Study Overview

One of the interesting facts about people using study books is that most, when given a new text, start reading on page one. It is not advisable to start reading a new study text on the first page. The following situation is a parallel illustration of this point:

Imagine that you are a fanatic jigsaw-puzzle-doer. A friend arrives on your doorstep with a gigantic box wrapped in paper and tied with string, and tells you that it's a present: 'the most beautiful and complex jigsaw puzzle yet divised by man!'. You thank her, and as you watch her walk away down the front path, you decide that from that moment on you are going to devote yourself entirely to the completion of the puzzle.

Before continuing, note in precise detail the steps you would take from that point on in order to complete the task. Now check your own answers with the following list compiled from my students:

1 Go back inside the house.

2 Take off the string.

3 Take off the paper.

4 Dispose of string and paper.

5 Look at the picture.

6 Read the instructions, concentrating on number of pieces and overall dimensions of the puzzle.

7 Estimate and organise amount of time necessary for completion.

8 Plan breaks and meals!

9 Find surface of appropriate dimensions for puzzle.

10 Open box.

11 Empty contents of box onto surface.

12 If pessimistic, check number of pieces.

13 Turn all pieces" right side up.

14 Find edge and corner pieces.

15 Sort out colour areas.

16 Fit 'obvious' bits and pieces together.

17 Continue to fill in.

18 Leave 'difficult' pieces to end (for reason that as the overall picture becomes more clear, and the number of pieces used increases, so does the probability increase that the difficult pieces will fit in much more easily when there is greater context into which they can fit).

19 Continue process until completion.

20 Celebrate!

This jigsaw analogy can be applied directly to study, in the first instance making it clearer why it is so important not to commence studying on page one, as doing so would be like finding the bottom left-hand corner, and insisting to yourself that the entire picture be built up step by step from that corner only.

What is essential in a reasonable approach to study texts, especially difficult ones, is to get a good idea of what's in them before plodding on into a learning catastrophe. The overview is designed to perform this task, and may be likened to looking at the picture, reading the instructions, and finding the edge and corner pieces of the puzzle. What this means in the study context is that you should scour the book for all material not included in the regular body of the print, using your visual guide as you do so. Areas of the book to be covered in your overview include:

results summaries conclusions indents glossaries back cover tables table of contents marginal notes illustrations capitalised words photographs subheadings dates italics graphs footnotes statistics

The function of this is to provide you with a good knowledge of the graphic sections of the book, not skimming the whole thing, but selecting specific areas for relatively comprehensive coverage. See fig 47.

It is extremely important to note again that throughout the overview a pen, pencil, or other form of visual guide should always be used.

amount of material to be studied

sections of a study text to be covered by overview

Fig47Sections ofa study text to be covered by overview. See textpage


The reason for this can best be explained by reference to a graph. If the eye is unaided, it will simply fixate briefly on general areas of the graph, then move off, leaving only a vague visual memory and an interference to that memory because the eye movement will not have 'registered' the same pattern as the graph.

Fig 48 Example pattern of graph to be studied.

If a visual aid is used, the eye will more nearly approximate the flow of the graph and the memory will be strengthened by each of the following inputs:

1 The visual memory itself.

2 The remembered eye movement approximating the graph shape.

Fg49 Standard pattern ofunguided eye movement on graph causing conflicting memory of shape of graph.

3 The memory of the movement of the arm or hand in tracing the graph (Kinaesthetic memory).

4 The visual memory of the rhythm and movement of the tracer.

The overall recall resulting from this practice is far superior to that of a person who reads without any visual guide. It is interesting to note that top accountants often use their pens to guide their eyes across and down columns and rows of figures. They do this naturally because any very rigid linear eye movement is difficult to maintain with the unaided eye.


The second section of study application is the preview - covering all that material not covered in the overview. In other words the paragraphed, language content of the book. This can be likened to organising the colour areas of your puzzle.

During the preview, concentration should be directed to the beginnings and ends of paragraphs, sections, chapters, and even whole texts, because information tends to be concentrated at the beginnings and ends of written material.

If you are studying a short academic paper or a complex study book, the Summary Results and Conclusion sections should always be read first. These sections often include exactly those essences of information that you are searching for, enabling you to grasp that essence without having to wade through a lot of time-wasting material.

Having gained the essence from these sections, simply check that they do indeed summarise the main body of the text.

In the preview, as with the overview, you are not fully reading all the material, but simply concentrating once again on special areas. See fig50.

amount of material to be studied sections to be covered by preview after overview

Fig 50Sections to be covered by preview after overview. See text this Fage-

The value of this section cannot be overemphasised. A case in point is that of a student taught at Oxford who had spent four months struggling through a 500-page tome on psychology. By the time he had reached page 450 he was beginning to despair because the amount of information he was 'holding on to' as he tried to get to the end was becoming too much - he was literally beginning to drown in the information just before reaching his goal.

It transpired that he had been reading straight through the book, and even though he was nearing the end, did not know what the last chapter was about. It was a complete summary of the book! He read the section and estimated that had he done so at the beginning he would have saved himself approximately 70 hours in reading time, 20 hours in note-taking time and a few hundred hours of worrying.

In both the overview and preview you should very actively select and reject. Many people still feel obliged to read everything in a book even though they know it is not necessarily relevant to them. It is far better to treat a book in the way most people treat lecturers. In other words ifthe lecturer is boring skip what he says, and if he is giving too many examples, is missing the point or is making errors, select, criticise, correct, and disregard as appropriate.


After the overview and preview, and providing that still more information is required, inview the material. This involves 'filling in' those areas still left, and can be compared with the filling in process of the jigsaw puzzle, once the boundaries and colour areas have been established. It is not necessarily the major reading, as in some cases most of the important material will have been covered in the previous stages.

difficult areas or areas where knowledge not complete Fig51 Sections covered after inview has been completed. See text this

It should be noted from fig 50 that there are still certain sections which have been left incomplete even at the inview stage. This is because it is far better to move over particularly difficult points than to batter away at them immediately from one side only.

Once again the comparison with the jigsaw puzzle becomes clear: racking your brains to find the pieces that connect to your 'difficult bit' is a tension-producing waste of time, and jamming the piece in, or cutting it with a pair of scissors so that it does fit (assuming or pretending you understand in context when really you don't) is similarly futile. The difficult sections of a study text are seldom essential to that which follows them, and the advantages of leaving them are manifold:

1 If they are not immediately struggled with, the brain is given that most important brief period in which it can work on them subconsciously. (Most readers will have experienced the examination question which they 'can't possibly answer' only to find on returning to the question later that the answer pops out and often seems ridiculously simple).

2 If the difficult areas are returned to later, they can be approached from both sides. Apart from its obvious advantages, considering the difficult area in context (as with the difficult bit in the jigsaw) also enables the brain's automatic tendency to fill in gaps to work to greater advantage.

3 Moving on from a difficult area releases the tension and mental floundering that often accompanies the traditional approach.

Fig52 'Jumping over' a stumbling block usually enables the reader to go back to it later on with more information from 'the other side'. The block itself is seldom essential for the understanding of thatwhichfollowsit. Seetextthispage.

An adjunct to this last point is that it tends to make studying a more creative process.

Looking at the normal historical development of any discipline, it is found that a fairly regular series of small and logically connected steps are interrupted by great leaps forward.

The propounders of these giant new steps have in many cases 'intuited' them (combining left and right brain functions, as outlined in chapter 1), and afterwards been met with scorn. Galileo and Einstein are examples. As they then explained their ideas step by step, others gradually and progressively understood, some early in the explanation, and others as the innovator neared his conclusion.

In the same manner in which the innovator jumps over an enormous number of sequential steps, and in the same manner in which those who first realised his conclusions did so, the studier who leaves out small sections of study will be giving a greater range to his natural creative and understanding abilities. See difficult section difficult section fig53.

new creative innovation of discoverer

single steps

i the present steps the innovator has to ' fill in' after having made his discovery standard development i the present

Fig53 Historical development ofideas and creative innovations. See text page 144.

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