What it is

In summarization, you identify a text’s main points, excluding unimportant material. For many students, the main goal is to get the amount of text that should be learned before a test down to a maintainable amount of ‘pages’.

How to do it

There are many different ways to summarize a text. For example, one can find the important sentences in the text to be read and copy and paste them to another document. In this manner, summarization is barely different from highlighting. On the other hand, students could summarize by reading the text, thinking about it, attempting to understand it and then writing it down in their own words, as if they were explaining it to themselves. This technique is then more closely related to elaboration. This makes it difficult to give one overall view on summarization: it all really depends on how you do it.

A possible way to combine summarization and practice testing is by using the Cornell method. This is a very simple manner of summarizing, where you leave some space on one side of the page (left or right), and you use that space to write down keywords or test questions that pop up while summarizing. If then later you want to test yourself, you can simply cover the summary part of the page and explain the keywords and answer the questions. An important advantage of this method is that you can immediately check whether you answered correctly.

Does it work, and why?

Its usefulness depends completely on the manner in which it is done.

  • Copy-pasting the most important information into a separate document or notebook does not benefit learning performance at all, because it is very passive.
  • Summarizing can be helpful if you do it actively, for instance with the read-recite-review method: summarize the tutorial meeting or a chapter by recalling what you remember. Then review your class notes and literature and edit the summary. That way, you combined summarizing with practice testing
  • The Cornell-note taking technique is also a useful technique as it supports the active processing of the information. Do not reread your summary, but test yourself with the questions you have written in the column (again, a combination with practice testing) and check your answers with your summary.

The general conclusion for summarization could be: as long as you are actively engaged with the material while summarizing and combine it with other strategies, summarizing can be very useful.