• Ian Gibbs

Student Tip 15: Something To Do With A Pencil


Maybe you already know this game, but an entertaining way to pass the time on a long journey is to play ‘Things you can do with...’.


It helps develop your creativity and can be very funny depending on who you play it with.


The idea is simple.


Someone thinks of an everyday object such as a paperclip, a ping-pong ball or a house-brick. Then you take it in turns to think up different uses for the aforementioned item.


For example, if the chosen item were a ‘pencil’, then possible uses could be ‘stabbing a hole through a piece of plastic, ‘as an axle for a homemade toy car’ or ‘to remove something unpleasant from the bottom of your shoe’.


But one use of a pencil you mustn’t forget if you want to learn stuff better is to underline key bits of text while you’re reading.


Be honest: How many times have you found yourself halfway through a page of your coursebook only to realise you have no idea what it is you’ve just read?


This happens because, although your eyes were on the page, you were thinking about something else.


Following what you’re reading with the tip of a pencil serves as a visual guide and helps you pay attention to the task.


Gently underlining the key points helps you mentally engage.


It makes you think about what you’re reading instead of thinking about something else.


Having paid more attention and underlined the key points means you won’t have to waste time rereading the text.


You just need to skim over it, quickly returning to the important bits.


This makes summarising much simpler.


And finally, once you’ve gone through your text and want to make a few flashcards, it’s much easier to pick out the key nuggets if they’re already underlined.


But don’t get overenthusiastic.


Don’t underline too much.


I’ve seen books where almost entire pages have been underlined.


This is counterproductive.


If all the words are underlined, then none of them are going to stand out.


What about if what you’re reading is on the computer?


You have a choice.


Either print it off and work with it on paper or copy and paste it into a document. This way you can underline using the computer or use the highlight facility.


In fact, I know people who prefer to highlight their texts instead of underlining in pencil.


If you prefer highlighting, fine.


The main difference is that if you change your mind, you can’t rub out highlighter, so you’re stuck with it whether you like it or not.


Pencil is forgiving.


It lets you change your mind whenever you want.


Without this simple technique, it’s more likely your concentration will stray.


You’ll lose track of what you’re reading and have to waste your valuable time and effort going over it again.


Without having underlined bits, when you get to the end you won’t have identified the key points and so won’t have such a clear idea of what to do next.


Notice how the underlined text in this tip helps draw your attention to the main ideas.


In short, it saves you time and gives your thoughts structure to easily build on—a simple but effective way of helping you learn stuff better.


Tip 15: When studying a text, underline the key points in pencil.

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