Organized Charm: Outline Your Textbook Chapters

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Outline Your Textbook Chapters

If you’ve ever tried to read a textbook chapter word-for-word, beginning-to-end, you know it’s nearly impossible to stay focused. We’ve all seen that photo on Pinterest of the textbook covered in gummy bears and laughed and then pinned it to a secret board and replaced the gummy bears with shots of wine. But there has to be a better way to get through our reading, right? I mean, we’re adults! We should only be bribing ourselves with candy and alcohol in extreme situations like cleaning or running.

Reading textbook chapters from beginning to end is difficult because that’s not the right way to do it. First of all, we have to take breaks while reading a bunch of informational text so that our brains can process it. If you’ve ever “read” 35 pages in a book, only to stop and realize that you can’t recall a single thing, that’s you brain telling you to slow down and give it a few minutes to process it all! Every time we learn something new, our brains basically have to connect it to something we already knew.


So, how should we be reading textbooks? Here’s what I do: 
  1. Read the first and last paragraphs of your chapter. That’s right PARAGRAPHS.  
  2. Then flip through the chapter and write down all of the big headlines, leaving space underneath. 
  3. Now go back and write down all of the smaller section titles under each big headline.
  4. Read the first and last paragraph of each section.
  5. Finally, read the first and last sentences of each paragraph. Write anything you need to here.
Why do it like this? A few different reasons: First, you’re optimizing your study time. What if you have 50 minutes to read and it takes you 24 minutes to read every word in the first section? There’s a good chance you may not make it to the end of the chapter. Secondly, you’re giving your brain a chance to “see the big picture” and helping it organize the information more effectively. Finally, you’re keeping yourself engaged by actively participating in your reading instead of getting bored and zoning out. 

ALSO, think about this: Where do you put the most important information when YOU’RE WRITING a paper? You summarize what your paper is about in the first and last paragraphs, right? Then, you write a new paragraph about each big point you’re trying to make. Finally,  you begin and end each paragraph with a sentence explaining its big point. So does the author. The middle of all of those middle paragraphs can probably afford to be skipped (unless you see a bold definition)! 

WAY more sanitary than covering a dirty old book with gummy bears! :)

Do you ever have a difficult time doing your assigned reading? Have you developed any strategies to get through it more quickly? If so, how has it helped? 
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