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Reading and Note-Taking Strategies for History Class! – AJ Tutoring


The 6th century CE historian Gregory of Tours opened his great work of history Decem Libri Historiarum (The Ten Books of History), with the line “A great many things keep happening, some good, some bad,” and I think this encompasses very much the trials and tribulations of note taking and reading for history class.

The first problem many students, especially AP history students, run into is that there are “a great many things” that  “keep happening” in their textbook and teacher’s lectures. There are events, dates, names, battles, documents, and so much more. How is a student supposed to remember all of them? This firehose of information can overwhelm students and make them want to give up on the class. The good news is that students do not need to remember every single piece of information that is covered by their textbook or teacher.

One of the ways a tutor can help, is assisting in prioritizing information and making it more manageable for students. A common issue is students taking too many notes as they try to write down everything. When it comes to note taking from a textbook, a tutor can help a student work on targeting information that is important, by having the student read a page and then pick out the three pieces of information they think are the most important. A tutor can then help a student fit that information into the broader themes of the unit or chapter. Most AP history tests require knowledge of broad themes and trends and then a few examples of specific information that supports or demonstrates those themes and trends, so knowing and retaining every piece of content is not actually required.

With regards to note taking from a teacher’s lecture, a tutor can also help a student by taking a look at the student’s notes to see what information they are catching, and then help fill in any gaps that they notice. Another way a tutor can help is by giving mini lectures so the student can practice their note taking. Once the mini lecture is done, the tutor and the student can review the notes to see how well the student is processing the information.

The second major problem students encounter in an AP history class is the massive amount of reading that is typically required. It can be utterly overwhelming to have thirty pages of dense textbook reading to complete in a few days or a week, especially since a student usually has homework from other subjects. Textbooks are not known for being entertaining, so it can be a slog to get through them, even for the most enthusiastic readers. There are numerous reading strategies out there, “some good, some bad”, and a tutor can help a student find one that works well for them. Everything from chunking up the reading into more manageable bits, to how to focus long enough to get through it in one sitting and still retain the content. This process can take some trial and error, but with the support of a tutor, students are able to learn how to manage the reading load for an AP history class.

AP history classes are great at teaching you the content for the class, but the teachers don’t always have the time to support students with figuring out note taking and reading strategies. A history tutor is a great resource for this, and can help a student gain confidence and mastery of both skills and also the content!


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