Reading for Memory

Student readingLike it or loathe it, you will find that you are asked to read an enormous amount of material during your time at University. You'll also have the sometimes challenging task of working out for yourself which bits of this material are most relevant to the particular task or subject area that you are currently working on, and which are not.

In order to get the most out of any text or set of texts, you need to be ready to adopt a range of different reading strategies depending upon the task at hand and the amount of time you have available to complete it. Often this will require a process of selection and targeted reading that may be different from the ways that you have read in the past. There is no magic formula to become a faster and more efficient reader, but there are a number of techniques that you can practise that will, over time, help to increase your reading speed and the quality of your reading.

"Do I need to read it all?"

Sometimes the answer will be yes. Some reading is mandatory for classes or coursework and if this is the case then you will probably need to read it all with focus and attention. You might want to consider taking notes on it too. However, much of the reading that you do as part of your coursework will not require reading every text from cover to cover. Instead, reading is often a process of scanning, skimming and selecting the priority texts and parts of texts for deeper engagement. Speed reading will help you to get an overview of a text quickly to help with this process of selection. Reading for memory will help you to dig deeper and improve your focused reading.

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Setting Objectives

Setting ObjectivesSetting questions gets you into ‘hunt mode’. The process of answering the questions will help you to stay focused and retain important information. As a rule of thumb, aim for no more than three to five questions, covering both the bigger picture and the detail. Questions should be conceptual rather than fact based. For example:

  • What is the overall argument of the paper?
  • What are the main examples given?
  • How might this be applied in practice?
  • Why was the research undertaken?

Preview and Review

Preview and ReviewThere are a number of ways you can narrow the focus of your reading to ensure that you get everything you need out of a text. The preview and review technique is one of the most effective ways to read strategically and with purpose. Follow these steps to create your own reading plan:

1. Read the overview material (for example: introduction, abstract, index, contents, summary, conclusion)
2. Preview every page for about ten seconds, thinking about identifying objectives and the following questions:

  • What don’t I need to read?
  • Which part(s) are most important?

3. Make a note of important pages/sections to return to
5. Read the sections relevant to your objectives and make notes
6. Have you fulfilled your objectives? If yes, then stop. If not, take a break and do something different (preferably overnight) before repeating the steps

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Salisbury University - Critical Reading Strategies