Students: How to Ace Assigned Reading—and Memorize as you Read.

summer reading

Photo Credit: ruminatrix

Whether you are in High School or college or grad school, teachers constantly assign reading for homework. Sometimes you have textbook chapters, novels, plays, medical books or essays and research papers. Many of my clients and friends while I was in college spend time mindlessly reading only to
a) not remember anything they read
b) have to re-read sections in class during discussions
c) have to re-read sections or the whole thing before a test
d) cannot find any important points when they are trying to write essays from the assigned reading.
e) cannot connect this reading to any other class assignments or other readings.

There is a way to fix this! There is a way to be able to read and ‘outline’ the text as you read it, which will help you think of the bigger picture of the class ad other readings, make the reading extremely easy to refer back to and remember what you read. With a little practice, here is how it works:

You are going to be marking up your text and you need to make a number of shorthand symbols, that you will understand consistent for all of your classes (and your life) so you will easily remember them. The following key goes along with any of your existing highlighting or underlining practices.

Here is my key: (if you have a better idea or want to switch the shorthand, feel free!)
* Star- (In the margin with the sentence highlighted or underlined) For
essential points or the thesis statement. There should be only one of
these at most per page. The star makes it easy to see what the most
important idea on the page or section is and it is easy to go back to it.

• Bullet- (In the margin with the sentence highlighted or underlined) Definitions or important facts to remember. There should be a few for each page, usually one for paragraph because each paragraph usually has one essential point.

1)..2)..3) Lists- Anything that is in a list form in a paragraph or on a page,
mark in the margin the numbers of the list and, if there is room, what
the list is in the margin.

Box the Word- Put a box around and important dates or keywords or
vocabulary words so you can easily reference them. This also works
great in poetry and literature class, where you are trying to find a
recurring theme or word.

→ Arrow- Put this next to a sentence or phrase that you want to come
back to/remember/ bring up in your class or presentation.

? Question Mark- This can either be for an actual question you have
about something in the text or for a question you want to bring up to a
professor, in a study group or in class.

Another Color Pen or Highlighter- Sometimes you have to go back to
the text to find quotations for an essay, or examples for a test. Or you
might be reading and keeping a research paper in the back of your
head for the end of the year paper. Use another color to highlight a
different theme or for another assignment so it is easy to refer back to
and you do not have to re-read the entire text.

Tweak the key to whatever makes the most sense to you and you can adapt it to any subject. For one history course I also had four colored highlighters and I would highlight all political facts in blue, economic in green, social in orange, and everything else in purple. It made sense for the class at the time. Practice, practice, practice and you will get really good at actively reading.

Marking up what you read in this way is great because it helps you see all of the main points, makes the text easy to reference and you do not get so bored!

I have scanned in an example from one of my own books for you to see.

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3 Responses to “Students: How to Ace Assigned Reading—and Memorize as you Read.”

  1. Rikku
    March 7, 2008 at 8:13 pm #

    Thanks for the post.

    I’ve just started Uni and find my assigned texts incomprehensible. I will try your technique and see how I go.

  2. Vanessa
    March 7, 2008 at 9:57 pm #

    i hope it helps, this really helps with that complex dense reading because it is a good way to get the main ideas



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