This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter zero table of contents.

Three Times Makes Easy

What should be regarded as normal?

For people who are not "quick studies," it might be helpful to know that reading a college textbook chapter a second or third time is highly desirable, normal, and expected, especially if the subject matter is unfamiliar. I have a theory about this called "Three Times Makes Easy." According to this theory, comprehension occurs in three stages:

1. On the first pass through a chapter, individual concepts become familiar, but they do not hang together in a coherent whole. The symptom of this is a student who says "I studied that!" (i.e. he or she recognizes the concepts) but cannot produce articulate answers to study questions when the book is closed.

2. On the second pass through a chapter, linkages form. A few things fall into place. It starts to make sense. A student at this level can produce isolated answers that sound correct but cannot discuss what they mean in a larger context or how they link with other concepts in the chapter.

3. On the third pass through a chapter, everything becomes clear. Often it seems "simple" or "obvious" in retrospect. A student at this level feels confident with the material and could teach it to another student.

To repeat, college level textbooks normallyrequire more than one reading. Sometimes multiple readings are the key and all a student must do to make learning seem easy is to read three times. So if you are not one of those students who magically absorbs everything the first time through, plan to leave enough time for three good readings. Then no conscious effort at memorization should be necessary.

Why is it not sufficient to memorize the shortest possible answer to the study questions?

Keep in mind the fact discussed earlier: these study questions identify topics and sometimes you will be asked related information on a quiz, not just the shortest possible answer. Be able to discuss the answer to a question, not just regurgitate a short answer. If you can do this—if you can go through the chapter with the text column covered and discuss the answers to the study questions—you should do very well on the test. As mentioned on the previous page, the test items supplied with the book were selected on the basis of actual classroom use, and this process went on for many years. Items that struck students as ambiguous or unfair, when reviewed during an office hour, were modified or eliminated from the item pool. The remaining items were judged fair by students themselves. That means that if your comprehension is good, studying effectively should pay off.

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