The Importance of Active Reading
Perhaps the most important academic activity in which any person will engage is reading. Reading is vital to any student’s success in any class she is going to take. However, reading is particularly important when it comes to studying history, as there are no “problems” to solve or experiments to perform. Therefore, it is important that when a student engages in reading for historical study, it is a truly engaging form of reading.
Given the importance of reading, understanding and committing to memory the information presented, it is important that students of history read actively. Active reading is the opposite of passive reading and involves the reader continuously “asking questions” internally in order to verify understanding of the material being covered. Passive readers merely allow the words to wash over them as they read without thinking too much about what is written or asking comprehension questions of themselves.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably someone who has done a significant amount of academic reading in your life. You have probably can recall a number of instances in which you spent a considerable amount of time reading something that you did not process at all. You have stopped and asked yourself “Wait a minute…what did I just read?” The bad news is that these instances in which you actually recognize your lack of understanding are the fortunate ones. More often than you probably realize, you are spending a lot of time reading without really reaping the benefits of learning from the time you’ve spent.
Many students think of reading assignments as things that “just need to be finished”, or slogged through as quickly as possible to move on to the “real” work of written assignments or studying for exams. However, reading effectively is important for the work of “real” assignments, including exams. Those who get the most out of their reading are usually those who perform best on tests and whatever written assignments might be given. Approaching your reading with the attitude that it must simply be finished as quickly—and painlessly—as possible, is very likely not going to help your performance in any class you take, especially one as dependent on reading to learn the information as history.
So, how does one read actively? There is not really one universal answer to this question, except to say that reading actively makes you engaged with the material in a way that will help you retain the information after you have had your first exposure to it. For some, reading actively means simply highlighting the portions of the reading that they find particularly important or difficult to understand (or both). For others, active reading may mean making an outline of the passages/chapters as they are covered. For still others, active reading may mean making a voice recording of the particularly important portions so that the recording can be played back at a later time or day. The key ingredient to active reading is really one word: engagement.
if you are engaged with reading the material in a significant way, you will be much more inclined to comprehend and remember what it is that you are reading. Ultimately, comprehension and retention should be the top priorities of any learner and active reading is the most important first step in achieving these goals. You should experiment: try highlighting, try outlining, try reading the information aloud for a voice recording to be played back later.
Active reading looks a little different for just about everyone, but what it definitely is NOT, is just attempting to finish the assigned pages as quickly as possible to move on to written work or test preparation. The link below can provide you with some other suggestions about ways in which you can become a more active reader. The sooner you discover how you can best become an active reader, the more efficiently you will spend your time understanding what you are studying. In the end, active reading, while initially slower than passive reading, will actually save you time as you will be more likely to understand the material sooner because of your greater level of engagement.
Studying for history can be a daunting proposition; there is often so much information that students find it difficult to know how to prepare for exams or even what to read on a day-to-day basis. The truth is, the sheer volume of information is intimidating and difficult to handle for teachers as well. It is not uncommon for history classes—especially AP history classes—to seem poorly focused because teachers don’t seem to know which information they want to cover or which information is truly vital.
All of this makes effectively studying for history tests and essays very difficult in many circumstances and students become frustrated because they don’t know how to make progress. This is when the formulation and exploration of essential questions can be extremely helpful.
When I was going through my Teaching Credential/Master’s program, one of the things that we spent a great deal of time covering was lesson planning. To be an effective teacher, it is important, regardless of the subject, to have a plan in place for how a lesson or concept is to be taught. With history, we teachers-in-training were instructed about the importance of “working backwards” to teach whatever subject we were trying to teach. Working backwards entails starting with the “big idea” of what a teacher wants a students to learn and then planning for how best to make students understand this big idea.
This concept of working backwards can help students to prepare for history classes, in which there is so much information and it is hard to know what needs to be known. As a student, you can ask yourself the following question: “What are the two or three broad questions that I need to be able to answer, in detail, in order to understand this chapter/unit/era?” Basically, these are questions that you would need to be able to answer in an essay format to be confident about your knowledge of the material. If you cannot write an essay about it, you don’t understand it well enough.
So, you might be asking yourself how you know what the essential questions for a particular unit or chapter are. As it happens, I am VERY well-equipped to let you know. I am very familiar with all the essential questions that any student might want to know about for World History, European History, American History or any other major area of social science. If you would like to do some research on your own, there are actually a number of websites that deal with this very idea of essential questions. Here are links for examples of essential questions for AP European History:
The College Board (the company that writes and administers all the AP tests) also has a very extensive and detailed website that goes through all of the standards and major concepts for all the AP social science courses. Additionally, if you ask your teacher, he or she should be able to give you some information about the essential questions for whatever unit or era you might be studying. There are a lot of ways to find out what the essential questions are, but whatever they are and whatever period you are studying, you should know what is important to learn. Being well-informed about the goals you are trying to achieve in your learning is a major step toward success in your classes and will certainly help you as you study a subject like history, for which there is so much information to be covered.
You've taken the ACT...now what?
So, you’ve just put yourself through the immeasurable pain and suffering that is the ACT test. You spent almost four hours of one of your precious Saturdays in a crowded, stuffy room—probably in the last place you want to be on a weekend in September, your school—and you are wondering what’s next. The answer is not the same for everyone and certainly depends a little bit on the circumstances in which you find yourself.
First of all, are you a junior or a senior? If you are a junior, it is almost certain that this was your first-ever official, full-length ACT that can be submitted to colleges. Congratulations on getting ahead of the game! You have a LOT of time and MANY opportunities over the course of the next 15 months to get the score you would like. There are five more opportunities between now and June for you to take the ACT so, theoretically, you COULD take the test six times this year and three more times in the fall before all of your applications are due. I am not sure why you’d do that to yourself, but you could…
For you seniors taking the ACT, this is one of your final opportunities. The next ACT will be administered on October 24th and there will be another on December 12th, the results of which can still be sent to colleges to go along with your already-completed applications. If you took the September ACT as insurance even though you already had a score with which you were happy, you don’t really have to worry about October or December. If, on the other hand, you’re taking the ACT now because you didn’t take it last year or because you’ve got a target score you haven’t yet hit, hopefully you’re already registered for the October ACT. It would probably be a good idea to register for the December ACT as well if you’re fairly far off from your target.
The bottom line is that, as a Junior, you have a lot more flexibility because you have far more opportunities to take the ACT—or the SAT—and to hit whatever your target is for whichever universities you’d like to attend. This is why I strongly advise all of my sophomores to prepare for the ACT during the summer between sophomore and junior year; you want to have the flexibility that more opportunities provides because you never know until you sit down and take a real ACT or SAT how it’s going to turn out. If you’re a junior, you don’t HAVE to plan to take another ACT right away—that said, it think it would be prudent to take another test in the near future so you make the most of your preparation and current ACT knowledge. Hopefully, you’re very happy with your score on the September test and you can just operate from the position of trying to do your absolute best to get into very competitive schools or gain access to scholarships.
As a senior, the situation can be a little more dire. You don’t have a number of opportunities left and you’re certainly hoping that at this point, you’re at least in the range of a score that you want to get into your ideal, first-choice school. If you’re not close to where you want to be yet, I would plan to take both the October and December tests and really put your nose to the grindstone and prepare heartily. You don’t have to stress out as much about your grades this year and if you get a few B’s, that really won’t affect which schools decide to accept you. I say this to point out that you can shift your focus a little from school to the ACT because the test will have a greater affect on your applications than will your senior grades. You don’t want to ignore school of course, because possibly C’s and very definitely D’s and F’s WILL negatively affect your admittance to colleges. However, given the powerful pull of ACT and SAT scores, I think that a few weeks of intense effort into preparing for the tests is a good investment of your time. You can relax NEXT semester seniors! Now is the time to make one last intense push to ensure that you get some great news in the spring!
"Don't worry class. These tests will have no effect on your grades. They merely determine your future social status and financial success."
-The bad voice in your head you should NOT listen to!
OK guys, its the night before the ACT. The MOST important thing is to put this episode in your lives in the proper context: do not panic. There is no reason to panic and it isn't helpful to do so.
Remember, at the end of the day, this is just a test. You will have other opportunities to take it and as with everything, experience always helps. If you're not feeling great right now, or even as you are taking the test, the best thing you can do for yourself is RELAX. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing; maybe even count your breaths as you breath in and out. It's a very old, very common form of meditation designed to calm you down and bring you back to the moment in a healthy frame of mind.
I'm not saying you shouldn't be nervous or that it's wrong or weird if you are. Being nervous before something like the ACT is totally normal and understandable. But worrying about something or being in a state of anxiety about it won't help you at all. Always remind yourself that you will do your best and whatever happens is up to more than just you...it is a curved test after all!
Even if it goes poorly, there will be other opportunities-this fall in fact. So put it in perspective, calm down and get a good night's sleep. Put the study materials away and try to make yourself laugh or just rest. It will all unfold as it is meant to unfold!
Some Other Test-Taking Tips
I found this article that I also thought brings up some good points about how to prepare before the SAT or ACT. Just click this link for what I think is another helpful read. Good luck to all of you!
The Day Before The Test
Most of the students I see often wonder what they should be doing the day before they take an SAT or ACT test. As is the case with most big, important assignments or exams, the default tendency on the part of most students is to cram. “I need to jam as much information in my brain as possible in the next 5 or so hours…I’m sure I can raise my composite score by 5 points tonight!” I’m sure some of you reading this are silently, begrudgingly nodding your heads in agreement. You’ve had this thought or something like it before.
Let me assure you, as reasonable as the idea that cramming the night before might sound as you are doing it, it’s not just unproductive, it’s counter-productive. If you’ve invested some significant time preparing for the ACT or SAT, a few extra hours isn’t going to add a great deal to your performance. In fact, the process of staying up late, studying like crazy and probably filling yourself with anxiety with every practice question you answer incorrectly is going to hurt your performance the following day.
Instead of studying intensely, obsessively trying to pack as much information into your brain as possible, what you should be doing is relaxing. Watch a movie. Read a book you enjoy. Binge watch one of your new favorite or old favorite TV shows. Do some yoga or meditate or go for a run. ANYTHING that calms you and refreshes your mind and your body is a good way to spend your time the night before the test.
If you’d like to spend a little time studying, that’s OK, but definitely cut yourself off no later than 8:00. If you want to do something to prepare yourself for the test on the following day, a good way to spend your time would be to get organized for going to the test. Lay out all of the items you will need for the test:
ID (school ID or driver’s license)
Bottle of Water
Possibly a small snack
You should gather all of these items together and place them in one spot before you go to sleep. You will likely sleep better knowing that everything is ready to go for the morning and is some disaster should befall you—your alarm doesn’t go off, power goes out—you will be able to grab your things and get out the door quickly. Also, it would be a good idea to get up early so that you can eat a slightly-larger-than-usual breakfast and take your time getting ready to leave. Lastly, you’ll want to dress in layers. You’ll never know how hot or cold it might be in the room where the test is being administered and you do not want to be distracted by how hot or cold you are feeling as you are taking the test.
This whole approach, in fact, is designed with the idea that you want to be as focused on the test as possible. Concentration is probably the most important element of good test taking and if you are well-fed, relaxed, well-rested and not uncomfortable you will likely be paying attention only to the test. If you follow my advice, you should be in great shape to do your best on the big day.
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