Get the Powers to Act from Fresh Ideas



May 30, 2013

How to Read Difficult Stuffs

When you have to read difficult stuffs, remember this useful advice, by Geraldine Price and Pat Maier in Effective Study Skills, 2007, page. 271.
  1. You should "assess the knowledge you bring to" the text you're using now. Is your background knowledge, prior knowledge sufficient for the reading task at hand?
  2. Instead of persisting too much, too long, you should switch to "a text which gives you more help and briefer, more broad-stroke explanations." They give as examples: Idiot's Guides, "A" level texts (the authors are writing for university students.) Their special examples are Sattre and Heidegger. My examples are early-day linguistic books and Java, Visual C++ books in the late 1990s . Such books were written before the fields were mature and thus the authors themselves were unsure of their knowledge. In other words, they were bluffing. This happens in every field of study though.
  3. How to Be a High School Superstar, by Cal Newport, 2010 : Read a different textbook.
The key lesson here is : Find something more digestible for you.

If the going gets really tough, here is another advice, by Heather Cooke in Success with Mathematics, 2003, page 37-38.
  1. "try to do it [a worked example] yourself without looking at the book's solution"
  2. "To understand something new, ... write it down ... "
  3. Write out a difficult passage.
The key lesson here is : Slow down, take your time, relax.

Here is another advice, by Peter Levin in Conquer Study Stress, 2007.
  1. Regard reading as a treasure hunt: Look for clues, checking our their helpfulness, and keeping your main aim in mind all the time.
  2. Read breadth-first. Skim for the gist, scan for key details.
  3. Take notes breadth-first.

One more advice from Take Notes by Ron Fry, 1997, for reading technical texts.
  1. Backtrack a lot as you must expect a lot of wrong turns. Go trail and error mode.
  2. Slow down and tie up what you've just read and understood.
  3. Translate formulas, numbers etc into different words. Explain your understanding to a toy or a friend.
  4. Sketch, draw, doodle.
  5. Play around to uncover different paths to the solution.

From something we've read:
  1. casual reading : newspapers, friendly personal mails, sales letters etc.
  2. careful reading: reports, poetry, science texts
  3. slow reading : technical articles. Here, you pause a lot more often, and you consolidate your intermediate understandings more often.

Consolidate What You've Just Read


In one experiment, the researchers divided the students into 2 groups:
(a) 25 % time spent in reading + 75 % time in reciting
(b) 100% in reading

Group A fare better than the Group B in the tests that followed the reading period.


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