I sometimes wonder how my education would’ve been shaped had I not developed a love of reading at an early age. To be honest, I think — well, actually, I’m sure — that I was lucky because I can’t imagine how much more difficult other subjects would’ve been otherwise.
Back then, it was just me, several books, and my imagination to keep me company. When I transitioned into the school setting, the same principles applied, except with textbooks. The story lines that I had become so accustomed to, however, became more convoluted, the “story” diluted under a mirage of facts and information that made the actual narrative more dry and boring than it actually was. The challenge then became to find that narrative — to discover the core of what the textbook was trying to convey.
Admittedly, this task was daunting and, if we’re being honest, not exactly my idea of “fun.” Still, developing a love of reading allowed me to see textbooks as long, detailed storybooks rather than intimidating words on paper, which made digesting information a lot easier. This applied (and still applies) to textbooks on every subject I have come across to this day, from history to math to science to [insert your topic of choice here].
In history, which is essentially a compilation of various narratives, narratives are easy to identify but harder to keep track of. That said, the best advice I was given in regard to history was to know how the geography of the world was changing as events were occurring. It sounds odd, but geography tells a lot about what is going on in the world and is often one of the explanations for world events. Geography gives insight as to:
1. The religious practices of an area.
2. The structures built in response to the environment.
3. The political system of an area.
4. Even the societal norms of an area.
Additional tips: Placing yourself in the shoes of those you are learning about will help — a lot.
Identifying the cause-and-effect will help you create a mental timeline from which to keep track of events, which will make the whole process of memorizing historical information in context easier.
Annotating should be emotional and dynamic — don’t just limit it to summarizing information and asking questions. If you’re learning a theory that does not make sense to you or if you’re learning about an event that you believe occurred for reasons other than what the textbook provides, go ahead and criticize what you’re learning about.
If something makes you angry, write out why it makes you angry, though. Always have an explanation and not just an expletive to convey your feelings. Also, doodle on the side if it helps.
Being able to make direct commentary on what you’re learning is empowering and makes reading/learning the material less tedious.
With math, try to find the logic — the “storyline” behind certain concepts (i.e., try to make sense of their definitions) and what those do apart and in unison (try to understand them in/out of context).
This will be particularly useful when it comes to word problems, which are especially dependent on reading comprehension. If you just memorize formulas without ever understanding why they are the way they are, you will end up like this when it comes to higher-level math.
If the textbook or your teacher/professor doesn’t do a good job of expanding things, then search the internet for videos with explanations (like the ones suggested here)!
With science, which is word-/concept-heavy, understanding processes as stories helps a lot.
The idea of cause-and-effect is important here and I have found that asking myself along the way why certain things can and can’t happen helps with creating a narrative to accompany processes.
For example, knowing that a hydrophobic lipid can’t dissolve in water is great but knowing that, in general, a hydrophobic lipid can’t dissolve in water because it is impossible by definition (“hydrophobic,” after all, means that it can’t mix with water) and because water is polar while lipids are non-polar, is even better because you can apply that to various scenarios.
And then this will happen:
Will it take some time? Yes, of course it will. But it will take longer to go back and learn everything you neglected to learn earlier when trying to make sense of higher-level courses. Trust me when I say that developing a love of reading — or at least learning how to read effectively — will make almost everything easier to grasp.