The way you study something will likely vary depending on how familiar you are with the subject matter. If you’re fairly familiar with the core concepts, you can force active recall by using flashcards to review, or enhance your grasp of a topic by teaching it to someone else, for instance. But what about when you’re first encountering a new piece of information and you have no real context for it?
A lot of reading techniques ask you to come up with questions or hypotheses before you even start reading, but that’s not easy when you don’t have much familiarity with your subject. In these cases, the REAP method can help. It’s a technique that directs you to read first, and save the deeper work for later. Here’s how it works.
What is the REAP method?
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REAP is an acronym, and stands for “read, encode, annotate, and ponder.” Like methods such as SQ3R or KWL, it asks you to approach each new passage with a strategic plan. But unlike those techniques, you don’t have to know anything about your subject going into a reading session. Instead of skimming the chapter, coming up with ideas about what you think it will be about and what you want to get out of it, and relying on what you already know before you start, you acknowledge that you don’t know much about the subject at all, and set out to learn more about it, and then think more about it to figure out what parts are most essential before committing it to memory.
How does REAP work?
Using the REAP method, you first read the passage, chapter, or section of texton your own. Don’t think too hard here; the goal of a reading-first approach is not to read overly critically, but to absorb the information as a whole. Then you encode the information by putting it in your own words. You can do this by writing a quick, paragraph-long summary in your notes or describing it out loud to someone else. Next, annotate the text by writing down only the main ideas—whether in the form of keywords, pieces of data, quotes, or standout elements of the introduction or conclusion.
When it’s time to ponder, review the text, your summary, and your high-level notes as you develop additional research questions sparked by what you’ve read. This is when you can begin to make connections between the information and real-world applications. It’s only at this point that you lean on critical reading and reflection: Compare your encoding and annotation with the original text and consider whether you accurately identified the most critical themes and overall messages in your rewriting.
The REAP approach is a good one to start with before moving on to something more granular, like SQ3R. It lets you familiarize yourself with the full body of text instead of immediately focusing on the nitty-gritty of subheadings and tables. This helps you grasp the overarching meaning before you dive into the weeds. For maximum retention, next try going back through the text and employing a critical reading technique like THIEVES to extract every relevant detail.