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Starting with law
Starting with law

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3 Learning skills – reading efficiently and with purpose

Law is a subject that requires a lot of reading. This reading can become much more manageable and enjoyable by using reading skills that help you to read more efficiently. Reading for legal study and further study in general becomes more efficient if it is done with a purpose.

Activity 3 Reading with a purpose

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Think about three items that you have read in the last day or so. What was the purpose of reading them? Did you read them differently?


Below, a colleague describes the different ways she read three items.

  1. A letter from the Inland Revenue. I was expecting this letter, and was familiar with the subject matter, but was particularly concerned with the date by which I had to respond. In reading this, I scanned the letter quickly until I found the date that was of particular concern to me. If you know what you are looking for then this scanning process can be quite speedy.
  2. A piece of legal text that I was considering using as an activity for a course. In reading this, I read every word carefully, as my purpose in doing so was to make sure that there were no legal terms that would be unfamiliar to students. This was, therefore, a much slower process.
  3. A chapter of the novel that I am reading at the moment. I am midway through this novel, so am very familiar with the plot, the characters and the author’s style. So, my approach to reading this was probably somewhere between reading the letter and reading the legal text. My familiarity with the novel meant that although I wasn’t looking for a particular aspect (such as the date in the letter) I wasn’t reading every word as carefully as in the legal text.

You will probably find that you are already reading with a purpose without really thinking about it.

As a law student you will find it useful to understand and develop the following reading purposes or styles:

  • reading for gist or substance
  • reading for specific information
  • reading to reformulate.