How to Read and Take Notes on Scientific Texts.

Step 1:  Try to see the big picture.

First, find a quiet spot, don’t use headphones, turn off music, no TV, get away from the computer and put that phone away!

Chapters are usually divided up into sections.  Read the entire section without stopping.  It is okay if you happen to read a sentence, even the first one and not understand it.  Keep going!  Too many times a student will sit blankly trying to get a full understanding from that first sentence.  Think of this step as your practice session.  Throughout the year, this reading will become easier for you, if you diligently work through this first step.

Once you are finished, take a moment to speak out loud what this section was about.  Try your best.  Just start talking.  For example, try this: “When I read this section I read about_______.”  Keep going.  Talk for a few minutes.  You can even record yourself in case you want to write it down as a summary statement in your notebook.


Step 2:  Analyze the figures. 

Once you have completed your reading, you should have an idea about what you will learn.  The next step is to look through the section at all the figures and tables.  Read the headings of the paragraphs again, the titles of the figures, the captions.  Then, try speaking out loud what each figure is trying to tell you.


Step 3:  Taking notes.

This step focuses on writing your notes.  At the end of each subsection or paragraph, write a summary statement noting the main idea.  Put the idea into your own words.  If it is easier for you, record this step as well, then write your notes from what you have listened to.  Make sure to note all vocabulary words.  Highlight in your notebook, use color.  Try drawing your own picture and labeling it instead of writing a statement.  Make a chart or a table.  The point of this step is to work with the information to make it your own.


When studying, take breaks every 20 to 30 minutes.  Nothing big, don’t get into something else.  Just enough to let your brain take a rest and refresh it for the next session.

And let’s not kid ourselves.  Reading is hard.  And reading scientific texts is arguably the hardest.  But with practice, it will come easier.  And that is the point of assigned readings.  To help you practice and become better at understanding what you are reading.

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