Lighten Your Reading Load for History Class

History courses usually require a lot of reading. Lighten your load by using this easy reading strategy:

  • When reading a history book you must first preview the text, in the same way as any other book – read the chapter headings and subheadings, the introduction and the conclusion first.
  • Make a note of important words that give you a clue as to what the book is about. Write them down in a notebook or a separate sheet of paper. Words that are repeated several times are likely to be key to the author’s argument.
  • Look for main points early or late in the book, in the chapter and even in each paragraph. The author generally states the thesis—a statement that someone wants to discuss or prove—in the introduction and restates it at the end, and the chapters in between contain the argument.
  • Skim the rest of the book–read the first and last paragraphs of each chapter and then the paragraphs in between, highlighting important information. If you don’t understand something, look up any new words, make a note in the margin and keep reading.
  • TAKE NOTES as you read. Summarize the main ideas in your own words, chapter by chapter, to have a clear outline of the book’s thesis.
  • Make a timeline. Jot down important dates with the associated names and events in chronological order. That way, you will have a clear sense of what happened when, which, as you might guess, is pretty important in history.
  • Once you’ve previewed – or skimmed – the assigned text, re-read it more slowly to take in the details and to make sure you understand the sections you questioned earlier. Based on your notes and highlighting you should know what is most important. As you re-read, evaluate the author’s argument by:
    • Looking for reasons and evidence supporting the thesis.
    • Questioning the reasons and evidence.
    • Adding your own comments to the notes you took previously.

If possible, ALWAYS type up your outlines, notes and comments. Learning is an ACTIVITY. If you read it, write it, and then thoughtfully type it you will be well on your way to understanding the material.

Finally, in a history class you will be asked to give your own interpretation of specific events and long-term trends. Don’t just repeat what the author said; you need to think about it, explain it, and agree or disagree.