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Athabasca University

Effectively Marking Your Text

By Julia McDonald

Underlining or highlighting is a very common study technique used by university students. The purpose of underlining/highlighting parts of a text is to make an item stand out and to reduce the amount of material to be remembered. Unfortunately, many students make the mistake of underlining/highlighting too much, resulting in a cluttered and colourful textbook page. When they go to review, they have to reread almost the whole text. What a time waster!

Here are a few tips on how to effectively mark your text:

  • Read the complete section or paragraph first.
  • Review the section, underlining / highlighting key words or phrases.
  • Don't underline/highlight, too much or too little. Approximately one-third of the paragraph should be enough to highlight the important points.
  • Use the margins to jot down paraphrases and summaries of long sentences. Circle words you do not understand, form classifications, use notes like "re-read" or "good test items." Develop a system of margin notations, like the examples below:

*/NB = main or important parts

+ = support material

def = definition

? = unclear point, consult

1,2,3 = items in a list

left arrow right arrow arrow both = causal relationships

arrow uparrow down = increase, decrease

  • Take notes on the sections you have underlined/highlighted.
  • Review often.

Adapted from Strategies for College Success by Mary C. Stark

Updated February 04 2014 by Student & Academic Services

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