Monday, February 15, 2016

Reading the Textbook Effectively in an IB Class

A student asked me for strategies today on figuring out what was important from the reading. I stated that I would personally use a four part strategy. If you are not currently doing one of the steps below as you read through a class textbook, you probably aren't maximizing your absorption of the material or are spending longer than you need to fully grasp the topics.

1.  Read through the chapter in its entirety. 

You never want to skip any reading altogether. Read through the entire chapter once from start to finish without stopping very much. Take it all in at once to get the broadest overview possible and try to absorb as many details as you can without slowing down too much.

In fact, if you have the stamina, time, and opportunity, I highly recommend that you read through the entire textbook as quickly as you can from cover to cover early in your class. For me, that means trying to finish the textbook in a couple weeks at the very beginning of the semester or even over summer if possible before returning to school.

2. Be able to verbally summarize all major chapter headings.

This means looking at the big section headings and then shutting the book and quickly summarizing what you believe are the most relevant pieces of that section. Of course, if there are subheadings, your summary should probably include them. An example from the economics book would be something like this:
  • Section heading - 2.3 Determinants of demand
    • Subsection heading - Shifts and movements along a demand curve
    • Subsection heading - Non-price determinants of demand
Your verbally summary of the section heading above should certainly include the two subsection headings and how they relate to the major section heading. There may be even smaller sub-headings under the subsections, but those details can probably be reconstructed if you understand the major sections.

Never memorize what needs to be understood!

3. Memorize definitions and diagrams.

Most IB textbooks, including the economics course, will include many definitions. Most exams require you to be able to define them from recall. This means spending time with flashcards or whatever preferred method you have at your disposal. The point is simple - definitions are easy points, but require you to grind a bit. Do it.

The same is true of diagrams. If they show up on tests and you miss them, it means you simply didn't spend enough time working with them. They are easy points.

I relate this type of rote memorization to being in good cardiovascular shape. Not everyone will perform highly on the evaluation and synthesis required during exams, just like not everyone will be talented enough to be a starter on the varsity team, but everyone can memorize definitions of terms and show up to their sport in good cardiovascular shape. It just takes effort.

4. Be able to provide examples in real life of major concepts.

This might take some extra research or investigation beyond on your textbook. Some concepts will be elaborated on in the textbook and include examples, such as China having a lower Green GDP measurement than traditional GDP because of the destructive nature of China's economy relative to the environment. When these examples pop up in the textbook, steal them.

However, not every major concept will be served up with an example. If you finish learning a major concept and can summarize the theory, definitions, and diagrams associated with it, but cannot provide an example from your own head, you will most likely miss points on your exams. In addition to missing points, you probably won't fully understand a concept until you can attach positive and negative examples to it. This means you'll have to investigate on your own. Look through the news, watch videos, ask your friends, or discuss with your teacher. Just make sure you have an example or two before you move on.

That's it.

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