Independent learning: academic reading

One of the biggest jumps between studying A Levels at school or college to a degree at university is the amount of independent learning that you are expected to do. Suddenly, you have more time outside of a classroom to figure out some of your learning for yourself – and it can be incredibly daunting.

You have the task of motivating yourself to do work and being self-disciplined so you get things done, but you also have to be able to understand what you’re learning.

Another part of that leap into degree level is having to read a lot of material for research and to learn on your own. Without someone helping you pick apart what the academic writing is saying, it can be difficult to plough your way through your recommended reading.

So here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your reading and make sure you understand that tricky academic style.

Make a list

This can be a good starting point to highlight what you do understand from a text and what you don’t.

One column will be what you feel you understand, the other will be what you definitely don’t understand, and the middle column will be things you’re a little bit unsure about.

When you are battling through research, it can be helpful to pinpoint the things that you are reading that you’re struggling with. You can then use this to go back over those areas or do some additional research to help you comprehend the information better.

You can develop tactics to help you understand areas you struggle with

For example, if you read part of a text and don’t fully understand what the author means, it could be handy to try to explain it in your own words.

This means you must actively think about, digest and evaluate the words you are taking in, rather than just having explanations from other people in your head. Doing this also aids in remembering the information, so it may be particularly helpful for exam revision.

In addition to this, it may also be helpful just to read through the surrounding text for further information which may help explain what you have previously read.

Make it clear what you’re looking for and what is relevant information

This can be achieved through writing a list of questions which you hope to find the answers for in your research or in a specific text. This means you don’t lose sight of what is and is not relevant, and it will help your notes be clear and probably a little bit more concise.

Then, it might be a good idea to use a highlighter for the areas you think are important, and also some of the parts you have struggled to understand. That way you can see where you have an issue and you can use all of the above suggestions to help you comprehend what you are reading and figure it out!

These are just a few tips that have helped me wade through the sea of academic journals, articles and textbooks I’ve had to read for writing various essays and exams over my years at university.

The best thing is that different things work for different people, so you can maybe take some inspiration from these tips and adapt them to your individual liking!

This article is featured on Learning at Lincoln.


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