Reading Your Textbook  

Young woman reading a textbookThe question of how to read a textbook may seem straight forward – you just open your book and read. However, there are strategies you can use that will help you get better results from your reading and save you time when preparing for tests. Because your reading is more focused, you get a lot more out of the time spent and you don’t waste time on things that are unimportant.

The best way to use this resource is to apply it step-by-step to a reading assignment you need to do. So, get out a course textbook and get ready to use it. These strategies will work with both print and online textbooks.

Here are the steps for reading a chapter or section of a textbook:

  1. Think about your purpose for reading
  2. Pre-read or skim the chapter assigned
  3. Divide the chapter into sections
  4. Read actively
  5. Produce study material
  6. Study the material you’ve produced

In the following sections, each step in the process is described. Prompts in each section encourage you try the strategies by practicing the steps one at a time to help you understand and evaluate the usefulness of each step.



1. Think about Your Purpose for Reading

By thinking about your purpose in doing the reading, you can narrow down the focus of your reading and thereby limit what you spend time on. What kind of tests or exams will you need to write?

  • multiple choice? You will need the ability to recognize the information on the test. You will not need to be able to recall the information on your own.
  • essay tests? You will primarily need to recall main ideas. The big picture will be most important.
  • application tests? This is a test where you have to apply knowledge more than just repeat back what you’ve learned. Application tests include most tests in Math as well as tests with case studies such as you get in Business or Nursing. For such tests, you not only need a full understanding of the information, but you also need practice in applying what you know.
  • a mixture of the above?

If you don’t know anything about the tests you’ll write in the course, it’s worthwhile to do some detective work.  If you’ve already written a test for the instructor, that can give you valuable information about the kinds of questions asked and the test format the instructor is likely to use. You can also ask the instructor about the format of upcoming tests.

Consider your purpose in reading the textbook you’ve chosen to use for this activity. What kinds of quizzes, assignments and tests will you need to write? How should that affect what you need to get out of your text?



2. Pre-read the chapter

Spend about five minutes looking over the chapter and at the items below and consider:

  • What you already know about the topics being discussed. This provides hooks for your memory. It is by connecting new ideas to old ones that you can remember the new information. Your prior knowledge might be academic or it might be from life experience.
  • The organization of the material; get a sense of how the reading will progress. Knowing where you are going in reading helps you organize the information in your head. This organization aids understanding and memory.
  • Your purpose in reading the text.

Here are the things you should look at in your chapter. Not all of the things on the list are in every chapter, but if they’re there, take a quick look at them.

  • the title of the chapter
  • the introduction
  • the chapter objectives (either in the text or in your course pack)
  • the chapter headings and sub-headings
  • any diagrams, graphs, pictures, etc.
  • any marginal notes or boldface terms
  • the chapter summary or review of main points
  • the list of key terms
  • the chapter review questions


Open your text to the next chapter you need to read for your course. Now, look at all the items from the previous list which are included in the chapter. As you look:

  • consider what you already know about the topics presented
  • notice the organization of the chapter
  • think about what kind of test you’ll need to write on the chapter

With a classmate or peer tutor, discuss what you have learned about the chapter



3. Divide the chapter into sections 

Section the chapter using the headings and sub-headings to guide you. Sections can vary in length, but the best is probably if the sections are about 2 to 3 pages long. Go on to steps four and five with the first section. Then move on to the following sections in the same way.

Look over the first part of the chapter and identify the first section you will work on.



4. Read Actively

Create questions

  • Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper. Write your questions down on the left-hand side.
  • Look at the headings, sub-headings, margin notes and bold-face items, and think of questions that you think will be answered in the section. For example, if a sub-heading in a Marketing text under the major heading of Persuasion is Testimonials, a student might make questions like: What is a testimonial? How does a testimonial persuade?  
  • Consider the chapter objectives and/or review questions you pre-read. Do these suggest other questions about this section? 

Read the section, looking for answers to the questions you identified

  • Don’t get bogged down trying to understand every single thing; just focus on answering your questions. Skim stuff that does not relate to your questions.
  • Use a highlighter or pencil to mark the answers to your questions or make notes on the right-hand side of the paper you wrote the questions on.
  • Monitor yourself for losing focus as you read. If you notice your mind has drifted away from the reading, make a mark on the top corner of your book, and get back to the reading. Using this strategy, you will find that the number of marks reduces over time.
  • Take regular short breaks. Don’t try to do a marathon reading session; that’s not very productive. A five-minute break every half hour is a good rule of thumb.
  • Read sitting at a desk or table. It is much harder to focus if you are lying down or in a soft chair. 

Start with the first section in your chapter. Create questions and record them on a piece of paper. Then read the section looking for answers to your questions; either highlight the answers or take notes on the answers in your own words. See the next section (Produce Study Material) for more details on highlighting and taking notes.



5. Produce Study Material 

If you’ve followed steps one to four, you have already begun to produce study material. There are a number of types of study material that you can create; you need to consider which types suit your own style of learning as well as which are going to work best for the type of material you are trying to learn. Here are some options: 

Highlight text and use marginal notes

Highlight answers to your questions. Put notes in the margins beside the highlighted bits. These notes should be questions or words that suggest a question. For example, if some highlighted bits suggest reasons for animal extinction, you might write three reasons for animal extinction in the margin. If the term metamorphosis is defined, you might write Define metamorphosis or What is metamorphosis?

Take notes on the section

This is similar to highlighting and using marginal notes, but it is done on separate paper and in your own words. This may seem more time consuming, but by putting the ideas in your own words, you make the ideas a lot more memorable.

A good way to make notes is to use a split-page system, drawing a line down the middle of your page. On the left, you record questions (like the marginal notes described above). On the right, note the answers in your own words. This creates a good study tool for later.

Create graphic organizers

Graphic organizers are strategies for presenting information in a visual form. They include things like charts, timelines, graphs, process diagrams, classification trees, diagrams and mind maps.  

The important benefit of graphic organizers is that they look at the big picture and they encourage you to see the relationships between the pieces of information you need to learn. This aids memory.

Produce brief written summaries

Summaries are another way to look at the big picture. For each section that you read, write one to three sentences in your own words, summarizing the key ideas you discovered in the reading.  

Produce at least two kinds of study material on the section you have read. If the chapter continues on the same basic topic, you may not want to produce graphic organizers until you have worked on more sections of the chapter. Continue on with your reading assignment, section by section, until you have completed it. Then produce any further study material you think would be useful. Get feedback from your tutor on the study material you have produced.



6. Study the Material You’ve Produced

Review your notes and other materials

Cover the information. Look at the marginal notes or questions and try to think of the answer. Then consult the highlighted text or your notes to check if you got the answer right.

Think of questions you could be asked about the information in the organizers and answer the questions out loud.

Read your summaries out loud. Think of exam questions that could be asked in relation to the summaries and answer them.

Plan time to study strategically

It is best to study material the first time within 24 hours of when you produced it. This makes a big difference to how much you remember. After that, the more often you review, the better you’ll remember the material. The best course of action would probably be to review all the material weekly. Minimally, you should also review it a week after producing it and again prior to writing your exams.

Within a day of completing the reading assignment, review the study material you produced. Plan when you will review it again. 


Printable pdf: PDF iconReading Your Textbook

Taking Notes in Class

Taking good lecture notes is essential in college-level courses. Your notes are a written record of lecture material.  The physical act of notetaking helps you start to put information into your memory as an active way for your brain to process the information.  

These strategies work well for both synchronous and recorded lectures online. If lectures are recorded, make note of questions you have while taking notes to ask during instructor office hours.  

Select the strategies that you would like to try out and remember that notetaking is a skill that can be improved through better technique and with practice. 

Before Class - Preparing to take notes 

These pre-class preparation steps are especially important for classes that provide a great deal of challenging new content. These steps will help you take better notes in class: 

  • Review your course outline to see what the topic of the lecture will be and start anticipating what might be discussed in class. 

  • Skim over your notes from the previous class to refresh your memory and get mentally warmed-up for the new material to come. 

  • Read your assigned chapter before class. Notice the new concepts, and especially the new terminology that you will be discussing in class so that you can spell/write the new terms effectively while taking notes.   

  • * If you do not have time to read the entire chapter or all the assigned pages, skim the text for an overview of the topics and core concepts, and to identify key terms. 

During the Lecture - Tips for taking notes in class 

  • Date your notes in case they get out of order, and so you can match your notes to the course outline the instructor handed out on the first day. 

  • Write on the front side of your paper only.  This keeps notes cleaner and easier to study from so you can spread them out in front of you. 

  • Adjust your notetaking to the type of lecture your instructor gives.  Three examples are listed at the end of this resource.  

  • Listen for the main ideas and core concepts covered in a lecture and note these as headings.   

  • Instructors often give clues when they state main ideas or important points.  Some of the more common clues are:  

  • Introductions and/or summaries given at the start or end of class, such as “Today we will cover . . .” 

  • Material written on the board 

  • Repetition - the same idea is presented several times 

  • Emphasis - this can be judged by a louder tone of voice, slowing down and emphasizing a point, stronger gestures, and/or the amount of time a teacher spends on the topic 

  • Word signals; e.g., “It is important to note that...” 

  • DO NOT try to write down everything that is said as you will get left behind.   

  • use your own words to reduce and summarize information 

  • use abbreviations and symbols  

  • write phrases instead of full sentences 

  • Write down enough information so that you can understand your notes later.   

  • Leave space in your notes: 

  • between ideas or topics to allow for room for making your notes more complete when you edit later. 

  • when you miss information.  Fill in the missing information later by asking a friend, checking your textbook, or approaching the teacher by asking during the lecture, after class or during office hours.  

  • Use the PowerPoint notes that the instructor provides for a lecture as a reference, not a substitute for your own notes.   

  • If the lecture is recorded, take advantage of the ability to pause, rewind and clarify.

After Class - Editing your notes 

  • Take time to edit your notes soon after the class.  This will help you fill in gaps, identify where you still have questions, and have better notes to study from.  Editing your notes also helps to learn the material more deeply.  

  • Some students recopy all their notes–to make them neater and as a way of studying.  Instead, spend the time editing, noticing and highlighting main ideas and key points for emphasis, and rewriting only those points that need more clarification.  

  • The best way to use your notes to learn more deeply is to view them at least 3 times before a test, once when you edit, once again at the end of a week when you review what you covered during the week, and a third time when you study for the test.   

  • Anticipate and write possible exam questions as you edit your notes.  Look at your notes and ask yourself “What question does this information answer?”  to create a question-answer system for studying. 

  • Use the bottom section of your page to summarize the main concepts and most important details.  You can do this when you edit your notes soon after the lecture. 


Printable pdf: PDF iconTaking Notes in Class

Creating a Study Schedule

Succeeding in college classes relies on time management skills. Creating a weekly study schedule helps meeting assignment deadlines and study goals, as well as integrating other priorities into your week.  By creating a plan and a routine for yourself, your study time becomes more efficient.

Write in weekly and other fixed activities

  • Write in synchronous meeting times and instructor office hours.
  • Write in any other activities that do not change from week to week (e.g. work or volunteer activities, study groups, set mealtimes, exercise classes).
  • Note any weekly due dates for asynchronous course participation (e.g. discussion postings due, lectures posted).

Add study times

  • Designate two to three hours of study time for every hour of class time; you can adjust this later to your learning needs and the needs of the courses you are taking.
    • e.g if you are taking a 3-credit asynchronous course, you should schedule three hours of class time and an additional 9-12 hours of study time.
  • Schedule study time right before or right after any synchronous classes or lectures, if possible.
  • Spread study time out across the week in 1- or 2-hour blocks. Create patterns to create routines.
  • Schedule several study blocks labeled “Flex” for when more study time is needed than anticipated.

Schedule time for other responsibilities

  • Add time for priorities for the week for family, social and self-care. 
  • Plan time for doing household chores, laundry, paying bills etc.
  • If there is no time left after scheduling your fixed commitments and study time, look for ways to reduce time in other areas to find a comfortable balance.  Consider meeting with a counsellor or academic advisor to talk about balancing your work-life commitments.  

Make the study schedule work for you

  • Be realistic about your schedule (and kind to yourself).
  • Commit to following your study schedule as closely as possible for a week.  
  • Note on your schedule throughout the week where the plan is not working. Reward successes.
  • At the beginning of each following week, make a new copy of your schedule.  This will allow you to adjust areas that didn’t work for you the week before, as well as adjust times for work and other fluctuating commitments.
  • Each week, review, evaluate, and adjust your schedule by moving study blocks, adding or deleting study blocks, etc. Creating patterns will create routines.
  • Keep modifying your schedule until it works for you 80% of the time, with study blocks staying as close as possible to fixed weekly times.
  • Once you have found a routine that works for you become more flexible.   If you have a day when your study plans simply don’t work out, continue with your routine the following day.


Printable pdf: PDF iconCreating a Study Schedule

Dealing with Procrastination

Young man procrastinatingThis resource lists strategies for you to try to cope with procrastination. Read through the ideas to try the one that seems like the best next step for you, and then, most importantly, try it.


The Balance Sheet Method

One strategy for getting work done on a task is to analyze, in writing, the positives and negatives of doing this task.

Make a chart with two columns. You can title the two columns in a way that makes sense to you: positives and negatives, obstacles and benefits, excuses and rewards. On the left side of a sheet of paper, make a list of the negatives. This could be all the reasons you are procrastinating on a particular task or the reasons you can think of as to why you haven’t started. On the right side, list the positives, for example, all the benefits that you will experience if you go ahead and get the job done.

Seeing these positives and negatives in writing is a visual way to help you get realistic about the work that needs to get done.


Piece-by-Piece or the “Salami Technique”

A salami sausage, before it is sliced, is huge and impossible to eat.  But when thin slices are carved off of it, the large sausage becomes manageable, something you can “get your teeth into.” 

When you realize that you are procrastinating on a major task, slice it up into as many small, manageable “instant tasks” as possible.  Make each task something you can accomplish in 15 minutes or less.  If a long reading assignment intimidates you, break it into two- or three-page sections, make a list of each section, then cross off each section on the list as you complete it.

If the task happens to be a major one, the number of “slices” and length of the list will increase.  The key is to make each incremental task so simple and quick that, by itself, the work doesn’t amount to much.  If possible, make it something that can be finished in several minutes.  Whenever you have a few minutes to spare, start one of your “instant” tasks.  The saying “Divide and Conquer” applies to large, daunting tasks just as it does to winning a war.


Systematic Development of New Habits

The third (and most fundamental) approach helps us recognize that the problem isn’t the difficulty of the work, but rather the result of developing a habit over many years of procrastinating with unpleasant tasks. Procrastination is seldom related to just a single item; it is usually an ingrained behavior and thought pattern. If we can change our habits of putting unpleasant work off, we can make the previous two methods unnecessary:

Habitual Procrastinators

“This task must be done, but it is unpleasant, and I resent being forced to do something I don’t like, so I’ll do something that I feel better about doing.”

Managing Procrastination

“This task is unpleasant, but it must be done, so I’ll do it now so I can forget about it and then do something I enjoy more after the unpleasant work is finished.”


This ability to delay gratification with the self-promise to reward oneself after work is done is a habit that needs to be developed on a regular basis. Developing the habit of delaying gratification takes intentional practice to make it a thought pattern for approaching unpleasant tasks.

Often, the tasks that you are avoiding aren’t the most important priorities on your To-Do list. They are often small matters, such as an apology you’ve been putting off, or an overdue project you know you should start. Whatever it is, get it done or taken care of before you start other usual routines that you do without thinking. Or, set a definite time in the day that you set aside as an appointment with yourself to deal with it.

Procrastination can also be due to other factors: anxiety about a task or fear of failure, for example. If the strategies above aren’t working for you, consider exploring your procrastination with someone who is professionally trained to help you gain deeper understanding as to why you may be procrastinating.


"What works for me" - Tips from Peer Tutors

Young man smiling in the library

“Get off the computer! My computer gives me access to limitless distractions. Furthermore, because it's so easy to revise what I have written on the computer, I constantly get stuck trying to create the perfect wording when I should actually be moving on to more important things. I've done some of my best work by printing off hard copies of articles and retreating to some place away from my computer and phone, and using a notebook and pen to take notes as I read or create an outline or plans for writing.”

“I schedule papers well ahead of time, and even start a small part of an assignment as soon as I get it. When I receive paper assignment instructions for a major paper near the beginning of a term, I start by writing a rough thesis and some notes, and then I don't spend a lot of time on it until closer to the due date. Several weeks before it's due, I start looking more seriously at the assignment, and start reworking the notes I started with. This makes writing the paper much easier, as I have it already started. I also give myself false deadlines, so that I make sure I am done in time, with time to revise.”

“I find that easing into an assignment (by taking notes or watching a documentary, etc.) helps get me more interested in the subject matter, and more likely to actually start the hard work.  If it's a matter of writer's block, I just start writing, even if the quality is really low, because it gets my brain working and it can be edited later.”

“To get work done and to avoid distractions, I like to come up with short-term goals for different sections of the paper and then reward myself once the goals are achieved. For example, if I set a goal to write one page per day, and then actually do that, I allow myself time to go shopping after the paper’s done as a reward for getting the work done.”  

“I don't try to get big assignments done in one try. I usually take a few days for research/brainstorming and another few days to write the actual paper, taking on only one section at a time. I schedule my work on the various sections to help me get it done. I keep a planner to set false deadlines, and I track other tasks on my phone. I set alarms for important tasks or appointments well in advance so I know to make time for them. Also, I write tasks in a list and prioritize them by assigning numbers from the highest urgency to the lowest.” 

“I have a perfectionist problem when it comes to writing papers, although I've largely remedied it by telling myself to start by writing a bad paper. It takes the pressure off knowing that the first draft doesn't have to be perfect, knowing that I'm just writing something that doesn't need to be good. Once I have something down on paper, it's a lot easier to edit/revise a very rough and low-quality draft into something good than it is to write a perfect paper from scratch. I’ve found new ideas to start by researching prewriting techniques.” 



Printable pdf: PDF iconDealing with Procrastination

Reading Fluency

Student readingThis resource suggests strategies you can use to develop your fluency in reading and writing. Fluency is the ability to use a language quickly and smoothly and communicate ideas effectively.




Think positively about your knowledge 

  • Read in the language you wish to improve.
  • Focus on what you understand, not on what you don’t understand.

Read without stopping

  • Do not stop and start or re-read passages too often.
  • Avoid frequently using a dictionary.
  • Read in sections one by one without stopping.
  • After reading a section, go back and look at the difficult parts if necessary.

Read with a purpose 

  • Think about why you are reading the text.
  • Think about what information you need from the text.
  • Focus on reading for meaning instead of reading for translation.

Look for key words 

To read faster, look for words or phrases that have meaning (these are called “meaning groups”).  

The sentences below are divided into meaning groups: 

Psychology,//broadly defined,// is the systematic study// of behavior and experience.// Within that definition,// there are many kinds// of subspecialists// with diverse interests and viewpoints (Kalat 1986). 


Next, cross out all the small words in the text (articles, prepositions, etc.). The passage would look like this: 

Psychology, broadly defined, is the systematic study of behavior and experience. Within that definition, there are many kinds of subspecialists with diverse interests and viewpoints.  


Read the words that remain. You can get a lot of meaning from them! After practicing this, you will pay more attention to the most important words.


Improving your Writing Fluency 

Try these steps to improve your writing fluency in a second language: 

  1. Research or brainstorm ideas before writing a draft. Make a list. 
  2. Organize your ideas into an outline or sequence. 
  3. Make a first draft. At this point, focus on writing your ideas without worrying about grammatical correctness. 
  4. After writing a complete draft, review your paper in steps by asking these questions: 
  • Have you developed your ideas enough and provided enough explanation and support? 
  • Are the connections between ideas are clear (this is called coherence)? 
  • Have you only included information which directly contributes to the points you are trying to make (this is called unity)? 
  1. As a last step, check for grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, spelling and word choice errors.  

Practice free writing 

If you find it difficult to write without thinking in your first language and translating, try free writing.  This will help you depend less and less on your native language. Follow the steps below:  

  • Write for 20 minutes without stopping 3 times a week until you are no longer translating.
  • Start with easy topics such as what you did today. Later, try writing on more difficult topics.
  • Do not stop or worry about grammar, spelling or word choice. Just write!


Final Tips to Remember 

Use the language you are learning as much as possible. You will learn the language faster.

Try to think in the language you are learning. Summarize ideas both silently and aloud before you write.

Try to use a monolingual dictionary (like the Longman dictionary) instead of a bilingual dictionary or translator. 

Focus on meaning instead of correctness. Don’t focus too much on grammar rules. Sometimes language cannot be explained by rules.

Try to guess when you don’t know. Making mistakes is an important part of the language learning process.

Pay attention to what you understand, not what you’re missing.




Printable pdf: PDF iconImproving Reading and Writing in a Second Language

Memorizing New Words

Part of doing well in a new course is finding effective ways to learn the new terminology. The techniques described below all help you memorize new words, but the different methods have different purposes and advantages.

  1. Cue Card Method
  2. Column Method
  3. Web Diagram Method
  4. Personal Dictionary


The Cue Card Method: Easy to carry with you

  1. On the front of the card, print the word or expression you want to remember.
  2. On the back of the card, write the information you need to learn for the word. Useful information to include:
  • A definition of the word
  • A synonym for the word (a word with a similar meaning) or what group or category the word fits into
  • Sometimes, it’s useful to include what the word is not so you don’t confuse it with a similar word or term (e.g. affect versus effect)
  • At least one sentence using the word

Memorizing words using the the cue card method

  1. Punch a hole in one corner of your cue cards and put the cue cards on a metal ring.
  2. Test yourself frequently with your cue cards:
  • Find times to review your cards, such as on transit, while doing chores, waiting in lineups, eating or getting ready for the day, or settling down for the night.
  • Recite the meaning out loud or write the meaning down on paper for deeper learning.
  • Use the word in a sentence that you make up. Learning a word well means learning both the definition as well as how to use it,
  1. After you’ve practiced a word and feel you really know it, take that card off the ring. Add new words to the ring to replace the old ones.  Keep your cue card ring manageable and thin to work on new words as they come up in a course.
  2. Revisit the old cards from time to time so you don’t forget them.


The Column Method: More space to learn detailed information

Use regular lined paper and divide the paper into columns: 

Column 1:  The word to learn 

Column 2:  The pronunciation of the word (if the pronunciation matters) 

Column 3:  A definition of the word or a synonym 

Column 4: An example sentence with a blank where the word goes. 


Word Pronunciation Definition Sentence
Forgery Fór-jer-ee A document, painting, or piece of paper money that is a false copy of the original. The painting was actually a very clever _______.

Put ten or twelve words on each page, then test yourself:

  • Cover up different columns with a piece of paper to test yourself with the different columns.
  • If you have difficulty with spelling, this approach can help you memorize the correct spelling of the word.
  • Cover up all columns except the example sentences column to test yourself for which word goes with which sentence.


The Web Diagram Method: Useful for learning clusters of words

This method helps you learn how new words relate to each other rather than learning words as separate, discrete items. It helps you learn clusters of words and how they fit into groups.


Memorizing words using the web diagram method


The Personal Dictionary Method: To look up troublesome words

A personal dictionary works well for reviewing the meanings or spelling of words that you need to keep checking. It is easy to forget spellings and meanings of words when you don’t use them often enough to remember them well, so it’s good to have a personal resource for words you know you have trouble remembering.

  1. Use a thin binder that has dividers with the letters of the alphabet on the tabs.
  2. Between the dividers, place your columned paper for the dictionary entries. Create as many columns as you need to help you remember and use the words effectively. Below is an example of how you could set up a page:
Word Part of Speech Pronunciation Definition Sentence
Magistrate Noun Má-jis-trayt A judge for less serious crimes in a court of law. The magistrate sentenced the thief to community service. 



Printable pdf: PDF iconMemorizing New Words

Writing Essay Exams

This resource outlines strategies you can take to make essay exam questions easier to navigate through a series of questions you can learn to ask yourself as you take an essay exam.

How do I start?

Read through the entire examination.
Make any quick notes in the margins about answers using the strategies below.


How do I start my answer?

Start writing by making your first sentence a restatement of the question.

This helps you get started without having to think too hard about how to start your answer. It also gets your pen moving without too much effort, which often is all you need to get going, and to get ideas started.

e.g. What are some of the positives and some of the negatives experienced by commuters who make the switch from driving a car to using public transit?

Possible First Sentence for an answer:

Commuters experience both positive and negative outcomes when they switch from driving to using public transit.



How do I budget my time? 

Divide your time into blocks.

After reading the exam, determine the total time allotted for the exam, the total number of questions and the point value of each question if there are multiple questions. Incorporate allocations of time spent on each question on the point value of the answers. Make sure to incorporate a planning period at the beginning and a review period at the end.


What if I can't think of enough to write about?

Try a formulaic solution, with this 4-step pattern.

  1. Make a general statement or point.

    One benefit of switching to public transit is time to relax while leaving the stress of driving to the bus driver.
  2. Explain the statement in more words, with specific details, or give some background context.

    Driving during rush hour causes a great deal of stress as the driver tries to feed into congested roads, think ahead about how and when to get into a different lane to be ready for the next turn while listening to the traffic report to hear which bridge to avoid today. 
  3. Provide evidence-specific details, examples, or expert opinion (quotations) as evidence of your point.

    Many commuters on trains or buses can be observed catching up on their reading, doing crosswords, reading newspapers, chatting with friends. On the other hand, drivers in rush hour tend to be alone, with a foot on the brake or accelerator, their hands on the steering wheel, waiting impatiently for a light to change or the car in front to move more quickly.
  4. Explain your evidence – show how your example or evidence demonstrates the point you started with. Riding on buses or trains provides opportunities to relax whereas driving a car in rush hour requires concentration, attention to details of navigating, and readiness to respond quickly, all of which are hardly relaxing. 


How can I better understand the question? 

Circle or underline several of the key words or phrases.  

This simplifies the question by eliminating distracting information that makes the question seem longer and more complex. 

Key words to mark include: 

  • the words which give instructions on what to do (for example: describe, explain, analyze, compare, discuss)
  • the key terms used (for example: factor, principle, reason, issue, and other important vocabulary words that are part of the course itself) 


How should I review my answers? 

Reread both the question and your answer. 

When you are done writing, go back and review the instructions and make sure you are incorporating necessary information to fulfill the assignment. Take a few minutes to reread and review your writing.  Incorporate any information you think of while you are reading that will strengthen your answer.  You can also use your quick list from your planning stage as a checklist to see if you have captured everything you intended to write.   


How do I decide what to write? 

Make a quick list of your ideas.   

A list helps you get started, helps you keep those ideas coming, and helps you keep from forgetting what you have to say. Jot down the key ideas that you think could go into an essay.  Making this list helps you do several things: 

  • First, it helps you to put some basic ideas on paper, you don’t have to work so hard to remember it anymore. It’s like making a grocery list before you go shopping, which helps you remember what you went to the store for. 
  • Second, it helps you organize your thoughts so you can decide on a logical order for the ideas. After you start writing, you can always change the order again, or even add to the list as more ideas come to mind because the act of writing itself helps stimulate your mind to come up with more ideas. In fact, you will probably forget good ideas that pop into your mind as you are writing unless you quickly add them to your list.


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