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Step 4 Self-assessment exercises: identifying points and expressing ideas

Step 4 Self-assessment exercises: identifying points and expressing ideas

4.1 Identify (and make notes on) the main points from written and spoken materials and express ideas in your own words

Figure 2
Photo: Richard Learoyd

The next two tasks are designed to help you think about reading and picking out the main ideas from course materials.

4.2 Task 1: Identifying main points from the text

The extract below is from a chapter called ‘Whose health is it anyway?’ by Brenda Smith and David Goldblatt (2004) from Open University course DD100 An introduction to the social sciences: understanding social change.

Please read the information outlined in the box below and make notes on the important points.

Whose health is it anyway?

Health seems to play an increasing role in our everyday lives. It is difficult to pick up a newspaper or magazine, listen to the television or radio, or visit a bookshop without being confronted with information on health or exhortations to avoid certain foods, take certain vitamins or minerals, take regular exercise and a host of other things. It seems that everyone is concerned with health – not just doctors and health-care professionals, but the government, the media and indeed all of us who each year make resolutions to eat more healthily, drink or smoke less and take regular exercise. A lot of this information and advice seems to suggest that we can influence the extent to which we enjoy good health through the food we eat, the exercise we take (or don't take), the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ habits we have. In other words, we each seem to be responsible for whether or not we enjoy full, active, healthy lives.

However, despite this rhetoric of responsibility for oneself and one's health, a close look at the same sources tells us that atmospheric pollution is a major problem of the era and that it is largely responsible for breathing difficulties such as asthma in our cities. In the twenty-first century we are also witnessing widespread concerns about the health effects of genetically engineered food and heated debates about just how ‘natural’ the fruit and vegetables in our shops and supermarkets are. Increasingly, too, we hear about the medical discoveries of genes which play a part in the development of diseases such as cancer, whilst drug companies constantly seem to produce new treatments for many forms of disease. Many sources also suggest that feelings of being uneasy with ourselves and the stresses and strains of everyday life cause many illnesses.

These arguments seem to suggest that there are many causes of illness which are not within the individual's control. As individuals we are concerned with maximizing our own health. However, these issues are also important for society as a whole. Apart from moral reasons for maximizing the health of the nation, provision of health services places a considerable financial burden on taxpayers. In Britain, around 7 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (an indicator of the nation's income) is spent on health care services, whilst working time lost through illness places pressure on business and other organizations.

Activity 2

Now, read the extract again and make notes on the important points in preparation for an essay entitled ‘What factors can be seen to affect health?’

You can use a dictionary if you need to.

4.2.1 Self-assessment

  • (A) I could understand the text quite well without the use of a dictionary and was able to pick out the main ideas in order to make notes.

  • (B) I needed a dictionary but after some time I understood most of the ideas and was able to identify the main ideas and make some notes.

  • (C) I could not really understand the ideas in the text and found it difficult to identify the main points.

Please now turn to your Step 8 Self-assessment grid  and note in the appropriate column for this task whether your self-assessment is A, B or C.

4.3 Task 2: Making effective notes

Notes should only include the main points.

Please read the following three sets of notes on the text from Task 1.

Notes 1

Health plays increasing role in our everyday lives: difficult to pick up a newspaper or magazine, listen to the television or radio, or visit a bookshop without being confronted with information on health or exhortations to avoid certain foods, take certain vitamins or minerals, take regular exercise. Everyone is concerned with health: we each seem to be responsible for whether or not we enjoy full, active, healthy lives.

Despite rhetoric of responsibility for oneself and one's health, a close look at the same sources tells us that atmospheric pollution is a major problem of the era and that it is largely responsible for breathing difficulties such as asthma in our cities. In the twenty-first century we are also witnessing widespread concerns about the health effects of genetically engineered food. The stresses and strains of everyday life cause many illnesses.

As individuals we are concerned to maximize our own health. However, these issues are also important for society as a whole. In Britain, around 7% of the Gross Domestic Product (an indicator of the nation's income) is spent on health care services.

Notes 2

Health: plays key role, wealth of information from media including advice on food, vitamins and exercise. Doctors, health care professionals and media interested: we can influence aspects of our health by improving lifestyle and changing habits. There are dangers to health such as atmospheric pollution, genetically engineered foods, stress in everyday living. Health is an important issue: 7% of Gross Domestic Income spent on health care issues. If people off sick working time lost: loss to businesses and economy.

Notes 3

Health: seen as more and more important by health professionals, government, media, individuals.

Advice widely available on changing individuals' lifestyles e.g. re food eaten, vitamins taken, exercise → implies that individuals are responsible for own health.

But: also information (from same sources) on factors not within our control: e.g. pollution, food (natural?), genetic causes of disease, stress.

Responsibility for health difficult to assess – complex factors – but importance clear for individuals and society: moral and economic reasons for keeping people as healthy as possible.

Question

Which of these three examples do you think is most effective in summarising the main points of the text from Task 1: Notes 1, Notes 2 or Notes 3?

Answer

Notes 1 picks out the main ideas but often the exact words from the text have been copied. The writer has not shown that he or she can express the ideas in his or her own words. The notes are also too long. There is a lot of unnecessary detail.

Notes 2 include some of the main points but the writer has missed out some important points, e.g. the argument over who is responsible for health and how much control we have over our health.

Notes 3 are the most effective. They include the main points and the writer has shown that he or she understands the ideas by putting them in his or her own words and his or her style of note taking. Notes can be taken in different formats, for example lists – as shown here – or grids – especially useful for comparisons.

Which style of notes works best would depend on your task, the requirements of your faculty and, of course, your own style and preferences. These are just suggestions on how to organise notes effectively – there are also other styles which would work well depending on the information and the task you have been asked to carry out. Once you begin your studies, you will have access to further advice for effective note taking – see also Step 9  in this course. In the meantime, see some suggestions for further practice below.

4.3.1 Self-assessment

  • (A) I chose Notes 3.

  • (B) I chose Notes 2.

  • (C) I chose Notes 1.

Please now enter either A, B or C on your Step 8 Self-assessment grid.

4.3.2 Advice on identifying the main points from written materials

  • Practise by reading articles in ‘serious’ newspapers or magazines or listening to/watching serious programmes on the radio or TV, and making notes in English in your own words about the main points.

  • Write a summary of the article or programme.

  • Show it to a friend to see if he or she can get an idea of what the article was about from your summary.

Now go to Step 5 Self-assessment exercises: express concepts and ideas in your own words.