Reading Quantitative Texts

Learning Objectives

  • Identify strategies for reading quantitative texts

Effective reading requires more engagement than just reading the words on the page. Reading a quantitative math text effectively uses the same skills as reading any academic text effectively. It’s still a good idea to do things like circle key words, write notes, and reflect. You can still employ the same steps that were presented previously:

  • Preview: You can gain insight from an academic text before you even begin the reading assignment. In the section about preparing for lecture, you were encouraged to preview the material associated with the day’s lesson. In this way, previewing serves you in two ways.
  • Read: While you read a math text, you should have a pen or pencil in hand. Circle or highlight key concepts, definitions, or examples. Write questions or comments in the margins or in a notebook.
  • Summarize: After you read a math text, it’s worth taking the time to write a short summary—even if your instructor doesn’t require it. The exercise of jotting down a few definitions or examples can help to solidify new ideas and help you when you do homework or study for a test.
  • Review: It always helps to revisit what you’ve read for a quick refresher. It may not be practical to thoroughly reread assignments from start to finish, but before class discussions or tests, it’s a good idea to skim through them to identify the main points, reread any notes at the ends of chapters, and review any summaries you’ve written.

Get to Know the Conventions

Math texts may be organized in a way that is new to you. They are full of symbols and notation, and not as much text as other subjects. A few important features make up a math text. These include

  • definitions
  • examples
  • descriptions of notation
  • text
  • graphs
  • tables

You may be tempted to skip over examples or boxes with definitions in them when you are reading a math text and just get to the “regular” text part. BEWARE! Most of the important information in a math text is in the definitions, examples, and notation. Notation is very important to most college math instructors, so take the time to pay attention to how mathematical ideas and processes are written.

Look up and Keep Track of Unfamiliar Notation and Definitions

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If you don’t understand a definition or how it is applied, make note of your confusion.  You can circle an example or the definition, or write it in your notes. Ask for help to clarify your confusion. Try rewriting mathematical expressions or equations as words if you are confused by them. Remember that being confused is probably the most important part of learning: it means that you know where to focus your learning strategies!

Look for Main Ideas and Themes

Rather than presenting ideas with a thesis statement, then supporting them with examples and discussion, a math text will present a mathematical definition or classification, and support it with examples. As a college student, you are not expected to understand every single word or idea presented in a reading, especially if you haven’t discussed it in class yet. However, you will get more out of class or homework practice if you can identify the main concepts in a reading.

Pay Attention to Visual Information

Math texts present a numerous graphs, tables, charts, and images. These items contain valuable information to help you more deeply grasp a topic. Graphs can show a visual representation of a mathematical rule or equation. Tables can help you see trends or describe relationships.

Data-rich graphics can take longer to “read” than the text around them because they present a lot of information in a condensed form.  Give yourself plenty of time to study these items, as they often provide new and lasting insights that are easy to recall later (like in the middle of an exam on that topic!).


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