Dr. Ficht's Cures for Study

Help with Study Skills

Here are some things that you can do to improve your study skills. Be sure to talk about this in class if you are having any difficulties.
















Time scheduling will not make you a perfectly efficient person. Very few people can rigorously keep a detailed schedule day after day over a long period of time. In fact, many students who draw up a study schedule and find themselves unable to stick to it become impatient and often give up the scheduling idea completely.

The following method of organizing time has been helpful to many students and does not take much time. It is more flexible than many methods and helps the student to establish long term, intermediate, and short term time goals.

1. Long Term Schedule

Construct a schedule of your fixed commitments only. These include only obligations you are required to meet every week, e.g., job hours, classes, church, organization meetings, etc.

2. Intermediate Schedule - One per week

Now make a short list of MAJOR EVENTS and AMOUNT OF WORK to be accomplished in each subject this week. This may include non-study activities. For example:

      • Quiz Wednesday
      • Paper Tuesday
      • Ball game Tuesday night
      • Finish 40 pages in English by Friday
      • Finish 150 pages in History by Friday

These events will change from week to week and it is important to make a NEW LIST FOR EACH WEEK. Sunday night may be the most convenient time to do this.

3. Short Term Schedule - One per day

On a small note card each evening before retiring or early in the morning make out a specific daily schedule. Write down specifically WHAT is to be accomplished. Such a schedule might include:


    • 8:00 - 8:30 Review History
    • 9:30 - 10:30 Preview Math and prepare for Quiz
    • 4:45 Pick up cleaning on way home
    • 7:00 - 10:15 Chpt. 5, 6 (History)
    • 10:30 Phone calls

CARRY THIS CARD WITH YOU and cross out each item as you accomplish it. Writing down things in this manner not only forces you to plan your time but in effect causes you to make a promise to yourself to do what you have written down.

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The use of acronyms can be helpful when a list of facts or sequence of items must be remembered. An acronym is a word or phrase made from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts or major parts of a compound term. For example, the acronym PERT stands for Program Evaluation and Review Technique. Of course, acronyms can be created by students to remember a specific item, such as the planets in our solar system in sequence (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto). Taking the first letter of each word, you would have m, v e, m, j, s, u, n, and p. Make up a nonsensical phrase to help you remember the exact order, such as, "My very elegant mother just served us nine pies."

Make up a similar acronym to use to remember the sequence of red blood cell maturation:

      • Pronormoblast
      • Basophilic
      • Polychromatic
      • Orthochromatic
      • Reticulocyte
      • Mature

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First make a print out of this document. Using your printout, read each statement and consider how it applies to you. If it does apply to you, check Y. If it does not apply to you, check N. The purpose of this inventory is to find out about your own study habits and attitudes.

1. __Y __N I spend too much time studying for what I am learning.

2. __Y __N I usually spend hours cramming the night before an exam.

3. __Y __N If I spend as much time on my social activities as I want to, I don't have enough time left to study, or when I study enough, I don't have time for a social life.

4. __Y __N I usually try to study with the radio and TV turned on.

5. __Y __N I can't sit and study for long periods of time without becoming tired or distracted.

6. __Y __N I go to class, but I usually doodle, daydream, or fall asleep.

7. __Y __N My class notes are sometimes difficult to understand later.

8. __Y __N I usually seem to get the wrong material into my class notes.

9. __Y __N I don't review my class notes periodically throughout the semester in preparation for tests.

10. __Y __N When I get to the end of a chapter, I can't remember what I've just read.

11. __Y __N I don't know how to pick out what is important in the text.

12. __Y __N I can't keep up with my reading assignments, and then I have to cram the night before a test.

13. __Y __N I lose a lot of points on essay tests even when I know the material well.

14. __Y __N I study enough for my test, but when I get there my mind goes blank.

15. __Y __N I often study in a haphazard, disorganized way under the threat of the next test.

16. __Y __N I often find myself getting lost in the details of reading and have trouble identifying the main ideas.

17. __Y __N I rarely change my reading speed in response to the difficulty level of the selection, or my familiarity with the content.

18. __Y __N I often wish that I could read faster.

19. __Y __N When my teachers assign papers I feel so overwhelmed that I can't get started.

20. __Y __N I usually write my papers the night before they are due.

21. __Y __N I can't seem to organize my thoughts into a paper that makes sense.

If you answered yes to a question consult the other parts of this page to find assistance:

    • Time Scheduling - 1, 2, and 3.
    • Concentration - 4, 5, and 6.
    • Listening & Note taking - 7, 8, and 9.
    • Reading - 10, 11, and 12.
    • Exams - 13, 14, and 15.
    • Reading - 16, 17, and 18.
    • Writing Skills -19, 20, and 21.

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1. Set aside a place for study and study only!

A. Find a specific place (or places) that you can use for studying (for example, the campus libraries, vacant classrooms, quiet areas in the student center, bedroom at home, etc.)

B. Make a place specific to studying. You are trying to build a habit of studying when you are in this place. So, don't use your study space for social conversations, writing letters, daydreaming, etc.

C. Insure that your study area has the following:

        • good lighting
        • ventilation
        • a comfortable chair, but not too comfortable
        • a desk large enough to spread out your materials

D. Insure that your study area does not have the following:

        • a distracting view of other activities that you want to be involved in 
        • a telephone
        • a loud stereo
        • a 27-inch color TV
        • a roommate or friend who wants to talk a lot
        • a refrigerator stocked with scrumptious goodies
2. Divide your work into small, short-range goals.

A. Don't set a goal as vague and large as ... "I am going to spend all day Saturday studying!" You will only set yourself up for failure and discouragement.

B. Take the time block that you have scheduled for study and set a reachable study goal. (for example: finish reading 3 sections of chapter seven in my Psych. text, or complete one math problem, or write the rough draft of the introduction to my English paper, etc.)

C. Set your goal when you sit down to study but before you begin to work.

Set a goal that you can reach. You may, in fact, do more than your goal but set a reasonable goal even if it seems too easy.


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1. Set aside a fixed place for study and nothing but study. Do you have a place for study you can call your own? As long as you are going to study, you may as well use the best possible environment. Of course, it should be reasonably quiet and relatively free of distractions like radio, TV, and people. But that is not absolutely necessary. Several surveys suggest that 80% of a student's study is done in his or her own room, not in a library or study hall. A place where you are use to studying and to doing nothing else is the best of all possible worlds. After a while, study becomes the appropriate behavior in that particular environment. Then, whenever you sit down in that particular niche in the world you'll feel like going right to work. Look at it this way; when you come into a classroom, you sit down and go to work by paying attention to the instructor. Your attitude and attention and behavior are automatic because in the past, the room has been associated with attentive listening and not much else. If you can arrange the same kind of situation for the place where; you study, you will find it easier to sit down and start studying.

2. Before you begin an assignment, write down on a sheet of paper the time you expect to finish. Keep a record of your goal setting. This one step will not take any time at all. However, it can be extremely effective. It may put just the slightest bit of pressure on you, enough so that your study behavior will become instantly more efficient. Keep the goal sheets as a record of your study efficiency. Try setting slightly higher goals in successive evenings. Don't try to make fantastic increases in rate. Just increase the goal a bit at a time.

3. Strengthen your ability to concentrate by selecting a social symbol that is related to study. Select one particular article of clothing, like a scarf or hat, or a new little figurine or totem. Just before you start to study, put on the cap, or set your little idol on the desk. The ceremony will aid concentration in two ways. First of all, it will be a signal to other people that you are working, and they should kindly not disturb you. Second, going through a short, regular ritual will help you get down to work, but be sure you don't use the cap or your idol when your are writing letters or daydreaming or just horsing around. Keep them just for studying. If your charm gets associated with anything besides books, get a new one. You must be very careful that it doesn't become a symbol for daydreaming.

4. If your mind wanders, stand up and face away from your books. Don't sit at your desk staring into a book and mumbling about your poor will power. If you do, your book soon becomes associated with daydreaming and guilt. If you must daydream, and we all do it occasionally, get up and turn around. Don't leave the room, Just stand by your desk, daydreaming while you face away from your assignment. The physical act of standing up helps bring your thinking back to the job. Try it! You'll find that soon just telling yourself, "I should stand up now," will be enough to get you back on the track.

5. Stop at the end of each page, and count 10 slowly when you are reading. This is an idea that may increase your study time, and it will be quite useful you if you find you can't concentrate and your mind is wandering. If someone were to ask you, "What have you read about?" and the only answer you could give is, "About thirty minutes," then you need to apply this technique. But remember, it is only useful if you can't concentrate -- as a sort of emergency procedure.

6. Set aside a certain time to begin studying. Certain behavior usually is habitual at certain times of the day. If you examine your day carefully, you'll find that you tend to do certain things at predictable times. There may be changes from day to day, but, generally parts of your behavior are habitual and time controlled. If you would be honest with yourself, you'd realize that time controlled behavior is fairly easy to start. The point is that if you can make studying - or at least some of your studying - habitual it will be a lot easier to start. And if the behavior is started at a habitual time, you will find that it is easier to start. And if the behavior is started at a habitual time, you will find that it is easier to get going without daydreaming or talking about other things.

7. Don't start any unfinished business just before the time to start studying. Most people tend to think about jobs they haven't finished or obligations they have to fulfill much more than things that they have done and gotten out of the way. Uncompleted activities tend to be remembered much longer than completed ones. If we apply that idea to the habit of daydreaming, you might suspect that uncompleted activities and obligations would be more likely to crop up as a source of daydreaming than completed ones. Therefore, when you know you're about to start studying because it's the time you select to begin, don't get involved in long discussions. Try to be habitual with the time you start, and be careful what you do before you start studying. This can be one way to improve your ability to concentrate.

8. Set small, short-range goals for yourself. Divide your assignment into subsections. Set a time when you will have finished the first page of the assignment, etc. If you are doing math, set a time goal for the solution of each problem. In other words, divide your assignments into small units. Set time goals for each one. You will find that this is a way to increase your ability to study without daydreaming.

9. Keep a reminder pad. Another trick that helps increase your ability to concentrate is to keep pencil and paper by your notebook. If while you're studying you happen to think about something that needs to be done, jot it down. Having written it down you can go back to studying. You'll know that if you look at the pad later, you will be reminded of the things you have to do. It's worrying about forgetting the things you have to do that might be interfering with your studying.

10. Relax completely before you start to study. One approach to concentration is to ask yourself, "Do study and bookwork scare me?" If you have to do something unpleasant, something that you know you may do badly, how do you react? Probably you put it off as long as possible, find yourself daydreaming, and would welcome reasons to stop studying. If you do react this way, you might be said to suffer from learned book-anxiety. The key to breaking this book-anxiety daydream series is learning how to relax. When you are physically, deeply, and completely relaxed, it is almost impossible to feel any anxiety. Associate the book with relaxation, not with tension and anxiety. When you study, study; when you worry, worry. Don't do both at the same time.

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The Cornell system for taking notes is designed to save time but yet be highly efficient. There is no rewriting or retyping of your notes. It is a "DO IT RIGHT IN THE FIRST PLACE" system.

1. First Step - PREPARATION

Use a large, loose-leaf notebook. Use only one side of the paper. (you then can lay your notes out to see the direction of a lecture.) Draw a vertical line 2 1/2 inches from the left side of you paper. This is the recall column. Notes will be taken to the right of this margin. Later key words or phrases can be written in the recall column.


Record notes in paragraph form. Capture general ideas, not illustrative ideas. Skip lines to show end of ideas or thoughts. Using abbreviations will save time. Write legibly.


Read through your notes and make it more legible if necessary. Now use the column. Jot down ideas or key words which give you the idea of the lecture. (REDUCE) You will have to reread the lecturer's ideas and reflect in your own words. Cover up the right-hand portion of your notes and recite the general ideas and concepts of the lecture. Overlap your notes showing only recall columns and you have your review.



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1. There are several good reasons for organizing and reviewing your notes as soon as possible after the lecture.

A. While the lecture is still fresh in your mind, you can fill in from memory examples and facts which you did not have time to write down during the lecture. More over, you can recall what parts of the lecture were unclear to you so that you can consult the lecturer, the graduate assistant, a classmate, your text, or additional readings for further information.

B. Immediately review results in better retention than review after a longer period of time. Unless a student reviews within 24 hours after the lecture or at least before the next lecture, his retention will drop; and he will be relearning rather than reviewing.

2. A method of annotation is usually preferable to recopying notes. The following suggestions for annotating may be helpful:

A. Underline key statements or important concepts.

B. Use asterisks or other signal marks to indicate importance.

C. Use margins or blank pages for coordinating notes with the text. Perhaps indicate relevant pages of the text beside the corresponding information in the notes.

D. Use a key and a summary.

      • Use one of the margins to keep a key to important names, formulas, dates, concepts, and the like. This forces you to anticipate questions of an objective nature and provides specific facts that you need to develop essays.
      • Use the other margin to write a short summary of the topics on the page, relating the contents of the page to the whole lecture or to the lecture of the day before. Condensing the notes in this way not only helps you to learn them but also prepares you for the kind of thinking required on essay exams and many so-called "objective" exams.

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1. Take a pencil in your hand.

2. Read the essay over once, quickly, looking for the main idea, for what the essay is about in general, and for what the author seems to be saying. Don't get bogged down in details. (If you come to an unfamiliar word, circle it but go on reading).

3. Check the meaning of unfamiliar words. If they seem to be key words, i.e., if the author uses them more than once, scribble a brief definition at the bottom of the page or at the end of the essay.

4. Now re-read more slowly and carefully, this time making a conscious attempt to begin to isolate the single most important generalization the author makes: his thesis. Follow his line of thought; try to get some sense of structure. The thesis determines the structure, so the structure, once you begin to sense it, can lead you to the thesis. What is the main point the author is making: Where is it? Remember, examples or "for instances" are not main points.

The thesis is the generalization the author is attempting to prove valid. Your job, then is to ask yourself, "What is the author trying to prove"?

Another way of identifying the thesis is to ask yourself, "What is the unifying principle of this essay"? or "What idea does everything in this essay talk about"? or "Under what single main statement could all the subdivisions fit"?

If the author has stated his thesis fully and clearly and all in one place, your job is easier. The thesis is apt to be stated somewhere in the last few paragraphs, in which case the preceding paragraphs gradually lead up to it, or else somewhere right after the introduction, in which case the balance of the essay justifies the statement and refers back to it. Sometimes, however, the author never states the entire thesis in so many words; he gives it to you a piece at a time. Never mind. You can put it together later.

5. When you think you have grasped the main point, the whole essay goes to prove, underline it and write thesis in the margin. If you find you have several possible theses, don't panic; they all fit together somehow. One or more will probably turn out to be supporting the thesis rather than part of it.

Now re-read for structure. You are looking for the main divisions of the essay. There will (probably) be an introduction: draw a line clear across the page after the introduction and write into in the margin. Now tackle the body of the essay. You are already pretty sure what the main idea is. What are the main points the author makes in leading up to his thesis, or in justifying it?

You will find in a longer essay that you are now dealing with groups of paragraphs, all having to do with the same subdivision of the main subject. Draw lines between the main groups and give the groups labels. In an essay about how to take an English I final, for instance, you would undoubtedly find a group of paragraphs all of which could be labeled "preparation", and another group that could be called "typical exam questions". Under each group there would be sub-groups: under "preparation" there might be "reviewing essay", "memorizing terminology", etc.

Occasionally, you will find a paragraph that doesn't seem to accomplish much. Some paragraphs, for instance, are purely illustrative: the "for example" type of paragraph. Some are just comments or impressions by the author . The "that reminds me" type. A third very common type is the transitional paragraph, which just takes you rather gracefully from one point to another. When you come across a paragraph like one of these, label it in the margin.

6. Within each structural subdivision find out what points the author is making. (In the essay about the English 1 final, find out specifically what the author says to do in order to prepare for the exam.) In other words, identify the topic sentence of each important paragraph. Underline the sentence. Sometimes the topic sentence is at the beginning of the paragraph and sometimes at the end. Sometimes the topic is not stated but is only implied

7. You now have the skeleton of the author's argument and should be able to follow his reasoning. If you are still having trouble, try scribbling a word or two in the margins and summing up the paragraphs as if you were annotating a textbook. In the essay about the English 1 final, for instance, you might write "Mark up textbooks" in the margin after one paragraph, and "but not too much" after the next. You can also underline key transitional or structural words or phases like "but", "however", "moreover", "on the other hand", "nevertheless".

8. Now write out , at the beginning or end of the essay, a thesis statement for the essay. Remember, the thesis was his guiding PURPOSE? What audience did he have in mind? What assumptions did he make i.e., what did he take for granted his audience already knew, or already believed, or both? Is his audience hostile or friendly?

9. Finally, and very important, consider two other questions: WHY did the author write this, and for WHOM? What audience did he have in mind? What assumptions did he make, i.e., what did he take for granted his audience already knew, or already believed, or both? Is his audience hostile or friendly?

10. If you know you are to be examined on the rhetorical techniques the author uses, now is the point to go on a deliberate hunt for them after you have thoroughly understood the essay.



Adequate notes are a necessary adjunct to efficient study and learning .Think over the following suggestions and improve your note- taking system where needed.
  1. Listen actively - if possible think before you write - but don't get behind.
  2. Be open minded about points you disagree on. Don't let arguing interfere with your note-taking.
  3. Raise questions if appropriate.
  4. Develop and use a standard method of note-taking including punctuation, abbreviations, margins, etc.
  5. Take and keep notes in a large notebook. The only merit to a small notebook is ease of carrying and that is not your main objective. A large notebook allows you to adequately indent and use an outline form.
  6. Leave a few spaces blank as you move from one point to the next so that you can fill in additional points later if necessary. Your objective is to take helpful notes, not to save paper.
  7. Do not try to take down everything that the lecturer says. It is impossible in the first place and unnecessary in the second place because not everything is of equal importance. Spend more time listening and attempt to take down the main points. If you are writing as fast as you can, you cannot be as discriminating a listener. There may be some times, however, when it is more important to write than to think.
  8. Listen for cues as to important points, transition form one point to the next, repetition of points for emphasis, changes in voice inflections, enumeration of a series of points, etc.
  9. Many lecturers attempt to present a few major points and several minor points in a lecture. The rest is explanatory material and samples. Try to see the main points and do not get lost in a barrage of minor points which do not seem related to each other. The relationship is there if you will listen for it. Be alert to cues about what the professor thinks is important.
  10. Make your original notes legible enough for your own reading, but use abbreviations of your own invention when possible. The effort required to recopy notes can be better spent in rereading them and thinking about them. Although neatness is a virtue in some respect, it does not necessarily increase your learning.
  11. Copy down everything on the board, regardless. Did you ever stop to think that every blackboard scribble may be a clue to an exam item? You may not be able to integrate what is on the board into your lecture notes, but if you copy it, it may serve as a useful clue for you later. If not, what the heck -- you haven't wasted anything. You were in the classroom anyway.
  12. Sit as close to the front of the class, there are fewer distractions and it is easier to hear, see and attend to important material.
  13. Get assignments and suggestions precisely - ask questions if you're not sure.


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Students are confronted with two kinds or types of memory work. The first and more common is general remembering or remembering the idea without using the exact words of the book or professor. General memory is called for in all subjects; however, the arts, social sciences and literature probably make the greatest use of this particular kind of remembering.

The other type of memory work is the verbatim memorizing or remembering the identical words by which something is expressed. This type of memorizing may be called for in all subjects but especially in law, dramatics, science, engineering, mathematics, and foreign language where the exact wording of formulas, rules, norms, law, lines in a play, or vocabulary must be remembered.

Other kinds of memory have their place and it is important for the student to know when to stop with the general idea and when to fix in mind the exact words, numbers, and symbols.

    1. Understand thoroughly what is to be remembered and memorized. When something is understood, be it a name or a chemical chain it is almost completely learned, for anything thoroughly understood is well on the way toward being memorized. In the very process of trying to understand, to get clearly in mind a complex series of events, or chain of reasoning, the best possible process of trying to fix in mind for later use is being followed.
    2. Spot what is to be memorized verbatim. It is a good plan to use a special marking symbol in text and notebook to indicate parts and passages, rules, data, and all other elements which need to be memorized instead of just understood and remembered.
    3. If verbatim memory is required, go over the material or try to repeat at odd times, as, for example, while going back and forth to school.
    4. Think about what you are trying to learn. Find an interest in the material if you wish to memorize it with ease.
    5. Study first the items you want to remember longest.
    6. Learn complete units at one time as that is the way it will have to be recalled.
    7. Overlearn to make certain.
    8. Analyze material and strive to intensify the impressions the material makes.
    9. Fix concrete imagery whenever possible. Close your eyes and get a picture of the explanation and summary answer. Try to see it on the page. See the key words underlined.
    10. Make you own applications, examples, illustrations.
    11. Reduce the material to be remembered to your own self-made system or series of numbered steps.
    12. Represent the idea graphically by use of pictorial or diagrammatic forms.
    13. Make a list of key words most useful in explaining the idea or content of the lesson.
    14. Form a variety of associations among the points you wish to remember. The richer the associations, the better memory.
    15. Try making the idea clear to a friend without referring to your book or notes.
    16. Actually write out examination questions on the material that you think you might get at the end of the term. Then write answers to your own questions. Since you now have the chance, consult the text or your notes to improve your answers.
    17. Follow suggestions for reviewing. This is an important part of remembering.

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Alton L. Raygor
University of Minnesota

A term (or research) paper is primarily a record of intelligent reading in several sources on a particular subject. The task of writing such is not as formidable as it seems if it is thought out in advance as a definite procedure with systematic perpetration.

The procedure for writing such a report consists of the following steps:

      1. Choosing a subject
      2. Finding sources of materials
      3. Gathering the notes
      4. Outlining the paper
      5. Writing the first draft
      6. Editing the paper

Now let's look at each of them.


Most good papers are built around questions. You can find subjects in any textbook. Simply take some part of the text that interest you and examine it carefully. Ask yourself the following things about it to see if you can locate a question to answer in your paper. Does it tell you all you might wish to learn about the subject? Are you sure it is accurate? Does the author make any assumptions that need examining? Can two of the more interesting sections in the text be shown to be interrelated in some useful way? Your paper is an attempt to write a well-organized answer to whatever question you decide upon, using facts for the purpose of proving (or at least supporting) your contention.

The most common error made by students in choosing a subject for a term paper is to choose one that is too general. (The most specific subject will always have enough aspects to furnish a long paper, if you think about it for a while.)


A. Limitations. Tradition suggests that you limit your sources to those available on the campus and to those materials which are not more than 20 years old, unless the nature of the paper is such that you are examining older writings from a historical point of view.

B. Guides to sources.

1) Begin by making a list of subject-headings under which you might expect the subject to be listed.

2) Start a card file using the following forms.

a) Book and magazine article:

        • i. Subject
        • ii. Author
        • iii. Title
        • iv. Facts of publication
        • v. Library call number

b) News story:

        • i. Subject
        • ii. Facts of publication
        • iii. Headline

c) Periodicals:

        • i. Author
        • ii. Title
        • iii. Name of periodical
        • iv. Volume and page number
        • v. Month and year.

Sort these cards into (a) books and (b) each volume of periodicals. Then look up call numbers other periodicals and sort out those for each branch library. This sorting save library time.

C. Consult the card catalog in the library to locate books - record author, title, publisher, date of publication and call number.

D. Consult guides to periodicals, such as:

      • Education Index
      • Readers Guide
      • International Index to Periodicals
      • Psychological Abstracts

These are aids to finding articles on any subject. They list subject heading, with various titles of articles under them, together with the location of each article.


A. Examine the books and articles - several volumes at a time will save steps.

Skim through your sources, locating the useful material, then make good notes of it, including quotes and information for footnotes. You do not want to have to go back to these sources again. Make these notes on separate cards for each author - identifying them by author.

B. Take care in note-taking; be accurate and honest. Be sure that you do not distort the author's meanings. Remember that you do not want to collect only those things that will support your thesis, ignoring other facts or opinions. The reader wants to know other sides of the question.

C. Get the right kind of material:

  1. Get facts, not just opinions. Compare the facts with author's conclusion.
  2. In research studies, notice the methods and procedures, and do not be afraid to criticize them. If the information is not quantitative, in a study, point out the need for objective, quantified, well-controlled research.


A. Do not hurry into writing. Think over again what your subject and purpose are, and what kind of material you have found.

B. Review notes to find main sub-divisions of your subject. Sort the cards into natural groups then try to name each group. Use these names for main divisions in your outline. For example, you may be writing a paper about the Voice of America and you have the following subject headings on your cards.

  1. Propaganda - American (History)
  2. Voice of America - funds appropriated
  3. Voice of America - expenditures
  4. Voice of America - cost compared with Soviet propaganda

The above cards could be sorted into six piles easily, furnishing the following headings:

    1. History (Card 1)
    2. Purpose (Card 5)
    3. Organization (Cards 6, 7)
    4. Cost (Cards 2, 3, 4, 9)
    5. Effects (Card 8)
    6. Future (Card 10)

You will have more cards than in the example above, and at this point you can possibly narrow down you subject further by taking out one of the piles of cards.

C. Sort the cards again under each main division to find sub-sections for your outline.

D. By this time it should begin to look more coherent and to take on a definite structure. If it does not, try going back and sorting again for main divisions, to see if another general pattern is possible.

E. You may want to indicate the parts of your outline in traditional form as follows:

1. Example

a) Example

      • i. Example
        • i.) Example

2. Example

3. Example

a) Example

Use these designations only in the outline and not in the paper itself, or it will look more like an extended outline that a paper.


You are now ready to write.

A. Write the paper around the outline, being sure that you indicate in the first part of the paper what its purpose is. Follow the old formula:

1. Tell the reader what you are going to say (statement of purpose)

2. Say it (main body of the paper)

3. Tell the reader what you've said (statement of summary and conclusion)

B. A word about composition:

1. Traditionally, any headings or sub-headings included are nouns, not verbs or phrases.

2. Keep things together that belong together. Your outline will help you do this if it is well organized. Be sure you don't change the subject in the middle of a paragraph, and be sure that everything under one heading in your outline is about the same general topic.

3. Avoid short, bumpy sentences and long straggling sentences with more than one maid ideas.


You are now ready to polish up the first draft.

A. Try to read it as if it were cold and unfamiliar to you. It is a good idea to do this a day or two after having written the first draft.

B. Reading the paper aloud is a good way to be sure that the language is not awkward, and that it "flows" properly.

C. Check for proper spelling, phrasing and sentence construction. Be sure that pronouns clearly refer to nouns.

D. Check for proper form on footnotes, quotes, and punctuation.

E. Check to see that quotations serve one of the following purposes:

  1. Show evidence of what an author has said.
  2. Avoid misrepresentation through restatement.
  3. Save unnecessary writing when ideas have been well expressed by the original author.

F. Check for proper form on tables and graphs. Be certain that any table or graph is self-explanatory.

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SURVEY - gather the information necessary to focus and formulate goals.

    1. Read the title - help your mind prepare to receive the subject at hand.
    2. Read the introduction and/or summary - orient yourself to how this chapter fits the author's purposes, and focus on the author's statement of most important points.
    3. Notice each boldface heading and subheading - organize your mind before you begin to read - build a structure for the thoughts and details to come.
    4. Notice any graphics - charts, maps, diagrams, etc. are there to make a point - don't miss them.
    5. Notice reading aids - italics, bold face print, chapter objective, end-of -chapter questions are all included to help you sort, comprehend, and remember.

QUESTION - help your mind engage and concentrate.

One section at a time, turn the boldface heading into as many questions as you think will be answered in that section. The better the questions, the better your comprehension is likely to be. You may always add further questions as you proceed. When your mind is actively searching for answers to questions it becomes engaged in learning.

READ - fill in the information around the mental structures you've been building.

Read each section (one at a time) with your questions in mind. Look for the answers, and notice if you need to make up some new questions.

RECITE - retain your mind to concentrate and learn as it reads.

After each section - stop, recall your questions, and see if you can answer them from memory. If not, look back again (as often as necessary) but don't go on to the next section until you can recite.

REVIEW - refine your mental organization and begin building memory.

Once you've finished the entire chapter using the preceding steps, go back over all the questions from all the headings. See if you can still answer them. If not, look back and refresh your memory, then continue.



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Improvement of Reading Rate

It is safe to say that almost anyone can double his speed of reading while maintaining equal or even higher comprehension. In other words, anyone can improve the speed with which he gets what he wants from his reading.

The average student reads between 250 and 350 words per minute on fiction and non-technical materials. A "good" reading speed is around 500 to 700 words per minute, but some people can read a thousand words per minute or even faster on these materials. What makes the difference? There are three main factors involved in improving reading speed: (1) the desire to improve, (2) the willingness to try new techniques and (3) the motivation to practice.

Learning to read rapidly and well presupposes that you have the necessary vocabulary and comprehension skills. When you have advanced on the reading comprehension materials to a level at which you can understand materials, you will be ready to speed reading practice in earnest.

The Role of Speed in the Reading Process

Understanding the role of speed in the reading process is essential. Research has shown a close relation between speed and understanding. For example, in checking progress charts of thousands of individuals taking reading training, it has been found in most cases that an increase in rate has been paralleled by an increase in comprehension, and that where rate has gone down, comprehension has also decreased. Although there is at present little statistical evidence, it seems that plodding word-by-word analysis (or word reading) inhibits understanding. There is some reason to believe that the factors producing slow reading are also involved in lowered comprehension. Most adults are able to increase their rate of reading considerably and rather quickly without lowering comprehension. These same individuals seldom show an increase in comprehension when they reduce their rate. In other cases, comprehension is actually better at higher rates of speed. Such results, of course, are heavily dependent upon the method used to gain the increased rate. Simply reading more rapidly without actual improvement in basic reading habits usually results in lowered comprehension.

Factors that Reduce Reading Rate

Some of the facts which reduce reading rate: (a) limited perceptual span i.e., word-by-word reading; (b) slow perceptual reaction time, i.e., slowness of recognition and response to the material; (c) vocalization, including the need to vocalize in order to achieve comprehension; (d) faulty eye movements, including inaccuracy in placement of the page, in return sweep, in rhythm and regularity of movement, etc.; (e) regression, both habitual and as associated with habits of concentration; (f) faulty habits of attention and concentration, beginning with simple inattention during the reading act and faulty processes of retention; (g) lack of practice in reading, due simply to the fact that the person has read very little and has limited reading interests so that very little reading is practiced in the daily or weekly schedule; (h) fear of losing comprehension, causing the person to suppress his rate deliberately in the firm belief that comprehension is improved if he spends more time on the individual words; (i) habitual slow reading, in which the person cannot read faster because he has always read slowly, (j) poor evaluation of which aspects are important and which are unimportant; and (k) the effort to remember everything rather than to remember selectively.

Since these conditions act also to reduce comprehension increasing the reading rate through eliminating them is likely to result in increased comprehension as well. This is an entirely different matter from simply speeding up the rate of reading without reference to the conditions responsible for the slow rate. In fact, simply speeding the rate especially through forced acceleration, may actually result, and often does, in making the real reading problem more severe. In addition, forced acceleration may even destroy confidence in ability to read. The obvious solution, then is to increase rate as a part of a total improvement of the whole reading process. This is a function of special training programs in reading.

Basic Conditions for Increased Reading Rate

A well planned program prepares for maximum increase in rate by establishing the necessary conditions. Four basic conditions include:

    1. Have your eyes checked. Before embarking on a speed reading program, make sure that any correctable eye defects you may have are taken care of by checking with your eye doctor. Often, very slow reading is related to uncorrected eye defects.
    2. Eliminate the habit of pronouncing words as you read. If you sound out words in your throat or whisper them, you can read slightly only as fast as you can read aloud. You should be able to read most materials at least two or three times faster silently than orally. If you are aware of sounding or "hearing" words as you read, try to concentrate on key words and meaningful ideas as you force yourself to read faster.
    3. Avoid regressing (rereading). The average student reading at 250 words per minute regresses or rereads about 20 times per page. Rereading words and phrases is a habit which will slow your reading speed down to a snail's pace. Usually, it is unnecessary to reread words, for the ideas you want are explained and elaborated more fully in later contexts. Furthermore, the slowest reader usually regresses most frequently. Because he reads slowly, his mind has time to wander and his rereading reflects both his inability to concentrate and his lack of confidence in his comprehension skills.
    4. Develop a wider eye-span. This will help you read more than one word at a glance. Since written material is less meaningful if read word by word, this will help you learn to read by phrases or thought units.

Rate Adjustment

Poor results are inevitable if the reader attempts to use the same rate indiscriminately for a-1 types of material and for all reading purposes. He must learn to adjust his rate to his purpose in reading and to the difficulty of the material he is reading. This ranges from a maximum rate on easy, familiar, interesting material or in reading to gather information on a particular point, to minimal rate on material which is unfamiliar in content and language structure or which must be thoroughly digested. The effective reader adjusts his rate; the ineffective reader uses the same rate for all types of material.

Rate adjustment may be overall adjustment to the article as a whole, or internal adjustment within the article. Overall adjustment establishes the basic rate at which the total article is read; internal adjustment involves the necessary variations in rate for each varied part of the material. As an analogy, you plan to take a 100-mile mountain trip. Since this will be a relatively hard drive with hills, curves, and a mountain pass, you decide to take three hours for the total trip, averaging about 35 miles an hour. This is your overall rate adjustment. However, in actual driving you may slow down to no more than 15 miles per hour on some curves and hills, while speeding up to 50 miles per hour or more on relatively straight and level sections. This is your internal rate adjustment. There is no set rate, therefore, which the good reader follows inflexibly in reading a particular selection, even though he has set himself an overall rate for the total job.

Overall rate adjustment should be based on your reading plan, your reading purpose, and the nature and difficulty of the material. The reading plan itself should specify the general rate to be used. This is based on the total "size up". It may be helpful to consider examples of how purpose can act to help determine the rate to be used. To understand information, skim or scan at a rapid rate. To determine value of material or to read for enjoyment, read rapidly or slowly according to you feeling. To read analytically, read at a moderate pace to permit interrelating ideas. The nature and difficulty of the material requires an adjustment in rate in conformity with your ability to handle that type of material. Obviously, level of difficulty is highly relative to the particular reader. While Einstein's theories may be extremely difficult to most laymen, they may be very simple and clear to a professor of physics. Hence, the layman and the physics professor must make a different rate adjustment in reading the same material. Generally, difficult material will entail a slower rate; simpler material will permit a faster rate.

Internal rate adjustment involves selecting differing rates for parts of a given article. In general, decrease speed when you find the following (1) unfamiliar terminology not clear in context. Try to understand it in context at that point; otherwise, read on and return to it later; (2) difficult sentence and paragraph structure; slow down enough to enable you to untangle them and get accurate context for the passage; (3) unfamiliar or abstract concepts. Look for applications or examples of you own as well as studying those of the writer. Take enough time to get them clearly in mind; (4) detailed, technical material. This includes complicated directions, statements of difficult principles, materials on which you have scant background; (5) material on which you want detailed retention. In general, increase speed when you meet the following: (a) simple material with few ideas which are new to you; move rapidly over the familiar ones; spend most of your time on the unfamiliar ideas; (b) unnecessary examples and illustrations. Since these are included to clarify ideas, move over them rapidly when they are not needed; (c) detailed explanation and idea elaboration which you do not need, (d) broad, generalized ideas and ideas which are restatements of previous ones. These can be readily grasped, even with scan techniques.

In keeping your reading attack flexible, adjust your rate sensitivity from article to article. It is equally important to adjust you rate within a given article. Practice these techniques until a flexible reading rate becomes second nature to you.


In summary, evidence has been cited which seems to indicate a need for and value of a rapid rate of reading, while at the same time indicating the dangers of speed in reading, as such. We have attempted to point out the relationship between rate of reading and extent of comprehension, as well as the necessity for adjustment of reading rate, along with whole reading attack, to the type of material and the purposes of the reader. Finally, the factors which reduce rate were surveyed as a basis for pointing out that increase in rate should come in conjunction with the elimination of these retarding aspects of the reading process and as a part of an overall reading training program where increase in rate is carefully prepared for in the training sequence.

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