Information Processing


Information Processing is about how you process, understand and make sense of new concepts, ideas, materials and draw conclusions.  Here are a few questions to ask yourself:  

  • Can you imagine analogies that aid in your memory?
  • Can you reason from hypotheses to form conclusions?
  • Do you summarize or paraphrase class reading assignments?
  • Do you try to related class presentation material to things you already know?
  • Do you take effective notes during lecture? From your books?
  • Do you have trouble remembering information or recalling facts?

Success in College depends on your:

  • Ability to use organizational strategies and reasoning skills to connect what is already known with what is being learned
  • Knowledge acquisition
  • Knowledge retention

If you have problems with information processing, you may want to:                                                     

  • Find techniques to help them make information personally meaningful
  • Store information in ways that heighten accessibility
  • Complete the online module for information processing

Students should review these online presentations:

  • Surviving Large Lectures
  • How Can I Remember Everything
  • Effective Note Taking Techniques
  • Reading Techniques that Make Sense – SQ4R
  • Preparing for Academic Success

There are four (4) areas critical to information processing:
Active Listening
Good Lecture Notes
Reading Techniques
Graphic Organizers 

Active Listening

Good Information Processing involves – Active Listening

Because most classes involve lectures, listening skills are critical for success in college.  Listening is not merely hearing a speaker; it is comprehension of what is being said and absorbing the meaning.  Such intentional, careful attention is called active “listening.”


Good Listeners:

  • Sit in front of the room
  • Sit up straight
  • Look at the speaker
  • React to what is being said
  • Ask questions and listen to the answers
  • Identify the main idea (what’s the most important point of the lecture?)
  • Listen for major details (what supports the main point?)
  • Note the key words, especially if they are unfamiliar
  • Paraphrase the information when writing it down


Poor Listeners:

  • Allow themselves to become distracted
  • Do rote (mindless) note-taking
  • Emotionally reject the subject or speaker

Note Taking

note takingGood Information Processing involves – Taking Good Lecture Notes

To help you better understand and remember the content of lectures, record a speaker’s ideas while they are being presented.  There are several available note taking methods including:  Cornell, Charting, Mapping, Outline and Sentence.  Links to these examples are also provided below.   

Whichever note taking method you decide is best for you, these 8 are items are essential:    

  1. Full-sized, three-ring notebooks are best for containing all lecture notes, handouts, and notes from the text and readings. Why? Pages can be arranged chronologically with pertinent handouts inserted into lecture notes for easy reference. If you miss a lecture, you can easily add the missing notes. Course materials are together in one notebook.
  2. Date and number your note pages and your handouts. It will help with continuity.
  3. Give yourself plenty of blank spaces in your notes, as well as plenty of room to write. This will allow you to make additional notes, sketch helpful graphics, or write textbook references. Your notes will be easier to read if you write in pen and use only one side of the paper.
  4. Law-ruled or summary-margin paper is helpful with its three-inch margin on the left side of the page. If you can’t find this paper, draw the margin on each piece of paper. This sets one up for using the Cornell format of note taking. Write your notes on the right side of the line. After the lecture, use the left margin for key words or phrases, or sample questions when you review the notes.
  5. Take as many notes as you can. If you miss something, leave a space; you may be able to fill in the blanks later. Do not stop taking notes if you are confused or if you want to ponder a particular concept. You will have time for that later. Abbreviations are extremely helpful. Suggestions for abbreviations are listed in this section.
  6. It may be difficult to make your notes look great or to have them extremely organized as you write them. Work with your notes as soon after class as possible when your recall is at its best. You may be able to fill in some blanks. Color coding can bring some organization to your notes. For example, identify concepts and categories by highlighting items with a particular color. If you still have problems organizing your notes, begin to formulate a specific question for your professor or study groups.
  7. As you review your notes, look at the information as answers to questions. As these questions become clearer to you, jot down the questions in the left margin. You may also write key words or phrases in the left hand margin that cue your recall of definitions, theories, models, or examples. Now you are ready to try to recall the information in your notes. Cover the right side of your notes, leaving only these cues (whether there are questions or key words) to test yourself.
  8. As you begin to put the material of the course together, add a somewhat generic question - WHY? - To your answers. You need to know why any particular answer is correct. You need to know why the information is pertinent to the course. This will also prepare you for essay exams, as well.

As promised, here are links to the other note taking methods: 
The Charting Notetaking Method
The Mapping Notetaking Method
The Outline Notetaking Method
The Sentence Notetaking Method

Reading Techniques

Good Information Processing Means Possessing – Reading Techniques
Reading can be challenging!  Like any other skill such as playing the piano or basketball or working algebra problems, spending time developing this skill will eventually make reading more easily.  The more you do it, the simpler it gets, and the more enjoyable it becomes.  The most common reading technique is SQ4R, which is linked below.  There are also other downloadable documents related to reading.

Whichever reading technique you determine works best for you, here are some basic guidelines you will need to follow.   

Give Yourself Enough Time
Because essays always propose a line of reasoning, if you stop in the middle, you run the risk of forgetting what came before.  Not only do you have to read the whole essay, but you have to understand it too.  A large part of that understanding involves following the process of the author’s reasoning.  So, give yourself plenty of time to read completely through the assignment.

Use All Available Study Aids
If you are reading from a textbook, make good use of all the study aids the author or editor(s) offer.  Read the introductions, summaries, glossaries, and indexes.  Examine the study questions, take advantage of any section headings, margin notes and boxed passages if your textbook offers them. All of these are instructional features that can help you read the book more easily.  Take advantage of them!

Grant All Ideas a Fair Hearing 
One good rule to follow when you are reading is what’s called the “Principle of Charity.”  If your instructor asked you to read the material, he/she most likely thinks that there is something valuable to be learned from the essay.  Be charitable.  Grant all ideas a fair hearing, even if (and especially if) you do not agree with them.  People have the most trouble understanding and remembering ideas they disagree with, so this is something to work on.

Read and Reread 
You can rarely read an essay just once and completely understand it.  Some writings demand careful, slow and repeated reading.  Reread as often as you need to, to understand what the author is saying. However, don’t spend so much time rereading the passage that you get discouraged. 

Change Your Surroundings 
If you are experiencing a great deal of frustration or difficulty with your reading, consider finding a new place to read.  If you are tired, distracted, uncomfortable, hungry, thirsty or whatever, you may have difficulties with our reading.  The better you can make the atmosphere, the better your comprehension is likely to be.

Read Actively
Always read actively –that is you must be constantly asking yourself:  What is the main point?  Why did the author just say that?  What are the author’s reasons for believing this?  Do I agree or disagree with this point?  Keep a pencil, a highlighter, a pad of sticky notes, or a note pad handy.  Mark passages that seem important or passages that you don’t understand.  However, don’t highlight every sentence! 

Keep A Dictionary
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary is a good comprehensive dictionary that can often be found on sale for a reasonable price.  A paperback pocket dictionary will not be adequate.  Many of the authors are from a multitude of scholarly areas and tend to use large and sometimes obscure words.   So using a good dictionary is critical. 
Website: is a great online resource and quick to access.

Stop And Summarize What You Have Read 
After you finish a section or a page, pause and see if you can restate what the author is saying in your own words.  As you read, regularly stop. Close your eyes and mentally summarize the main points of what you have read.  If you are ambitious, actually writing your summary down is even better; since it helps you remember what you’ve read. 

Look for the Essay’s Main Point 
On your first reading of the essay, you should be looking for the author’s conclusions.  Ask yourself:  What is the author trying to prove?  Just grasping the main point is a large enough part of the battle.  If there are passages or details that you find particularly difficult even after reading them several times, skip over them and you will understand them better. 

Identify the Essay’s Premise
Once you understand the point or points the author is trying to prove, you need to figure out what his reasons are.  On your second reading, ask yourself:  Why does she think her conclusion is true?  As a rule, all essays offer a chain of ideas, or premises.  Premises are meant to provide reasons leading to the overall conclusion.  The primary task in reading is to identify the author’s premises and conclusions.

Talk to Your Instructor
If you still do not understand an essay after following all these suggestions, then you should consult your instructor.  Your instructor is one of your most important resources and is more that happy to help.  Clarify, or just chat about your readings.[1] 

For more information on how to use SQ4R, and other reading methods, click on the documents below:
SQ4R Reading Method
Speed Reading Techniques

[1] Adapted from Anne Michaels Edwards “Writing to Learn.”  2000.

Highlighting In Your Textbook

Mark Your Textbooks!
Highlighting information in your textbooks is a great way to gage your complete understanding of the material.  Often times, students get highlighter happiness and entire pages get a splash of color.  This is NOT the best way to determine what is most important, and usually every word, paragraph and page is deemed important.  So, to help the happy highlighters, there are nine (9) basics for proper highlighting in your textbook.   

  1. Finish reading before marking. Never mark until you have finished reading a full paragraph or headed section and have paused to think about what you just read. The procedure will keep you from grabbing at everything that looks important at first glance.
  2. Be extremely selective. Don’t underline or jot down so many items that they overload your memory or cause you to try to think in several directions at once. Be stingy with your markings, but don’t be so brief that you’ll have to read through the page again when you review.
  3. Use your own words. The jottings in the margins should be in your own words. Since your own words represent your own thinking they will later be powerful cues to the ideas on the page.
  4. Be brief. Underline brief but meaningful phrases, rather than complete sentences. Make your marginal jottings short and to the point. They will make a sharper impression on your memory, and they will be easier to use when you recite and review.
  5. Be swift. You don’t have all day for marking. Read, go back for a mini-overview, and make your markings. Then attack the next portion of the chapter.
  6. Be neat. Neatness takes conscious effort, not time. Later when you review, the neat marks will encourage you and save time, since the ideas will be easily and clearly perceived.
  7. Organize facts and ideas under categories. Items within categories are far more easily memorized than random facts and ideas.
  8. Try cross-referencing. For example, if you find an idea on page 64 that has a direct bearing on an idea back on page 28, draw a little arrow pointing upward and write “28” by it. Then turn back to page 28 and alongside the idea there, draw an arrow pointing downward and write “64” by it. In this way you’ll tie the two ideas together, in your mind and in your reviewing.
  9. Be systematic. There are many ways to mark the text: single and double underlines; the use of asterisks, circling, boxing for important items; and the use of top and bottom margins for longer notations. If some of these ideas appeal to you, work them into your marking system, one or two at a time. But use them consistently so you will remember what they mean at review time.

Graphic Organizers

Using graphic organizers is another way for students, especially visual learners, to process information.