The Extent to Which Psychology Students Read Textbooks: A Multiple Class Analysis of Reading across the Psychology Curriculum

By Clump, Michael A.; Bauer, Heather et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2004 | Go to article overview

The Extent to Which Psychology Students Read Textbooks: A Multiple Class Analysis of Reading across the Psychology Curriculum


Clump, Michael A., Bauer, Heather, Bradley, Catherine, Journal of Instructional Psychology


Knowing that the study strategies of students using college textbooks can be a powerful predictor of performance in the classroom, we examined the extent to which students in different psychology courses reported reading their textbooks. In psychology courses overall, students read on average 27.46% of the assigned readings before class and 69.98% before an exam, which corresponds to previous research. We furthermore found that these percentages were highly influenced by the course in which the students responded. In fact the percentages ranged from 21.21% to only 42.96% before class and from 60.83% to 91.20% before an exam, with significant differences existing between courses. Given that the majority of college students spend less than 3 hours reading textbook material and that they feel the instructor is responsible for reviewing material during class time, as well as, telling them what is important in the reading, instructors must find ways to encourage more reading by students, even if this involves giving quizzes over reading material.

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Reading educators, when focusing on a student's skills and difficulties in learning from textbooks, have found that college freshmen lack mature and efficient strategies necessary for learning on their own (Simpson, 1984 as cited in Wandersee, 1988). Throughout the study, Simpson found that college freshmen had minimal strategies for studying, did not know why they chose a particular strategy, and were uncertain in how to determine if they were prepared for an exam. Friedman and Wilson (1975) indicated that considerable efforts have been made to improve how students learn, but little attention has been paid to the core element of that process, which is how students read their textbooks. As evidence of this Friedman and Wilson found when students were presented unknowingly with textbooks containing glue seals throughout the textbook chapters, the students spent more time reading chapter summaries rather than the chapters themselves when preparing for an examination. Thus, students cannot be involved in the type of meaningful learning that Wandersee described, in which a student must find the meaning the author presents, decide its significance, learn the meaning, relate the concept to past experiences in order to clarify it, and continue to practice and review what was learned from the textbook material. This level of learning cannot take place by merely reading the chapters summaries in a textbook. Smith (1982) found the learning strategies of mature learners involve not only reading their textbooks, but they also find alternatives texts to aid them in their knowledge acquisition, which is in stark contrast to those only reading chapter summaries.

Wandersee (1988) stated that reading leads to better grades, which would lead one to assume that students would read their textbooks in order to prepare for examinations. However, Burchfield and Sappington (2000) found an overall decline in reading compliance over a 16 year span. Furthermore, Sikorski et al. (2002) found that most students reported reading their textbooks less than 3 hours per week, which is significantly less than university recommendations for study regimens, which commonly advise at least 2 hours of study time for every class credit (The Center for Advancement of Learning, 1998). For example, if a class meets for 3 hours a week, students should plan to spend at least 6 hours studying that subject each week. If a student has 15 class hours every week, he/she should spend at least 30 hours studying per week. The idea is that students need to treat college like a full-time job, meaning class preparation should take approximately 40 hours a week, but only 12 percent of college freshmen spend 26 hours or more a week studying, and most spend less than 15 hours a week studying (Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research and Planning, 2002). In addition George Kuh (in Young, 2002) stated that "students are studying about one-third as much as faculty say they ought to, to do well" (p. …

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