Read it Again
It’s after one o’clock in the morning, and even though I am usually an early riser who turns in before 11 pm, I still eagerly thumb through my worn copy of The Odyssey to reread passage after passage again. And again. I’ve already read this book cover-to-cover three times, but I want more. I’m working on an analytical essay for a Classical Literature course, and as I return to these passages of interest to write my analysis of Homer’s classic, I discover more nuances in the language, greater significance in the imagery, and details in the text that I didn’t notice or appreciate until I spontaneously returned to them as part of my writing and reading process.
Spontaneous rereading of a text or passages from a text is a valuable study strategy, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology (Wallace et al., 2022). When we read something for the first time, our reading is linear (Calinescu, 1993). We are focused on forward momentum through the text. But, when we return to reread a text, our reading becomes more circular, reflective, and back-and-forth (Calinescu, 1993). We are no longer concerned with discovering how the story turns out in the end or getting an overview of all the concepts introduced and discussed in an assigned chapter, for instance. Instead, we can key in on the details that are most interesting to us, most valuable to us, or the most important to study for the upcoming exam.
Even better, as we continue to practice rereading, our reading and comprehension skills grow and can be applied to our future reading. By rereading passages from a textbook that we deem essential for an upcoming exam, for example, we will become even better at spotting these important passages when we encounter them the first time reading a future textbook. When our rereading leads us to a better analysis of the details and imagery in a novel, we improve our ability to read and analyze details in the next novel we pick up to read.
Let’s consider a few other benefits of rereading. According to Roskos and Newman (2014), rereading a text can lead to a deeper understanding. Pikulski and Chard (2005) maintain that rereading improves reading fluency, meaning students can make more sense of what they have read and have greater reading comprehension. Rereading not only makes our reading more fluent, but it can also make it more accurate (Samuels, 1979). Have you ever encountered a word you didn’t understand in your reading? I sure have! When we return to that difficult passage and read it again, we will be better able to decode the meaning and understand the word through its context.
So, given these significant benefits, how can we make the most of rereading as a learning strategy?
First, think of reading as a process. Virginia Woolf (1972) models a two-stage reading process in her essay, “How Should One Read a Book?” She defines the first stage as when we are actually reading the text and the second as an after-reading stage, when “details now fit themselves into their places” (8). As you apply this process to your reading assignments, think of your first reading as an overview. This is your opportunity to read through the entire text quickly and thoroughly to find out what is discussed, the concepts presented, and the overall structure and significance of the text you have been assigned to read. Once that actual reading of the chapter or article is complete, you will be able to begin the after-reading stage of your process, returning to the parts you didn’t understand the first time, the parts you recognize as most important to your studies, and the parts that piqued your interest and now call you back.
Second, focus your rereading on significant passages and short chunks of text. To make the most of your rereading, don’t flip back to the start of your chapter and read it all word-for-word a second time. You’ve already done that! Instead, dive back into the passages that explain the main ideas, reread a chunk of text that defines a key concept, or read through the thesis statement and each topic sentence again.
Finally, make the most of rereading as a study strategy by annotating the text or taking notes. Engage with the text! Reading and rereading are more than making our way from the start of a sentence to the end. To maximize our understanding and retention, dive back into those passages of interest and importance and mark them up. Underline keywords or phrases, write a quick summary or definition in your own words in the margins, ask questions and talk back to the author through your notes. You can also use markup tools to annotate an electronic text, like a .pdf. Using Windows 10, right-click the .pdf and select Open with > Microsoft Edge. Highlight passages with your cursor to display the annotation menu. On a Mac, use the Preview app and select View > Show Markup Toolbar to access the markup menu. While taking notes is a valuable reading strategy, studies show that synthesizing and summarizing the content is the most effective (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014). Avoid writing notes verbatim, or word-for-word. Write notes about the ideas in your own words. Annotating or taking notes is the best way to engage with what you are reading and make the most of time spent rereading. Later, reread your notes for another encounter with the text and further understanding and retention of the material.
Returning to the pages of a beloved book is, for so many readers, like squeezing the hand of a dear friend: familiar, comforting, and intimate. The words on these pages aren’t new, and perhaps some passages could nearly be recited by memory, but still, the reader returns to the worn and dog-eared pages of a book they have read countless times before. While not everything we read for our courses is a favorite book, we can certainly use this book-lovers’ strategy to enhance our learning using a variety of texts.
I hope this gives you some insights into the benefits of rereading and ways you can make this learning strategy work for you. Until next time, this is Dr. Linscott with another Learning for Success podcast. Happy learning!
Bogel, A. (2018). I’d rather be reading: The delights and dilemmas of the reading life. Baker Books.
Calinescu, M. (1993). Rereading. Yale University Press.
Mueller, P.A. & Oppenheimer, D.M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 25(6), 1159-1168. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797614524581
Pikulski, J.J. and Chard, D.J. (2005). Fluency: Bridge between decoding and reading comprehension. The Reading Teacher, 58(6). https://www.jstor.org/stable/20205516
Roskos, K. and Neuman, S.B. (2014). Best practices in reading: A 21st century skill update. The Reading Teacher, 67(7). https://www.jstor.org/stable/24573611
Samuels, S. J. (1979). The method of repeated readings. The Reading Teacher, 32(4). https://www.jstor.org/stable/20194790
Wallace, A. S., Elliot, A. J., & Rogge, R.D. (2022). Spontaneous use of retrieval and rereading: Relation to achievement goals and exam performance. Journal of Educational Psychology. http://dx.doi.org.libauth.purdueglobal.edu/10.1037/edu0000757
Woolf, V. (1972). Collected Essays II. The Hogarth Press.