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Summer reading. Always the bane of  high school students’ summers, now middle schools and even elementary schools have also added summer reading as a requirement. Of course, summer reading lists vary from school to school, teacher to teacher. No matter whether you are assigned The Life of Pi, The Great Gatsby, or All Quiet on the Western Front, you can get your summer reading done and ace that test!

Haven’t started your list yet? No worries. First, divide and conquer. Rather than looking at the huge stack of books and bemoaning your fate, divide the number of pages by the number of days left in your summer. Starting early helps, but if you’ve let it go until mid-summer you can still finish by September if you set up a schedule.

Next, buy the books (secondhand if budgets don’t allow for a trip to Borders or Barnes and Noble). Don’t skimp and use library copies. With your own personal copies you can highlight memorable passages and events or write relevant notes in the margins. Both of these strategies are helpful in memorizing detailed material.

Once you’ve read a chapter, summarize it using your own words in a specially designated notebook. This notebook will become your study guide. Or, flashcards for each book are a second option (just remember to attach them to a ring to keep them organized). Flashcards are especially helpful for longer, more complicated works with many characters, events or multiple plot lines.

When it’s time for your pretest review, try to think like a teacher. What is the general theme(s) of the book? Who are the main characters? What is the author trying to say? Teachers are interested in what you got out of the book. Where do you see parallels to your life? Of course, it’s difficult to know exactly what the teacher is going to ask on the essay portion of your test, but try to come up with some general themes and you’ll already be ahead of the game.

A final note: never, never, NEVER use Cliff Notes or other shortcut “study guides” as a substitute for reading the book.  Although these resources give a quick outline of a book’s plot, other elements are incredibly compromised including the complexities of characters, vivid descriptions of places and events, and the specific use of language that makes each author unique. In addition, when writing an essay based on a book, using Cliff Notes or other “prefab” analysis will be instantly obvious to a teacher (and graded as such).

So, pull out those books, grab a lounge chair and a lemonade and get started!

For 25 years, Back to Basics in Wilmington, Delaware has been recognized as the area’s undisputed leader in one-on-one tutoring. In addition, the firm offers a unique Delaware private school for grades K-12 and a Private Business and Trade School for adults. Back to Basics is the 2010 Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics.

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