There you are trying to cram during your break at work. You’ve been reading for the last 20 minutes. Suddenly you realize you don’t remember a single thing from the paragraph. Or maybe you’re at your kitchen table, and it dawns on you that you’ve read the same sentence five times. That “What am I reading?” moment happens often with students, especially if you’re an adult who has just gone back to college.
Losing your train of thought while reading can be frustrating, especially if you’re stretched for time and have to re-read it. But don’t stress! The first step to remembering more of what you read is recognizing the mistakes you might be making. We’ve listed the most common mistakes below. Plus, we created a study guide that you can use next time you’re diving into a new chapter.
Wait, what?! No really, stick with us. We’re serious. When you’re doing academic-related reading, it’s not just about moving your eyes over text. Not actively engaging in your reading is the most common mistake students make. You’ll see this idea pop up again and again in the other missteps below.
This might be another surprising one. But, if you jump in and start with the very first sentence, you might not know what you’re reading until about halfway through. Before you start reading your assignment, scan it. Look at the title, section titles and any bolded or called out information so you can better understand the purpose of the text.
Our brains have a lot to remember already. Grocery lists, kids’ practice schedules, that upcoming work project. But when we write something down, it helps us remember it better. For students, it’s even more important. Research proves taking notes with a pen and paper (instead of a laptop) improves learning. So when you’re reading, take notes! Take note of key points, keywords, big ideas, points that make you think “that’s interesting,” and ideas that leave you with a question.
Want some help?
Download our Study Guide: What Am I Reading?
Some students think the best way to learn is to regurgitate what they’ve read. But that’s way off. Knowledge that is only repeated verbatim what can fade fast, leaving you wondering a few months later about what was in a particular chapter. But, if you ask yourself “Why?” while you’re reading, you’ll be in much better shape. Think about why your instructor assigned a particular topic. When you highlight or write down the main idea, take it another step and write why it's important.
Where you read hurts or helps how much you retain. One really bad place? Your bed. Lying on your bed while you read can make you feel sleepy and will impact your concentration. Sit upright at a desk, your kitchen table, or in a comfy chair. Bonus focus points if you choose a well-lit room where there are minimal noise distractions.
An easy way to forget something you just read? Leaving the ideas you learned behind as you go out into the world. Or in other words, not applying what you learned to your life. Taking what you learned and putting it to work quickly is key, especially if you’re going back to college to get ahead in your career. It’s hard to apply everything all at once, so choose one concept at a time to work into your life or career.
Between emails, texts, Facebook, that new binge-able show, kids, laundry, what to make for dinner, there are so many ways you can let distraction crowd your concentration. But the more interruptions, the less likely you’ll be to remember what you’re reading. Try to make reading time sacred. Block off a “no distractions” time in your day. Let your family know, put your phone down, and focus just on the task at hand. If it’s too hard to ignore your devices, put your phone on “Do Not Disturb,” or try an app that temporarily blocks those types of sites.
As an online student, a good portion of your schoolwork is reading. But by avoiding the mistakes above you can get more out of the materials given to you and work toward your goals quicker!
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