Do you feel overwhelmed when you approach the monumental task of revising your many books for your exams? The further you climb in your school experience, the more information you are required to assimilate. Books become chunkier and contain more and more text, and less and less images. Reading your text books can become a cumbersome and difficult task, especially in subjects like science where specific words are introduced by the thousands. So, what can you do to make the daunting task of studying big text books less scary and tiresome?
Get the gist!
It is always a good thing to start by getting a general idea about what will be covered in your text books. So, the first thing you want to do is to look at the content index and check what topics you will be dealing with. Most indexes are further divided into sub-topic for each chapter and that will be a great help in getting an overview of the whole programme of studies you will need to tackle and you will also begin to familiarise with keywords that will appear more frequently in the book.
The next step to getting the gist of your text books is to look through the chapters and quickly skim through each sections noticing keyword, important features that might be highlighted, or written in bold, etc… Again, this will get your mind thinking about those common themes, words and features that you will need to deal with. If you do this preliminary work, you will be a lot more confident when it comes to reading and revising those topics and this process will also help you when you need to find information quickly for cross reference.
Sometimes you might not need to read through all the chapters of a text book, so ask your teacher what chapters you will need to study in the book you use in school. Do this as soon as you begin the course, don’t leave it to the end. Being proactive and ahead of the game will make a huge difference.
Dealing with each chapter
Once you’ve familiarised with your textbook you can start reading it “proper” and deal with individual chapters and sub-topics. At this point check your reading ability. Try reading a whole section, say a couple of pages long, and see how much you’ve understood. How much can you recall? What was the section about? If you find you are having troubles with this, there could be various explanations for it. One could be that your reading is too slow and you lose concentration easily. If you find yourself “back reading”, i.e. your eyes keep going back to words you’ve missed, or think you’ve missed, your reading will be considerably slower and your concentration will suffer. Try reading another section without going back to words continuously (this takes practice, so stick with it), then check your understanding. You should find that the more you try to stop back reading, the more understanding you will gain.
If losing concentration and slow reading speed is your main weakness we strongly recommend Tony Buzan’s book Speed Reading.
What if I still don’t understand?
Another common cause of difficulty in understanding textbooks is the lack of knowledge of technical terms. If you have gaps in your understanding of subject specific words, it is likely you will find it really hard to comprehend a book that uses those terms frequently. The solution is to make a list of the keyword for the topic you are learning and make sure you find their definition. The best tool to make that list meaningful is Mind Mapping. Put the topic you are revising as the central image of your Mind Map, then add as many main branches as the keywords for that topic. Don’t worry if they become too many branches, for now you are just identifying the keywords. Then, find the definitions for those words and add those associations as branches coming out of each keyword, but make sure to stick to one word only per branch. Check this Mind Map made in iMindMap for the rules of Mind Mapping.
Once you’ve added all your keywords you will find that many are related to other keywords and that some are more important than others. So, create a new mind map where only the most important words come out of the central image and the others are branches associated to the main keyword branches. If you are using iMindMap this becomes really simple because you can drag an existing branch (with associated daughter branches) to another branch without having to redraw you map. Make sure you use as many images as possible in your branches.
These steps will move you forward considerably in your reading and understanding of complex topics. Mind mapping your chapters and topics will not come easily at the beginning and you will need practice, like anything else if you want to succeed, but you will surely get better at it and begin to really enjoy the process of revising, as well as feeling real satisfaction from your enhanced understanding and success in your exams.