How to Read a Big Fat Chapter:

I know it can seem overwhelming when you are given a whole chapter of a textbook to read. It’s a skill to be able to not only read the information, but understand it and be able to remember it as well. It’s a skill you will need in your further studies. Hopefully this guide will give you some pointers on how to ‘attack’ a big fat chapter…

1. Read the last bit first.

Yes, it may seem like a strange place to begin, but try starting with the conclusion of the chapter. The conclusion usually summarises the whole chapter, telling you briefly what has just been written about. Read the conclusion and make write some questions from it. You can then use these questions to guide your reading of the rest of the chapter.

Another similar way of starting the chapter, is to read the introduction THEN the conclusion so you are effectively getting two brief summaries of the chapter, which will give you a good idea of what you are going to read about before you have even started digging through the heavy stuff.

The questions you should have written based on these two sections of the chapter could be things like
• Why did X happen?
• What caused X to happen?
• Who was X?
• Why was he or she so important?
• When did X happen?
• How does X link to X?

Make sure you do write a few ‘deeper’ questions that ask about the causes of things and how they affect each other, not just ‘who is…’ and ‘what is…’ questions.

2. Scan the chapter

Even though you have now read the start and end of the chapter, you are still not quite ready to dive into the guts of it just yet.
Next thing to do is scan through the pages focusing on the subheadings of all the different sections. Write one or two questions per subheading. Then read the first one or two lines of that section. This enables you to create immediate links to the information you have just learned from reading the introduction and the conclusion.

Creating those links as quickly as possible helps to really set that knowledge in your mind, hopefully avoiding those moments when you catch yourself reading the same paragraph 4 times and still having no idea what it was about! By reading the first couple of lines of each chapter you may even be able to answer some of the questions you have noted down.

3. Looking at and organising your questions

By now you have a decent list of questions about the contents of the chapter. It is important that these are written somewhere in an organized way (not just in the margins of the chapter!) so they can be used to guide your reading of the chapter and also so that you can really focus your attention to making sure you get the answers!

Try typing them up into a list, or into a mind map, or grid or whatever style you like. Have them printed off or have your computer next to you when you start to read the chapter so you can add in the answers straight away. These questions and their answers will be your notes for the chapter.

4. Divide the page

Right, now you are almost ready to jump right in to the middle of all the new learning you’re about to do!

Look at the page in front of you and see if you can break it up in to decent sized ‘chunks.’ This will help you to make the page more manageable. Use highlighters or textas or pens to actually make marks on the page so you can see what the sections are. Gone are the times when you look at a page and think ‘My God, there is no way I can get through that.’ Your highlighters are just about to show you that is not true! Of course you can, just not all in one ‘chunk.’

5. Only now are you ready to dive right in

Ok, so by now you should have:
• read the introduction and conclusion and written questions based on these
• scanned the chapter and written questions based on the subheadings
• read the first 1-2 lines of each of the sections of the chapter
• have an organized list of questions ready for you to refer to and take notes on
• divided up the first page into chunks

If you’ve done all of this then you are ready to read read read. Make sure you have your questions ready next to you, a highlighter (or pen or texta or whatever) in your hand ready to go.

Read your first ‘chunk.’ Stop. Highlight anything that seemed really important and relevant to you. Did this section answer any of your questions? If so, jot down the answers – DO NO COPY WHOLE SENTENCES INTO YOUR NOTES. They are notes and should be written briefly but with enough detail that you will understand them later. NOT FULL SENTENCES. If you copy full sentences from the text, then chances are you will use that exact sentence in your work – that would be plagiarism and is completely unacceptable. Writing the information in brief notes means that you will be forced to put it into your own words later – a much safer thing to do.

Now, on to your next section. Highlight. Stop. Write any notes that you need. Next section. Highlight. Stop. Write any notes you need.

You can also add extra questions to your list as you go and you can write other notes on the page that you are reading (provided it’s not someone else’s book!). There is nothing to say you have to stick to the questions you have set yourself. They are just there to guide you with your reading – to make sure that you have a focus for the effort you are putting in to getting through the chapter.

Ah, yes, I can hear you screaming already – “but doing it like this is going to take AGES!” Well, yes, it will take longer than if you just sat there and read from start to finish BUT –

• you will have an organized, useful set of notes
• you will remember more of it afterwards and will be able to use what you have learned in your assignments
• you will avoid reading the same paragraph over and over without really taking it in

That makes it all worth it then. It means you are not just wasting your time reading something that you will forget by the next class.