Reading Textbooks Effectively

15 Sep

As a practice, reading is much more complicated and involves a lot more than we may initially think. Over the course of the week, we likely read numerous Facebook posts, a few online articles or Buzzfeed links, and probably a chapter or two from a few of our textbooks. While each of these documents involves reading words as they are presented, do we approach all of them in the same way? Should we?

Yes and no.

Regardless of what we are reading, there are a number of strategies that we utilize in order to effectively make our way through the text in front of us. That said, approaching our nursing textbooks in the same way that we approach a Facebook post could yield disastrous results when it comes to comprehending and utilizing the necessary information. To ensure that you are reading your textbooks effectively, it is important to use a combination of global reading strategies, problem-solving strategies, and support reading strategies.

Global Reading Strategies 

Global Reading Strategies can be thought of as universal techniques that we use when we are reading. They often involve reflecting on what we are reading and why we are reading it, and many of these techniques require little more than text at hand. Global Reading Strategies can be used for any kind of reading; they tend to involve developing a relationship with the text and reflecting on the information at hand. Some Global Reading Strategies include:

  • Developing a purpose to keep in mind while reading
  • Thinking about what you know to help you understand the reading
  • Connecting the text with your reading purpose while reading
  • Using tables, figures, and pictures to increase understanding
  • Paying close attention to bolded or italicized items

Problem-Solving Strategies 

Problem-Solving Strategies are exactly as they sound: strategies that you can implore to solve problems while you are reading. What do you do when the information becomes markedly more difficult? Where do you turn when you come across  a word that you do not understand? What do you do if you have read two or three pages in a chapter, but you’re not sure what the reading was about? Well, in all of these cases, in order to read and comprehend the text effectively, you will need to solve the problem. Some Problem-Solving Strategies include:

  • Reading slowly and adjusting your reading speed to deal with difficult material
  • Getting yourself back on track by re-reading when you get off track
  • Paying close attention and re-reading when a text becomes difficult
  • Stopping occasionally to think about what you have read
  • Picturing or visualizing the information to increase retention

Support Reading Strategies 

Support Reading Strategies are also fairly easy to understand: strategies that are used to offer support while reading to increase comprehension and retention. How do you make sure that you remember what you have read after you have put your textbook down? How do you connect the ideas presented in the textbook with the bigger picture – like what you are learning in class or practicing in the skills lab or clinicals? Using Support Reading Strategies can help you make the connections and support a practical application of the knowledge you are encountering. Some Support Reading Strategies include:

  • Taking notes while reading to understand the text and make larger connections
  • Summarizing what you have read to reflect on important information and key points
  • Discussing what you have read with others to solidify connections and understanding
  • Using reference materials to identify terms or ideas that you do not initially understand
  • Asking yourself questions you would like to have answered through your reading

Chances are that you already use some of these strategies while you are reading. In order to effective read your textbooks and successfully comprehend the information they present, it is important to use a combination of these different strategies to guide your reading. By using a combination of these three different kinds of strategies, you can improve your understand and retention, and become more of an active reader. What is active reading? It means treating your reading conversation as a conversation in which you are an active participant!

General Active Reading Strategies 

  • Ask yourself pre-reading questions on the topic to prepare yourself.
  • Identify and define any unfamiliar terms – whether they are bold or not!
  • Bracket the main idea or thesis of the reading and put an asterisk next to it.
  • Instead of highlighting, make notes in the margins!
  • Write down any questions that you have and answer them once you have finished reading.
  • Make an outline, flowchart, or diagram to map and understand ideas visually.
  • Write a summary of the chapter in your own words.
  • Write your own practice exam questions based on the reading! Answer them!
  • Discuss the chapter with a classmate or teach someone else what you have learned.

The best way to improve your reading experience and become an active reader is to practice! Click here to assess your current reading practices and gain an understanding of the areas that you need to strengthen – then put what you have learned to use!

© Alyssa Ryan 


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