I recently stumbled across an article about how to read scientific papers.  This article can also be applied to reading a chapter in your Science/Math text book.  They suggest 4 steps to help you digest the information before you:

  1. Skim the Chapter:  This allows you to get the overall big picture even if you don't yet understand the specifics.  Pay close attention to how the chapter is divided, this will tell you the basic topics that are important.  Also, note any definitions, or equations that are highlighted throughout the chapter, they are highlighted for a reason.  As you skim, write down or highlight any words that you don't understand as well as any vocabulary words which are usually in bold in most text books.
  2. Look 'em Up:  Go back through and find a definition for each word you highlighted.  Many times you text book will have a glossary in the back, this should be the first place you look for the definition.  If the word is not found in the glossary, then pull out a dictionary but be careful.  Some words have different meanings specific to the subject you are studying.  Most dictionaries will list several definitions and indicate what subject they belong to, usually with an abreviation such as bio (biology), chem (chemistry), math (mathematics), phys (physics), etc.
  3. Read by Sections:  Now reread the paper, more slowly, a section at a time.  Make sure you bring in the vocabulary words from step #2.  Make sure you understand every sentence.  When you are finished with a section write a summary (in your own words of that section).  The point is, if you understand the material you should be able to explain it to your grandma.
  4. Review & Reflect:  Now that you have summurized every section, can you summarize the entire chapter?  What is(are) the main point(s)?  Again, imagine explaining it to your grandma.  Do you have any questions?  Was there a statement or concept that captured your imagination or raised more questions?  These should drive you to explore further or bring questions to your professor.  Is a topic just not clear still?  Ask your professor or tutor by first giving your summary and showing where you don't understand the material.  If you would like to pursue a particular topic further you can ask your prof for more information.  This will not only score you brownie points with your professor but it will show him you are thinking which is the whole point of education.
  5. Return Later:  I will add a 5th point here for studying, and that is to come back to the chapter and see if you still remember your summary.  This is a good tool to make sure you still remember the material you will need later on.  Most science and math courses build upon each chapter so that when you are in Chapter 10 you still need to remember what you learned in Chapter 1.  Also, if you keep all these ideas fresh it will make studying for the final at the end of the semester much easier.
For more information you can go to the article or, if you are in the Bryan/College Station area you can contact us.