How to Actively Read

I have midterms this Wednesday. Eep. Fortunately, I have to write a D*I*Y Planner article, so I can put off worrying about my test. ;) Here's the template I use for studying for exams. Maybe you can pass the tips on to other students, or use it for more effective, more active reading.

Okay, it's not a _real template, because it's just a matter of folding. I fold my note paper into two columns (2/3, 1/3). The left column is for notes, the right column for higher-level cues. I fold a narrow column on the left side of the paper. This is for page numbers.

Then I read the textbook. (Can't avoid doing that. Tough...) Here's the trick: I write down questions.

Not facts, not summaries, but questions. This prevents me from lulling myself into a false sense of security. It's easy to look at a statement and say, "Yeah, I know that." Questions force me to think and help me practice explaining concepts. I then answer the question out loud while reading the textbook.

So I go through the entire textbook. At the end of every sub-chapter and chapter, I review my questions. I answer the questions either out loud or on another piece of paper. Saying and hearing the answer or writing and reading the answer helps reinforce it in my mind. I also quickly review all the questions once I reach the end of the book. (Well, theoretically, I would. I haven't gotten to this point yet.) I can check my answers by looking them up again. That's when the page numbers become handy!

What's the rightmost column for? Well, questions that closely follow the textbook make sure I know the details, but I might miss the big picture. It's easy to answer a detailed question because it's focused, but if I need to combine knowledge from different parts of the book, I might forget to include something relevant. The rightmost column helps me summarize chapters into key insights, and thus key questions. To review those, I can simply fold the paper over or hide the other columns.

Why not do this for books as well? If you're reading a book, actively read it. Ask yourself questions. Make yourself think of the important points. Give yourself a quiz afterwards. You'll retain the information much better, and you can use your question sheet to refresh your memory too.

Have fun! Now I have to get back to studying...

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to acitvely read!?

Split infinitive


On a more productive note

Interesting article. One thing I am wondering about the questions: at the point when you write them down, do you know the answers to them? That is, as you read something, do you write down the question which has just been answered by the bit you just read, or do you just write down the any qyuestions you would expect to be answered by the book?

I'd presume the former, but it's not quite straight in my head.

Neal |

When I research, I write

When I research, I write down questions before I read papers or books. When I study for an exam, I need to make sure I've covered all the material (not just what I remember from class), so I write questions after I read the answers. =)

Why not do this for books as well?

When I read a book, I'm reading for escape. The only books I read any more are fiction: fantasy or sci-fi. If I ask a bunch of questions about the "world building" etc. I'm going to pull myself out of the escape.

There's no reason to "actively" read escapist fiction. In fact, I'm not sure there's any reason to "actively" read biography or autobiography. Textbooks are another thing entirely of course, but I'm not about to be bothered with textbooks ever again.

NOTHING is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool! [Silvermoon's Law]

I know what you're talking

I know what you're talking about, because I sometimes read like that too. It's reading more for immersion into the plot and the world then to gain any kind of intellectual understanding. That being said, there is a role for active reading in both fiction and nonfiction. When reading a narrative (be it fiction or nonfiction), there are interesting subtexts that can be missed if one doesn't stay alert. When reading position papers, it enriches the experience to actively analyze arguments as they are put forth.

Now, all this talk of questions has made me curious. I wonder how well the author of this article has done on his exams using this technique. ;)

My exams were fine. I felt

My exams were fine. I felt happy about my amount of preparation, and any points I missed were due more to exam-time stress than to my not being able to remember anything. =)

(By the way, I'm female. <grin> Catches most people by surprise, that...)

my first comment (just to verify that i'm an actual human)

Nice article. Thanks for the tip. I don't usually read that way, but I sometimes do that when I want to force something to myself. Writing questions instead of actual facts is a neat trick. Also, it would highly increase active reading if you try writing on the sides of the book's pages (if possible) with comments like "I don't believe this paragraph", "This is a big, damn lie", "This statement proves the author is crazy" or "What? I spent x dollars just to learn this?!" :-D, if that's all, if that's all you're writing in the margins, then perhaps you are reading the wrong book. Either that or you could be in comp. lit!

I prefer keeping my book

I prefer keeping my book notes together (and my books fairly clean), so I don't write in the margins of my books. I keep index cards handy so that I can write page numbers and notes on them, which lets me quickly grab interesting snippets from a book... =)

I regret marking up not all,

I regret marking up not all, but one too many beautiful books in university. What was I thinking?