Why Read Chapter Zero?

This textbook evolved with the help of 20,000 students over 25 years. Chapter Zero appeared about ten years ago as an attempt to provide "how to study" advice at the start of the term, so students could get off to a good start. We often had a mock quiz [i.e. a quiz that did not count] on the first Friday of the semester, covering information from the course syllabus and Chapter Zero. This familiarized students with the quiz format and encouraged them to review course policies and take a look at Chapter Zero, which was not otherwise required. As you might predict, some students elected to skip Chapter Zero. Later, some of them were shocked by bad quiz grades and asked me for advice about how to study. At that point I referred them again to Chapter Zero.

An imaginary but typical conversation in my office:

Imaginary Student: "I can't believe my first quiz grades! This is awful! My parents will kill me!"

Dr. Dewey: "Did you ever have to 'really read' in high school? You know, slowly? Word by word? For comprehension?"

Imaginary Student: "To be honest, hardly ever. And I never got lower than a B in high school."

Dr. Dewey: "How did you study for our first few quizzes?"

Imaginary Student: "I highlighted all the answers, then I memorized them."

Dr. Dewey: "Ah...then I have something that could help you a lot. Remember at the beginning of the term when I talked about Chapter Zero?"

Imaginary Student: "Oh yeah...I was too busy to read it back then."

Dr. Dewey: "This is a fine time to go back and read it! It will help you get better grades and increase your satisfaction and ease of learning from the book. And it contains some good news, such as the fact that you really don't have to memorize, in order to learn the material in this book."

Imaginary Student: "But there are over 100 study question in a chapter! I counted them! It took a long time just to highlight all the answers."

Dr. Dewey: Actually, Chapter Zero specifically recommends against highlighting and memorizing. It recommends a different, more enjoyable way to study that is almost guaranteed to work, as long as you are a competent reader. But I realize the study questions can tempt students into a superficial and ineffective way of studying..."

That is true. I must confess that I inadvertantly created a "trap" for students who do not like to read. By providing lots of explicit study questions, I created a book that tempts certain students—about a third of them—into studying the wrong way. They try to memorize without understanding. They think the most efficient approach is to try to memorize minimal answers to the study questions while skimming through the rest of the material.

Usually these students do poorly on my exams, because I put vocabulary from the chapter into the wrong answers, and students who only skim tend to pick the wrong answers. They cannot tell the difference between a new concept being used correctly or incorrectly. They just go for the familiar vocabulary from the chapter. Consequently, they miss a lot of answers that are obvious to people who really understand the material. Therefore a lot of students tend to flunk the first few quizzes, even though they are trying hard to "memorize the answers."

What is the "good news"?

I composed Chapter Zero to deliver the good news. Students often learn better from this textbook if they do not try to memorize the answers to the study questions. No effort at memorization is necessary. A leisurely reading of the whole chapter, followed by a repetition or two if necessary, accomplishes all the memorization required, without any effort. This book rewards students who simply read well and enjoy learning.

The bad news is that some students do not know how to "simply read well and enjoy learning." If that sounds like an alien experience, Chapter Zero might help you. After you read Chapter Zero you will understand the right and wrong approaches to studying.

Imaginary Student: "I just skimmed those last few paragraphs, and I don't get it."

Dr. Dewey: "Exactly my point! There is something called close reading or "deep reading" that makes learning enjoyable and easy. Many students are reluctant to do it. They will not read a paragraph slowly, digest every word, and really think about the ideas. Sometimes close reading seems like a lost art in the modern world. You would be amazed at how many students get through high school without being required to "really read." Some of them arrive at college not really knowing how. Yet simple good reading is by far the easiest and most effective way to approach studying…if a book permits it. And this book is designed for it. That's why you should read Chapter Zero. Chapter Zero gives lots of hints and explicit instructions about how students can modify their study habits, get absorbed in reading, and get better grades."

Imaginary Student: "That was a long paragraph, too. But I saw something about getting better grades at the end, so maybe I will read Chapter Zero...[and in some cases the student will add]...because here we are halfway through the term and I'm not doing very well…"

Dr. Dewey: "Well, better late than never! I hope you find it to be useful."

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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey