|It's bound to happen at one time or
another. Your instructor assigns a text that is so dense, poorly
written or follows a train of logic that you never got on. You
know that there is information in there that is important to the
subject. You will be required to discuss it in class, write
about it in a paper or, heaven forbid, understand it well enough
to deal with it on an exam. With that in mind, we have
constructed this step by step guide to help you make sense of
Narrow Your Objective
It's best to concentrate on a moderate amount of material at a
time and once that is understood, move on to the next chapter or
section. For very dense material a paragraph at a time may be
the best way to go.
Get an Overview
Scan the material. Look at the chapter titles, headings,
sub-headings and anything that's in bold face type. Look at any
graphs, charts, diagrams or pictures to get a sense of what they
might convey. This step primes your mind to focus on the
material before you start to read it.
Make Your Own List of Questions
Write them down and allow space for the answers. These questions
should paraphrase the title, headings, subheadings and topic
sentences. This will help you to concentrate on the material.
Look at the End
Many times there is a summary. Read It. Look for exercises and
review questions. They will give you a good idea of what the
text is trying to convey.
Give it a Read Through
Don't try to get it all the first time. Keep reading for the
things you do understand.. Ideas often become clearer the more
you read. Don't take notes the first time you read. You will
likely take down too much information, copying without
Use the Reference Shelf
Look up difficult words and terms whose meanings are important
to your understanding of the material and which you cannot get
from the context. Our
Reference Shelf and Information Index likely links to an
online source where you will find these definitions.
Re-read the Material
As you read and as the answers to your questions become clear,
write the answer down in the space you allowed. You should find
that as each question is answered that answer is reinforced in
Go Over the Questions and Answers
Cover over the answers and ask yourself the questions. Recite
the answers out loud or to yourself. This recitation reinforces
the material. For questions you can't answer, go back over the
material until you are sure of each answer.
Consider It Math
Long, convoluted sentences sometimes obscure the meaning of the
passage. It may help some learners to substitute = for the verb
"is" and + for the word "and" and then rewriting the sentence as
an equation. Take out the descriptive adjectives too and you
might find it much easier to understand.
Sleep On It
Many times things become clear when you put them aside for a
while and then come back to them. This is especially true if you
sleep between sessions. There is even a name for this:
Distributed Reading. Your brain continues to process information
even when you are thinking of something else.
Review the Material
The essence of understanding is repetition. When you are
finished with difficult material it is important to go back over
it several times, reviewing your questions and answers. At some
point the goal is to discover that it is no longer difficult.
Your Instructor is the best source for clarification.
He or she is there to help. Just don't approach
your instructor at the last moment. That would be counter
productive. Be prepared to discuss your problems and the
material calmly and logically. Just because you're frustrated
doesn't mean that you have to act frustrated. Bring your notes
and questions and answers with you to show your progress up to
that time. Fellow students can be good resource people also as
long as it does not turn into the blind leading the blind