Answered By: Sonya Adams
Last Updated: Sep 19, 2016     Views: 26

Time is often short when studying, so learning to work efficiently is a key part of being a student. Challenges include: reading lots of material in a short space of time, keeping your references in an organised way, being focused on the task in hand.

The point about efficient reading is to understand what the author is saying and not to spend hours on it.  Skimming allows you to pick out the key argument of a work quickly and evaluate its relevance and value to your topic.

Skimming (and being critical)

For academic books try skimming in this order and have a look at the

  1. Contents page- for the scope, coverage and concepts
  2. First and last paragraphs of introduction - for the context and theoretical approach
  3. Any descriptive headings in introduction - for key themes or areas
  4. First and last paragraphs of conclusion - for purpose and findings

For journal articles try skimming in this order and have a look at the

  1. Abstract - the whole story in a nutshell, including spoilers
  2. Any diagrams, figures or graphs - often the main reason the article exists
  3. Introductory paragraph - for the scope and context
  4. Headings - for the overview and conceptual map
  5. Conclusion - restatement of purpose and findings

For chapters or shorter bits of text try skimming in this order:

  1. First paragraph
  2. Concluding paragraph
  3. Diagrams, figures, graphs

Now you’ve skimmed the texts, you have found the relevant material, so next, try scanning.

Scanning (and being critical):

  1. Run your eyes down the text
  2. Pick out the words or phrases on your topic
  3. Pick out text in bold or different font
  4. Don’t read every word

Make notes as you go along. Summarise the main arguments of the work. Make notes of any important quotes or paraphrased with the source it came from and the page numbers.

For further information and resources:

General study skills

First off it might pay to spend a little time reading one of the many study skills books that are available: (search for “study skills” or “research skills” on iDiscover).

There’s plenty of advice available from CUSU :http://www.studentadvice.cam.ac.uk/academic/study/  and you might find the Study Skills Portal useful too.

Reading efficiently

There are hints and tips on reading 10 books (or thereabouts) in an hour here.

Writing effectively

There are hints and tips on academic writing here.

Managing your references

Keeping track of what you have read as you go along will make life a lot easier when it comes to referencing your essay. You might want to read the pages on referencing  and using reference management software.The relevant Cambridge LibGuides also have subject-specific referencing guidelines.