Intensive reading tips (students)

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When you have to read an article or a chapter for a class and you need to understand it well, this is what we call intensive reading. In a second language, this is difficult for the brain to do well. A common mistake is read and look up new words during the first reading, but this interferes with your comprehension of the text. The brain is attempting to understand the general meaning of the whole text, and stopping to look up words interferes with the brain’s attempt to understand it So it is recommended that you read through multiple times, following steps such as the following. (Feel free to adapt this to whatever works for you.)

  1. Skim (read quickly) for the main idea (thesis) and the main points supporting the thesis, and scan (look quickly) for key words. The main points will often be presented in the topic sentences of body paragraphs (usually the first or last sentences of paragraphs after the introduction).
  2. Read through the whole text for the main idea (the specific thesis being presented, or the  “gist” - the overall main idea) and main points.
  3. Guess the meaning of new words from their context.
  4. Look up other words, if necessary. Mainly you will need to look up technical words that you cannot guess from context. But you do not need to look up all the words that are not crucial for understanding the overall text.
  5. Read for understanding the whole text by focusing on the flow of specific ideas, arguments, evidence, and/or details.
  6. Read again for the overall flow and meaning of ideas and details.
  7. You can create a visualization – a visual map or association in your head of the main thesis, main points and important details. This is intended as a mnemonic or memory aid, e.g., imaging scanning your classroom, bedroom or apartment, and creating an unusual visual image in your mind that connects different ideas from the text with different parts of the room. Alternatively, you can simply draw a mind map on paper for the main ideas and details of the text.
  8. Create an outline of the main points and details.
  9. Write a summary of the text for yourself.
  10. If you need to remember the details, e.g., for an exam, then after a good night’s sleep, review your mind map, visualization, outline, or summary.