How to Read Effectively in the Sciences

Explore Your Science Textbook

Explore The Textbook. Go over the course outline, the table of contents, and compare the two. In addition, explore the Lab manual. Go over the course outline or lab sheet, go over the table of contents, and compare the two. This process helps you to develop a base understanding for how the material is organized. This is key to understanding the course contents.

Explore Your Assignments. You benefit from knowing what you’re required to learn. Read the introduction of your assigned chapter and connect it with previous chapters or your prior knowledge of the topic. It is important to read the headings, subheadings, summary, and review questions. Remember that most science texts contain review questions; use them to guide you readings.

Look Over the pictures, tables, diagrams, photographs, and other images. Sometimes those elements are easier to understand than the words.Comic panel showing close-up of eyes and the word "Science"

Check The Vocabulary

As For Vocabulary: learn basic scientific root, prefixes and suffixes; use glossary and indexes; use context clues contain in the paragraphs; and as last resort, use a dictionary or encyclopedia to understand and develop scientific concepts or vocabulary.

Analyze For Comprehension.

Remember that scientific texts usually follow the same writing patterns. Once you can recognize and analyze them, your comprehension will increase.

The Classification Pattern: used by scientists to group and sub-group various things, objects, or areas. For example, a scientist who wishes to discuss the structure of a plant may break his topic into various subheadings as roots, stems, leaves, or flowers. Recognizing these structural parts in order of importance or position is essential to good comprehension and note taking.

The Process Description Pattern: what the process is and how the process works. You need to understand what the description pattern is about. Is it about the process? or how the process works?

The Factual-Statement Pattern: facts are usually used in defining things, in comparing or contrasting things, and in citing examples or illustrations. In science, the word “fact” has a more exacting meaning that other areas.

The Problem-Solving Pattern: usually found in passages from science texts which describe or recount past scientific problems, or scientific discoveries made through experimentation. When you’re confronted with the problem solving pattern, use the following questions to help you understand and analyze the passages.

  • What is the question or problem?
  • How was the question answered?
  • How do we know it was answered?

In addition, application of these questions can help you to separate the major and minor points.

Experiment-Instruction Pattern: to understand this pattern and to make sure that you follow the instructions exactly, use the following questions.

  • What is the purpose of the experiment?
  • What equipment is needed?
  • What, in order, are the basic steps involved?
  • What are the results?

Usually you must alternate between the reading matter and the experimental tool, so have the questions firmly in mind before attempting the experiment. In addition, use the questions when you have been given an assignment from your lab manual.

The Combination Pattern: not all science texts follow one pattern. Sometimes the writer may use a combination of patterns. For instance, a reading passage may begin with factual statement of definition, move to classifying the components or parts of the term being classified, and end up discussing a process. An awareness of all patterns is needed in this case to aid in distinguishing the main ideas and supporting details in the various pattern used.

Synthesize For Understanding

round candies in bright colors arranged in triangle wedges to form a color wheel, on a black backgroundTaking Notes is important for several reasons:

  1. it helps you keep your mind on what you are reading
  2. paying close attention as you read will result in longer retention if you connect it to what you already know
  3. good notes are helpful for review
  4. if you mark correctly, not only will you connect the author’s ideas with your own, but you will also have a record of your thoughts and reactions.