Reader Questions: Should I Pre-read?

Meeting the Three Little Pig on Main Street

Image "Meeting the Three Little Pig on Main Street" courtesy of flickr user Loren Javier, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

“My professor tells me I should read the textbook before each lecture, but I’m so busy and don’t have time to do it. Should I pre-read?”

This is a question I get very, very, very often. The answer is simple (though somewhat unfulfilling): it depends.

But first, what is the point of pre-reading? Pre-reading is used so students get a basic understanding of a topic before it is covered in class. After pre-reading, a students should recognize (if not understand) key terms, be able to follow most of the images and diagrams, and know enough background information to learn the new topic. Unless the professor is terrible, it is NOT necessary to understand everything. Pre-readings should NOT be used by students to learn everything by themselves. You know you’ve done enough preparation work (including pre-reading) if you can follow the prof in lectures and not feel completely overwhelmed.

But what determines whether one should pre-read? Let’s say Moe, Larry, and Curly are in a first year differential calculus class. Moe has taken calculus Advanced Placement in high school and did well on his AP exam, but elected to take the first year differential calculus class anyway. He has a very good grasp of calculus. Larry, on the other hand, did a little bit of calculus in high school. His teacher taught him what calculus is, how limits work, and basic differentiation. He’s not very comfortable with the calculus, but he understands the basics. Curly, by contrast, has never taken a calculus class before and doesn’t quite know what it is. He also did not do very well in math in high school and is only taking calculus because it’s part of his program.

In the above example, Moe doesn’t really need to pre-read. He already has a good grasp of calculus and just needs to listen to the lecture to remember everything again. Larry could benefit from some pre-reading, but he’s got the basics and thus just needs to quickly skim the book to ensure there isn’t anything too out there. Curly, on the other hand, really needs to pre-read or he won’t be able to follow the lecture at all. He’ll probably have to spend some time going over the key terms, interpreting the graphs, and filling in any gaps in his background knowledge (for example, if he’s learning how to differentiate trig functions, he’ll need to brush up on his trigonometry).

In first year, students’ arrive at university with different levels of skills in each topic and subject. Pre-reading should put everyone on a more similar level and allows the prof to focus on what is new without reviewing everything.

The bottom line is to pre-read if you can’t follow the lecture or if you think you can understand things more thoroughly. Pre-read less if the topic feels repetitive or boring because you’ve seen it 200 times before.  

Get a question about first year or studying? Let us know what they are and we’ll try to answer them the best we can. 


2 thoughts on “Reader Questions: Should I Pre-read?

  1. Pingback: How to Properly Use a Textbook – A Resource for First Year Students

  2. Pingback: Quickie: It’s not about going to class… | Scratches on the Notepad

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