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Feb 14 2018
by Zoe Forest

7 Psychological Hacks for Improving Reading in College

By Zoe Forest - Feb 14 2018
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For students with a heavy course load of humanities and social science courses, readings can be overwhelming and intimidating. Not only does there not seem to be enough hours in each day to complete all the reading, one must be able to remember key information and make meaningful and insightful connections and comments. Fortunately, psychologists are very interested in how people learn and retain information, leading to many studies into the most effective ways to complete college readings. Here are a few psychological hacks to help you get the most out of your homework load. 

1.Don't re-read.

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This seems highly unintuitive as most students report re-reading lecture notes and assigned readings as their go-to study strategy. Yet psychologist have shown that a second reading doesn't actually improve your learning. Most understanding is extracted during the initial reading so make that reading the one that really counts by making thoughtful comments and pulling out keep information and themes.

2. Ask lots of questions.

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The best way to make sure you are comprehending what you are reading as well as drawing connections and thinking deeply about the text is to ask questions. In addition to asking questions while you read, once you have finished reading, try to quiz yourself with more factual questions, such as specific names or ideas. 

3. Draw out information in a visual form.

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This may not be applicable to every reading, but it is always a good idea to draw out ideas or concepts using flow charts, images, concept maps or whatever visual organizer you prefer. This style of active learning leads to deeper understanding and retention as well as creates a great study resource.

4. Survey before reading.

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Before you just start diving into a text, survey it. This means reading the title, the chapter headings, any bolded sections, images, topics sentences, the first and last paragraph, etc. This is will make it easier when you actually begin to read the text in-depth. 

5. Forget the highlighter and bring the pen.

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Highlighters, or otherwise underlining, does not help. It distracts from learning and frequently in a  dense text, everything is important. The better idea is to make notes, whether directly onto the page, through sticky notes or in a notebook. Make comments or connections about key information and write out questions. This is help with your learning far more than hundreds of yellow sentences jumping out at you.

6. Study in 45-minute chunks and take breaks.

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When you have two days to read 100 pages worth of material, it can be tempting to just buckle down and do it all in one sitting. However, as time progresses you will retain and understand less and less information, which ends up wasting more time as you have to go back more frequently. Rather, study in 45-minute blocks and then take a short break. 

7. Eat, sleep and exercise.

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You probably don't need a psychologist to tell you the importance of eating, sleeping and exercising. When homework becomes overwhelming, it's easy to miss out on sleep and live off chips, but this will severely hurt your learning. Maintaining your physical health will greatly aid your mental health. 

Reading can be very stressful. There is so much to learn and memorize and the pages always seem to pile up to an unruly amount. But using smart studying techniques while reading can save large amounts of time and stress and help you succeed in your classes. The next time you have a lot of reading, try applying these tips and see if your study habits change. 

Lead Image Credit: Pexels

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Zoe Forest - University of California, Berkeley

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