How to Read and Study Medical Texts

  1. PREVIEW SELECTIONS.  Since much of the information is probably unfamiliar, previewing is essential to comprehension.  Read the title, learning objectives, headings and subheadings (turn these into questions), summary, and the review questions.  Skim for main ideas, terminology, and important points.  Skim all the diagrams, charts, flow charts, and other graphics.

  2. READ ACTIVELY AND CAREFULLY.  Unlike other subject areas, you need to read everything in medical material.  Do not skip anything.  Read with a pen and a highlighter in your hand.  Underline or highlight main ideas (only after reading the paragraph); circle important words or phrases; draw boxes around the names or persons or places that seem important; put a check mark in the margin next to any important statement or opinion; use numbers to indicate chronology or a series; use margins to write your own reactions; put a question mark in the margin when you don't understand.

  3. ASK QUESTIONS AS YOU READ and LOOK FOR ANSWERS.  Remember the questions at the end of the chapter or the questions you posed using the headings and subheadings.  Find these answers as you read.  Constantly ask "Why?" "How" and "Under what conditions?"  For each occurrence; be sure you understand how and why it happens.

  4. LEARN THE VOCABULARY AND NOTATION SYSTEM. Create a master file for each course -- a list of new terminology and essential prefixes, roots, and suffixes as well as the symbols, acronyms, signs, and characters that have become standard abbreviations or notations. Make index cards, or use a separate part of your notebook, or make a computer file with a working list of the words and symbols with their definitions.

  5. TRANSLATE FORMULAS INTO WORDS.  To be certain you understand a formula, express it in your own words.  Write it down in your notes.

  6. ANALYZE THE THOUGHT PATTERN OF THE MATERIAL.  The three most commonly used thought patterns in medical text are cause and effect, process, and problem/solution.  Others important ones are classification, factual-statement, and experiment-instruction patterns.  Recognizing the transition words, or signal words, help you identify which pattern of organization the author is using.

  7. WRITE A SET OF NOTES FROM THE CHAPTER.  Using your highlighted main ideas and other markings, reduce the chapter to its most important information.  Use whatever system fits your learning style: the Cornell Notetaking Method, concept mapping, or outlining.


Adapted from "Now the Read Effectively in the Sciences"