Reading ain’t always a fun experience. Studying written material sometimes requires focus and perhaps even mental determination to parse dry, factual information. Here are some study tools to help get through such material in an effective way.
Studying dry, written material can reduce even the most battle hardened student of any age to despondency. But in the interested of improving our knowledge and self development it is sometimes necessary to plough through such information and hopefully come out the other side a bit wiser. I found a few modern tools to be of benefit in this process. They can help get through material in a timely manner and ensure the most important items are noted for thorough understanding and internalisation.
A Pomodoro App
To maintain focus is it helpful to concentrate in short bursts, take a break and repeat. Such an approach is inherent in the Pomodoro method. This method proposes to focus on an activity for 25minutes, take a break for 5 minutes and to follow with another 25 minute burst. Time tracking can be done either with an app on your computer or mobile device or you can go old school with a kitchen timer. Either way, you trigger the timer, it counts down from 25minuted and you focus intently during that time.
This is helpful for study to inject a sense of urgency in getting through the material. There is no procrastination here. You see the pages before you and beside it the timer counting down! Even if the material cannot be finished inside the first 25 minutes this method can help focus one’s mind on the task at hand.
A reading pointer or guide
Having triggered some action in getting through the material you now need to make consistent steady progress through the material. No going back, no losing position and ensuring appropriate time for it to be processed in your mind. Note the word processed, in this instance we need only understand the importance of the words/sentence/paragraph that is being covered but not necessarily having completely understood it nor memorised it.
One of the techniques employed in speed reading is the use of a reading pointer or guide than moves down the page as you read. This may be tracing the tip of a pen across the words or dragging a page down the text as you proceed. Either way it helps ensure constant and consistent progress through the material and helps prevent going back over the material or losing position. You may be thinking this is not exactly a “Tech” Tool, but hey, think of it as retro. Pens are making a come back!
Going through the material quickly, it is often difficult to comprehend and digest it. As advocated in the previous section, I would suggest to merely understand the relevance and importance of the particular information being covered at that point. When we cover sentences/paragraphs that are important we need to flag this information to allow a second review of this most critical information and to allow it to be better understood and internalised. To enable that, I would advocate the use of a mindmap. Mindmaps are a great visual tool for taking notes, especially from E-Books. Typically a mindmap is created around a central topic with related ideas and notes radiating from this central topic. Each of those ideas/notes can also be broken down to separate elements and in doing so we create a hierarchy of noted points from the central theme of the mindmap. An example of this is shown below.
Here are a couple of preferred ways of using mindmaps for recording study notes.
For IPad users you could certainly do worse than this excellent mindmapping app. Check out the full Review of IthoughtsHD here. For taking study notes I use these three approaches
- Noting short bullet points from the E-Book: swipe from the book reading app to IThoughtsHD with the three finger swipe. Add a new branch/sub branch as necessary and either type of paste in the bullet point.
- Text passages: When a bullet point is not suffient and needs elaboration copy the E-Book text, do a 3 finger swipe to the IthoughtsHD, pull down the note pad and paste. Then the additional text will be easily accessible for the entered bullet point.
- Pictures/Diagrams: As they say a picture is worth a thousand words. So, when a thousand words is not desirable, take a screenshot of the E-Book. Zoom as necessary to get the picture framed and edit if really necessary. Swipe across to IthoughtsHD and attach the screenshot as a file to the mindmap entry.
Freemind is a lightweight mindmapping app that runs on Java. If reading an E-Book on the PC, notes and pictures can also be copied across into the mind maps created on Freemind. For most efficient utilisation use on a two monitor setup or if you are lucky enough to have one of those cinematic widescreen jobs – also fine.
I hope you found the tips here helpful to get through the mountain of dry reading material. Give them a go and feel free to comment on any other techniques you find useful.