Many students think that reading simply means having the ability to recognize graphic symbols (letters) and transform them into sounds with ease and in a certain rhythm. But reading is not just that. If you read too slowly, in a mechanical way, without focusing or remembering what you read, you still haven’t acquired the minimum skills for studying through reading. As Mialaret states: “Knowing how to read is being able to transform a written message in an acoustic message following very precise laws; it means to understand the content of the written message and be able to judge and appreciate its aesthetic value.” All the authors who have approached this topic signaled that it is essential to understand what you read and identify the main ideas, judge or evaluate the contents of the text, retain the information properly and relate it to previous knowledge that has direct or indirect connection, and, finally, memorize and recall it promptly when necessary. Consequently, knowing how to read means recognizing the main ideas, catching the most relevant details and make a critical judgment over the text being read.
The first objective: finding the main idea
When you start reading a book, a chapter, a section of a chapter or a paragraph, you have to be aware that each of these fragments of text encompasses a central idea, that goes from general – expressed usually in the title of the book – to particular – as it appears in each paragraph.
Regardless of the study book you have in your hands, you will see that the main idea or content is divided and subdivided in chapters, the chapters in sections and the sections in paragraphs. Thus, there is an entire chain of ideas, on different levels.
- The main idea of the paragraph. It is very important to find the main idea of each paragraph, because these ideas taken together will compose, form and complete the main idea of the chapter or the sections in which it is divided.
Notice that in each paragraph, the main idea appears in a more or less clear manner, although there must always be a manner to formulate it in a clear, unambiguous way. If you are familiar with the author’s writing style, it will be easy to discover his or her way of putting the main idea at the beginning, at the end or in the middle of the paragraph. However, the main idea is often not clearly expressed, and must be identified from the flow of sentences. By asking different questions about what you read and have read, you will manage to discover the main idea by yourself, and express it in your own words.
The most repeated word, even in synonymous forms, will often contain the main idea.
– You will find the secondary or complementary ideas in the words or phrases directly related with the main ones; they can express contrary ideas, give more details, contain more specific or clarifying aspects or offer further arguments in support of the main idea. The student performs his intellectual activity fundamentally through reading. For centuries to come, reading will continue to be the central source of information for all educated people, and making the most of what we read directly contributes to continually increasing our knowledge, developing our ability to analyze and synthesize, stimulate critical judgment, improve our creative imagination and being able to express ourselves easily and appropriately both in spoken and in written form. Reading well is, basically, the best way to learn and study efficiently.
To sum up:
- Before reading a subject, prepare your mind by asking questions about it and looking for similarities and connections with other subjects you know more about, in order to raise your interest in the topic.
- Read the text quickly at first, to obtain a general idea in regard to what it is about and its main contents.
- Read again, this time thoughtfully and attentively, underlining the main ideas, identifying the connection between them and them passing through the secondary or complementary ideas.
- Make sure you discovered and understood the main idea of a paragraph and, from time to time, make critical reflections over what you have read.
- At the same time, make a mental schema of the contents, arranged by their importance; then, put this schema in written form.
- Formulate different questions about what you read and jot down the answers, checking later to see whether the answers offered are correct or not.
- Try to read more and more rapidly, without losing your concentration or attention. Leave all redundant information aside and focus all your attention on understanding the ideas.
- Think critically, take your conclusions beyond the limits of the text you have read, take frequent marginal notes, making personal observations in reference to the contents of the text.
- Search for more information, enrich it and complete it with further reading, explanations of the teacher and specialty books.
- Read with the clear intention to put the new knowledge into practice, and to always remember it easily.