines or circles on the board. Some professors use their lectures as the sole basis of tests, others emphasize the textbook, and many use a mix of the two, so you should discover from the first test or quiz how your professor designs tests and quizzes.

With many different methods of taking notes at your disposal, you need to find which method works best for you. Once you have it, then you have to organize all your notes so you can study more effectively. Some people prefer linear outlines, while others prefer more visual techniques, such as creating a Mind Web that contains the information in a spatial pattern, or a Mind Map that uses images and colors to present information in a similar spatial pattern. You could even use PowerPoints, PhotoStories, or Prezis to create your study guides, if you want to be more creative.

Once you find the best note-taking techniques for your learning style, use them. Otherwise, you run the risk of failure.

Resources for Further Consideration:


A few websites that offer some tips on improving your reading comprehension skills:

  • University of Alabama's Center for Teaching and Learning
  • University of Southampton (UK)

Note Taking:

A few sites that provide note-taking tips:

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