Understanding Academic Text

Understanding academic text is possible through making some minor adjustment to one’s reading style. In this post, we will look at the following ideas for improving academic reading comprehension.

  • Reading the chapter titles
  • Reading the chapter objectives
  • Reading the headings in the chapters
  • Examine the Visuals
  • Make some questions
  • Now read & answer the questions

Read the Chapter Titles

You read the chapter title for the same reason as the preface. It gives you the big picture from which you develop a framework for placing the ideas of the author. I am always amazed how many times I ask my students what the title of the chapter is and they have no clue. This is because they were so determined to read that they never set things in place to understand.

For ESL readers, it is critical that they know the meaning of every word in the title. Again this has to do with the importance of the title for shaping the direction of the reading. If the student gets lost in the details this is where teaching support is there for. However, if they have no idea what the chapter is about there is little even the be3st teacher can do.

Read Chapter Objectives

The objectives of a chapter are a promise of what the author will write about. The student needs to know what the promises are so they know what to expect. This is similar to driving somewhere and expecting to see certain landmarks along the way. When you see these landmarks you know you are getting close to the destination.

The objectives provided the big picture of the chapter in a way that the preface provides the big picture of the entire book. Again, it is common for students to skip this aspect of reading comprehension.

Read the Chapter Headings

By now you probably know why to read the chapter headings. If not, it is because the chapter headings tell the student what to expect in a particular section of the chapter. They serve as a local landmark or a localized purpose.

For an extremely efficient (or perhaps lazy) writer, the objectives and the headings of a chapter will be exactly the same with perhaps slight rewording. This is extremely beneficial for readers because not only do they see the objectives at the beginning but the see them stated again as headings in the chapter.

Examine the Visuals

Visuals are used to illustrate ideas in the text. For now, the student simply wants to glance at them. Being familiar with the visuals now will be useful when the student wants to understand them when reading.

When looking at a visual, here are some things to look for

  • Title
  • author
  • date
  • what’s being measured
  • scale (units of measurement)

For an initial superficial glance, this is more than enough

Make Questions, Read, and Answer 

After examining the text, the student should have questions about what the text is about. Now they should write down what they want to know after examining the various characteristics of the chapter and then they begin to read so they can answer their questions

Examine End of the Chapter Tools

After reading the chapter, many authors provide some sort of study tools at the end. I find it most useful to read the chapter before looking too closely at this information. The reason for this is that the summary and questions at the end indicate what the author thinks is important about the chapter. It’s hard to appreciate this if you did not read the chapter yet.

Knowing what is happening at the end of the chapter helps in reinforcing what you read. You can quiz yourself about the information and use this information to prepare for any examines.

Conclusion

Previewing a chapter is a strategy for understanding a chapter. The ideas a student reads about must have a framework in which the pieces can fit. This framework can be developed through examining the chapter before reading it in detail.

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