An electronic guide to some of the best ways to study
Academic material needs to be read for understanding, not entertainment: satisfaction and enjoyment will follow.
- 3.1 You are here to read for a degree - you will need to do some reading as well as attending lectures! Don't put it off until later … it will never get done if you do. Buy all the first and second level core books yourself (perhaps second-hand – you'll be able to sell them on later), but share/borrow more advanced books.
- 3.2 The syllabuses (available from the lecturer, General Office or Brunel's Web pages) usually contain reading lists. You will rarely need to read the whole book but you will need to know where to find the information you need. Very few modules follow a book completely in set order, so learn to use the contents and index pages effectively.
- 3.3 Mathematics, science and technology modules generally require far less reading than most other subjects. They stress mastery of a few concepts instead. On the other hand, books can and do help by giving an alternative view, extra examples, different proofs etc. Seek to understand, rather than memorise, facts. The only exceptions here are that you do need to memorise a few key formulae and all definitions (exactly); for example, you may need to memorise the definition of continuity. That's only a start though - you still need to understand and be able to apply each part of the definition.
- 3.4 Books do not read themselves! Buy a book that your existing knowledge will allow you to understand, even if it is "elementary", and study it. Do not ignore less advanced books, such as maths books for engineers, which are often a good start, since they stress the main points and give lots of examples; follow this with the more advanced set books which will give you the detail and level of treatment required. Advanced texts may look good on your bookshelf but are of most use later when you have already studied the topics covered in class and want a reference text for e.g. project work.
- 3.5 There is a good deal of elementary mathematics material on the web; the best place to start is http://www.mathcentre.ac.uk/
- 3.6 For content-rich material with a lot of facts/data, it may help to scan the relevant sections first to get the gist of them, and see in broad terms the logical structure of the content i.e. what depends on what, what follows from what, etc. However, scanning and speed reading are unlikely to work for concept-rich material, such as pages of mathematics, unless you already know quite a lot about the material already. You can also try blanking out some of the material with a sheet of paper, to focus your attention. Dyslexics sometimes find coloured filters place over the page are helpful.
- 3.7 Read the relevant section carefully, concentrating on the main ideas and subsidiary points. Jot down the main pointers in the argument very briefly. Study the diagrams carefully. Note that it is unrealistic to expect to read more than a few pages of content-rich material or new mathematics at one sitting, unless you are already familiar with the general topic and are revising. If you get stuck you should; go back a few pages to see what you are missing, have another look at the contents page to see where your reading is leading and where it came from, and finally seek help from your lecturer.
- 3.8 Make some notes about the material to aid your understanding, but do not simply copy things from the book which you don't understand or to have as a record of the material (use a scanner or photocopier for that if you do not have the book). File the notes you have made with other notes from the same topic. Use post-it notes rather than highlighter pens to mark text, so that you can change your mind later.
- 3.9It's important to do something with what you have read! Rather than endlessly re-reading in the hope that it will go in somehow, try a few of questions, noting anything you are not clear about so that you can ask people (friends, staff, maths support staff etc.). You need to get your hands dirty with the content - if you really do this, then it will go in. There's no other way - learning does require engagement and it's generally pretty hard.
- 3.10Concentrate on what is relevant for your purpose, as it is inefficient to read a whole book when all you need is information from a chapter. Set manageable targets for your reading, e.g. a section each time. Keeping your purpose in mind is especially important when using the web; there is always another tempting link to follow and you could end up wasting a lot of time.