One way to make sure you’re getting all you can from your assignments is to brush up on your reading comprehension skills. There are myriad methods to promote and engage active reading; we've broken down one method below and provided prompts to assist. Active reading strategies and tools bolster your reading of college materials and the questions/prompts provide a framework to dialogue or "talk" with your reading material.
Previewing enables you to develop a set of expectations about the scope and aim of the text. These very preliminary impressions offer you a way to focus your reading. For instance:
What do I think I will learn from this text?
What predictions do I have about this reading?
Do I know something about this topic?
Take the subtitle of the section (or the first sentence of a paragraph) and turn it into a question. For example, if you're reading part of a chapter called "Functions of the Spinal Cord," ask yourself, "What are the functions of the spinal cord?"
Determine Importance and Make Connections: Active readers look for things that help them identify big ideas and why they are important such as: titles/headings, bold/italicized print, pictures and captions, graphs and charters, chapter objectives and questions. Annotate and make your reading thinking-intensive from start to finish. Annotating puts you actively and immediately in a "dialogue” with an author and the issues and ideas you encounter in a written text. It's also a way to have an ongoing conversation with yourself as you move through the text and to record what that encounter was like for you. Here's how:
What is the most important information?
What does this mean? . . . I wonder why . . . ?, I wonder how . . .?, I wonder if . . .?
Why is the writer drawing that conclusion?
This idea is similar to . . .?
Why am I being asked to read this text? etc.
Connections -- That reminds me of . . .?, This made me think of . . .? This is different from . . .?
So far I've learned . . .?
Summarize & Analyze: Take the information apart, look at its parts, and then try to put it back together again in language that is meaningful to you. The best way to determine that you’ve really gotten the point is to be able to state it in your own words.
A Summary Outline of a text is a version of annotating, and can be done quite informally in the margins of the text and enables you to see the skeleton of an argument: the thesis, the first point and evidence (and so on), through the conclusion. With weighty or difficult readings, this skeleton may not be obvious and a formal summary needed. Summarizing accomplishes something similar, but in sentence and paragraph form, and with the connections between ideas made explicit.
Analyzing adds an evaluative component to the summarizing process—it requires you not just to restate main ideas, but also to test the logic, credibility, and emotional impact of an argument. In analyzing a text, you reflect upon and decide how effectively (or poorly) its argument has been made. Ask questions to dig deeper into the meaning of the text.
Synthesize: Combine this new information with existing knowledge in order to form new ideas or interpretations. Use contextualization to assist with this process by re-viewing a text you've encountered, framed by its historical, cultural, material, or intellectual circumstances. View the reading and your active reading responses through the lens of your own experience. Your understanding of the words on the page and their significance is always shaped by what you have come to know and value from living in a particular time and place.
Compare and Contrast: Set course readings against each other to determine their relationships (hidden or explicit).
An inference is defined as a conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reasoning. Often when we read, we must infer the author's purpose based on the evidence provided to come to a reasonable conclusion. Many times we're asked to infer the purpose of answer to a question based on a reading passage - below are some tips as well as a short practice passage:
Step 1: Identify an Inference
First, you'll need to determine whether or not you're actually being asked to make an inference on a reading test. The most obvious questions will have the words "suggest," "imply" or "infer" right in the tag like these:
Some questions, however, will not come right out and ask you to infer. You'll have to actually infer that you need to make an inference about the passage. Sneaky, huh? Here are a few that require inferencing skills, but don't use those words exactly.
Now that you're certain you have an inference question on your hands, and you know exactly what an inference is, you'll need to let go of your prejudices and prior knowledge and use the passage to prove that the inference you select is the correct one. Inferences on a multiple-choice exam are different from those in real life. Out in the real world, if you make an educated guess, your inference could still be incorrect. But on a multiple-choice exam, your inference will be correct because you'll use the details in the passage to prove it. You have to trust that the passage offers you the truth in the setting of the test and that one of the answer choices provided is correct without stepping too far outside the realm of the passage.
Your third step is to start hunting for clues – supporting details, vocabulary, character's actions, descriptions, dialogue, and more – to prove one of the inferences listed below the question. Take this question and text, for example:
The widow Elsa was as complete a contrast to her third bridegroom, in everything but age, as can be conceived. Compelled to relinquish her first marriage after her husband died in the war, she married a man twice her years to whom she became an exemplary wife despite their having nothing in common, and by whose death she was left in possession of a splendid fortune, though she gave it away to the church. Next, a southern gentleman, considerably younger than herself, succeeded to her hand, and carried her to Charleston, where, after many uncomfortable years, she found herself again a widow. It would have been remarkable if any feeling had survived through such a life as Elsa's; it could not but be crushed and killed by the early disappointment of her first groom's demise, the icy duty of her second marriage, and the unkindness of her third husband, which had inevitably driven her to connect the idea of his death with that of her comfort.
The last step to making a correct inference on a multiple-choice test is to narrow down the answer choices. Using the clues from the passage, we can infer that nothing much was "satisfactory" to Elsa about her marriages, which gets rid of Choice B.
Choice A is also incorrect because although the marriages certainly seem uncomfortable based on the clues, they were not well-suited to her as she had nothing in common with her second husband and wanted her third husband to die.
Choice D is also incorrect because nothing is stated or implied in the passage to prove that Elsa believed her marriages to be worth it in some way; in fact, we can infer that it wasn't worth it to her at all because she gave away the money from her second husband.
So, we have to believe that Choice C is the best – the marriages were cold and damaging. The passage states explicitly that her marriage was an "icy duty" and her third husband was "unkind." We also know that they were damaging because her feelings had been "crushed and killed" by her marriages.
To get really good at making inferences, you'll need to practice
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