Improving reading comprehension of history books and help writing about them.
January 21, 2011 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Artistic mind in need of improving his academic side OR Please help me learn and write about history.

I'm a graphic design student in a history of modern design class. I've always been interested in history in my own way and I've always enjoyed history classes, but I've never done particularly well in any history class. It seems when I read a history book I come away with the bits that I find interesting or useful, but rarely anything the instructor thinks is important information for tests and essays.

What can I do to improve my reading comprehension in even the driest history books? How can I identify important facts that so often seem to whizz by my eye in a paragraph? What techniques have worked well for you when taking notes? I am interested in answers from all sides, but it would be particularly helpful to hear from artistic-minded folks.

And for a bonus AskMe: I am not a bad writer IMHO, but I am a very slow writer. Besides reading for this class, there will be a lot of writing involved. It would help me immensely in school and in life to learn to speed up the process of spilling my thoughts onto paper. Any advice on this subject would be greatly appreciated.
posted by buriednexttoyou to Education (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Drop me an email at the address in my profile, and I will send you the guide I give my freshman history students on reading and writing - it is designed for a specific assignment, but a lot of people have found it helpful for academic reading and writing in general (even some of my fellow graduate students).
posted by strixus at 11:16 AM on January 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

It seems when I read a history book I come away with the bits that I find interesting or useful, but rarely anything the instructor thinks is important information for tests and essays.

Sometimes, even if you remember all the "facts" (times and dates, names, etc.) you still don't end up doing well on tests and essays because you don't present them in the way the professor is expecting.

I think it might help a lot to look at "rubrics" for history classes, or social science classes. (Rubrics are guidelines that instructors develop to help them evaluate student work.) It'll help give you an idea of the factors that often go into what is considered to be an excellent essay, an okay essay, etc. Here's one - it's for a high school class, but the idea is the same.

I think you should go talk to your instructor, and ask them what they look for when they evaluate tests/essays. I also think your instructor could best answer your question about how to identify important facts, because different instructors often have very different ideas about what important facts are.
posted by Ashley801 at 11:30 AM on January 21, 2011

Answering your bonus question: I learned to pound out a large number of words on a given topic through cluster outlining.

The basic idea is this: you take a sheet of paper (or the back cover of your blue book if this is for a written exam) and write the topic in the middle, and circle it. Write things related to it as they occur to you around it, circling them and connecting them to the original thought with lines. For each of those topics, do the same. You end up with a sort of fractal map of your thoughts and how they connect to each other, and you can collect them into larger categories.
You just slap down thoughts as they occur to you, without worrying about what order they're written down in.

In case I'm not explaining it very well, I threw together an example of one here.

Once that's done, it's fairly easy to see logical sections for your paper, and sections that should be combined, and others that could be broken into more fine detail, and you can start in on your draft (or the final answer, if it's an exam).
posted by telophase at 11:35 AM on January 21, 2011

Does your school offer any "study skills" type courses or workshops? Some do, and I think they might be helpful both in discovering the important and expected concepts from reading material and in discovering processes that allow you to work quicker.

Of course you can Google these kinds of things, but it might be helpful to have someone specifically there to help you think of ideas that will help you and the way you already work.

Telophase's excellent suggestion above often really helps visual people work through papers faster, and that's the sort of suggestion that a good workshop will have to offer (along with methods that work well for other types of people).
posted by asciident at 2:44 PM on January 21, 2011

I guess I've been lucky because the last three history classes I've taken have been from a wonderful teacher who pretty much laid out what to learn - I took the outline she provided and took notes on that. Then I would make up my own tests (supplementing with info from the text if I felt my notes were too vague) and I would take those tests over and over - like once a day. By the time the test rolled around, I had the information pretty well cemented in my brain. A lot of it has stayed in that brain over time, too.

In the last class I took there was a study group and they seemed to do pretty good with my made up tests, too.
posted by Leah at 9:05 PM on January 21, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody! These are all very helpful so far!
posted by buriednexttoyou at 8:54 AM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Help make my musical journey a great one!   |   What can I look at to check the quality of a cheap... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.