Reading & Note-Taking

Often students are shocked and overwhelmed by the amount of reading at tertiary level. If you want to be successful in your studies, you should get use to making reading a regular part of your life. However, the task of reading does not have to be so daunting at all. There are many ways in which to make reading a successful venture.
Your course outline will indicate the most important (prescribed readings), however, it should not end there. You should definitely broaden your reading scope especially since this will be a requirement of your assignments. You may not be able to read everything there is to read on a topic, but you should do sufficient reading that will give you a good understanding of the topic.

Active reading

1) First establish what you already know
  • What is it that you know about the topic?
  • What have you learnt form other lectures or readings you may have done previously that is related to the topic?
2) Read with a purpose
  • You will find that time is often limited, so you need to stay focused.
  • Be sure to know why you are doing the reading you are doing.  Are you reading to get an overview of a topic, to understand difficult concepts, get information to gain certain knowledge or just to relax.
  • Once you know the purpose of your reading, you can establish what reading strategies you should use.
3) Be selective
  • There is soooo much reading out there, the reality is that you wont get to all of them so you need to be very selective.
  • Establish what is essential to your topic. Course readers provide some direction for this.
  • You may not need to read lengthy articles or chapters all of the time. Locate the parts that are important for your purpose.
4) Focus on the question/task
  • Identify questions you want to answer.
  • If you are reading for an assignment, what are the keywords? This will be in your assignment question.
5) Break reading into manageable sections
  • Determine how much time your reading will require, then determine where in your day you have the available time.
  • Set time-slots for reading a specific portion of the reading you need to do.
  • Take breaks and reward yourself when you have accomplished your goal.
6) Keep track of what you read
  • Keep a record of what you read and be sure to record both important information (content), as well as information for locating the text again or for referencing purposes (Author, title, date of publication, publisher and page numbers).
  • Use effective note-taking techniques.

Based on your purpose for reading you will choose one or more of the reading strategies below:

Strategy What is it? When to use it:
Previewing to get an overview
Previewing allows you to get an overview of a reading without actually reading the full text.
Read the following:
  • Title and author details
  • Abstract (if one is provided)
  • Headings, sub-headings
  • Summaries
  • Graphs, diagrams, table, etc.
  • The first and last sentence of every paragraph.
  • To determine if a reading is useful for your purpose.
  • Get a general overview of a reading.
  • Help locate relevant and important sections of a reading.
Skimming is different to previewing in that it involves more of the text. It is however a fast process that requires you to run your eyes through all of the text.
How to skim:
  • Note bold print within the text
  • Quickly run your eyes through the text from beginning to end, being sure to pick up on anything that stands out.
  • Do not read in detail, but take note of some words or sentences that may catch your attention.
  • Add information to an overview.
  • Skim to locate relevant information from large texts.
Scanning is similar to skimming, but may require a little extra time and effort. Much like skimming, scanning requires you to run your eyes through the text without any in depth reading.
How to scan:
  • After you previewed and skimmed text and identified relevant parts you should scan the selected text
  • Quickly run your eyes through the text
  • Stop when identifying an important word, phrase or concept.
  • Slow down your reading at this point to read the text more thoroughly.
  • Locate relevant or important information quickly.
  • Note that scanning does note equate to proper intensive reading, which depending on your purpose may be required.
Intensive reading
This type of reading is more focused, intense and looks intently for the most important information, their meanings and how they are all related.
  • Start at the beginning of the located readings.
  • highlight or underline unfamiliar words or phrases.
  • Also highlight and take short notes of the important parts of the reading.
  • Take note of main ideas (found in the first or last sentence of a paragraph)
  • When something is hard to understand, read it more than once.
  • When you are done with a particular chapter or section of the reading, go back to unfamiliar words or concepts and research them.
  • Record information that will be needed for referencing purposes (especially in the case of assignment reading).
  • Once you have used the strategies above to locate the relevant information you can now do a more detailed review of the readings.
  • Intensive reading is especially needed to be detailed in assignment writing.
  • Use to study particular parts of information for exams.
Critical reading 
Definition of critical
This essentially means that you question the text. It does not have to be a negative evaluation of the text. Instead it viewing both the positive and negative points of the main text in relation to other related readings or knowledge. Being critical should demonstrate that you have taken other perspectives, theories or approaches into consideration.
Critical reading:
  • Be aware of the writer’s purpose in writing and related influences (social, cultural and historical). Who was the writing intended for?
  • Trace the writer’s values.
  • Content – What is the main argument in the reading and what evidence is presented to support the argument?
  • Think about different opinions other than the text. What are alternative theories or opinions?
  • Be aware of your own values and how it impacts your interpretation of the reading.
  • Critical reading should be a part of your nature of academic reading
  • To get the most out of your educational experience, critical reading is essential as it develops your capacity for individual thought and helps you find your own voice in your field.
  • Critical reading is also essential for assignment writing as lecturers want you to demonstrate your independent thought and evaluation/analytic skills.
Reading to remember
Remembering information that you have read is often the hardest part. You will receive an overload of information during your tertiary education. The important thing is to find a method that makes the process easier, but also allows you to effectively remember the most important parts of the information presented.
The SQ3R has been identified as useful method for reading to remember which is described in detail on the following website Below is a short outline of this method:
Survey – Using the strategies of scanning and skimming, get a preview of the readings.
Question – Use questions that you would like answers to after doing the reading. This will help you to read with intent.
Read – Read twice. First read briefly without taking notes, then read and extract important information.
Recall – Now close the books and try to remember what you have read.
Review – Go through your notes the next day and try doing this every couple of days or whenever you find time.
  • Exams require that you read to remember. By reading to remember form the word go, you wont have much studying to do when it comes to exam time. You will simply only need to revise what you already know.
  • Your overall purpose or goal for studying, also requires that you read to remember as this will determine what knowledge you actually gained and can apply to your field at the end of your degree/diploma/certificate.

General note-taking tips:

  • Be organised – whether you are taking notes on paper or on your computer, be sure to organise your notes in a way that will be easy to find.
  • Record the necessary referencing information – Titles, authors, dates, publishers, etc.
  • Make sure notes are neat and legible.
  • Paraphrase and summarise when taking notes. This will also help you to understand what you are reading.
  • Have a space for comments.
  • Use methods that suits you best. So decide if you want to use tables, point form or mind mapping notes. All of these methods can be very useful, but it depends on what you do best.

Reading and note-taking

1. Be selective and systematic
Before taking notes it is always good to first skim through the reading.
  • There will be lots of information and they may all seem relevant. Be careful – you do not need a written copy of everything that was read.
  • You need to establish your purpose for reading, in that way you can determine the type of notes you should be taking (Brief or in-depth).
  • Be aware of what is required from you, do you need to show general understanding of readings or do you need to show depth of understanding for an assignment?
  • Not all the information you are reading is relevant for your purposes, you should therefore be sure on your purpose for reading and the type of information required.
  • Then only select the important parts of the selected text to record.
  • ALWAYS ask yourself how your selected information is relevant to your purpose?
2. Include your thoughts
  • Always have a space in which you can jot down any thoughts or questions you may have as you read.
  • Give your opinion or stance on the material that you are reading. This will also help when you are reading for an assignment as you will already be starting the writing process at this stage

Listening and note-taking

Many of the same principles apply to listening and note-taking as reading and note-taking.
You also need to be systematic and selective and preparing for the lecture will help you to do this. REMEMBER you need to be focused on recording the most important information.
Other useful tips include the following:
1. Use short hand and abbreviations
  • In the current times, this should not be too hard. We are constantly looking for short cuts and using short hand in our texts, emails, etc….
  • So use the short form of words – use existing abbreviations as well as creating your own. Just be sure that you understand your own notes.
2. Use tables, mind maps and diagrams
  • Tables, maps and diagrams can make note-taking a lot more fun and easier.
  • Make sure you have lots of space. Use double A4 pages and open them up if you plan on using mind maps.