Reading to Extract the Right Information
Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated November 2010
There's no escaping it - you will do an enormous amount of reading in graduate school. You may be completing that reading, but are you extracting the necessary information during the process? Time is at a premium for most graduate students, so it's a waste if you are not retaining what you are reading.
Now, you are obviously an excellent reader - you wouldn't be in grad school if you weren't. But have you mastered the art of absorbing as much information as possible in the shortest amount of time possible? In short - have you mastered grad school reading? This article will help you learn how.
Three steps to follow for effective reading
Extracting information while reading is a process that consists of three main activities: pre-reading,reading and review. Before you begin to read, determine what you need to know as a result of your reading. Also know how the reading relates to the objectives of the course you are taking, as well as to the lectures, seminars and labs you have attended. And of course, be sure to read in a relaxing, peaceful environment with few distractions - singing your favorite song while reading does you no favors.
When pre-reading in graduate school, begin with a manageable amount of material and be aware of its structure. Scan the titles, headings, sub-headings, topic sentences and graphics to more efficiently gather and prioritize the information. Always pay close attention to introductions and summaries, as they will keep the information in context. While it's very tempting when you have an overwhelming number of pages to get through, never skip the preface (at least the part that does not include the author's thanks to family and colleagues) - the preface often places the information in context and can help you grasp the author's voice and objectives.
During the pre-reading process, you may want to create your own table of contents based upon the information you are seeking. You can use this as a guide later as you read, and when you review, it can be used as a checklist so you can rest assured that you have covered everything. It helps if you know the terminology involved in the material before you actually start. As you pre-read, take special note of what the author provides at the end--for example, has he or she included a helpful Glossary of key terms, a useful index, appendices, or discursive footnotes or a bibliography that might lead you to other related reading material?
Tips for better reading
Once you begin reading, mark material that you don't understand and need to return to, later. As you read, you should do so with questions in your mind. Your goal is to be an active reader, and in order to do that, you will need to write down questions your professor will potentially pose in class or on exams. Remember, most grad classes are discussions, and you can prepare yourself by thinking ahead, much like an athlete letting an upcoming game play out inside his or her mind. Reading with the professor's future questions in mind makes extracting information while reading much easier.
Make connections and associations to what you have already learned and to the course objectives as you make your way through the text. As you learned in grammar school, you should read the chapter objectives, as well as the boldface and italicized words and phrases. Write down these key words and concepts in your notebook as you read.
If you feel the need to highlight, do it. However, highlight and underline sparingly, as this can lead to procrastination if you spend time highlighting rather than truly reading and understanding the material. When you take notes, restate the information in your own words so that you are sure you have gained an understanding of the material - when someone writes something down, he or she is always more likely to remember it later. For absorbing the often cumbersome and extremely un-elegant prose of grad-level texts, try reading the words aloud. It also is often helpful to form mental pictures of the information.
Don't forget to review the questions at the ends of chapters or sections. These questions are a helpful way of identifying the key points you want to be sure to know. If you're not clear on some of the material, the review process is the time when you should go back and reread passages. It is natural to lose focus from time-to-time and reviewing what you have read can assist you in discovering what you've missed.
You can help yourself by integrating notes taken in class with your notes from your readings, especially when it is time to review. This way, the parallels between lectures and seminars and the materials you must read for class will become clear. It is an excellent way to identify what information you want to extract while reading.
Many people and universities swear by the reading process known as "SQ3R," which is an acronym for "survey, question, read, recite, review." The process is in keeping with the practice of active reading, as well as with the concept of "pre-reading, reading and review." When you survey reading materials, you are basically pre-reading. The question phase of SQ3R involves turning headings into questions whose answers you will seek while reading. When you recite, you may want to put the information in your own words and make sure your questions have been answered.
If you are still overwhelmed and are experiencing trouble identifying the important information in your reading, don't hesitate to consult your professors. They can offer you guidance and perhaps some hints about just what they want you to glean from the readings. Keep in mind that you and your professors are colleagues now. Never feel too embarrassed to ask for more information about your mutual education interests.
You will be required to do heavy reading throughout your entire graduate school career, and extracting the right information is crucial to being a successful graduate student.
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