As lawyers and law students, we are living in an increasingly digitized world. From law school to the bar exam to practice, many tasks that were exclusively paper-based have been transferred to an online format.
Perhaps we won’t be able to call it “book” briefing much longer? In law school, you might find yourself needing to read an online casebook or study aid. The major book publishers now all offer digitized texts. In most cases, though, you will still have the option to choose a print book or digitized text.
In some scenarios, though, you won’t have the option of reading in print. With the COVID-19 crisis keeping many of us at home, more testing has been pushed to remote platforms. In law school, you might have to read your professor’s midterm hypothetical on your screen instead of in print. Beyond law school, other tests are moving online. The MPRE is now administered in an online format. And, in many jurisdictions, the bar exam is being delivered remotely this fall. This is a trend that is likely to stick around for future administrations of the UBE; the NBCE noted that when the next version of the UBE is rolled out, it will be administered on computers instead of paper.
But reading online poses difficulties. Are you prepared to push through them to be an effective digital reader?
Why is it hard?
Have you ever noticed that you whiz through reading on a screen, but when you go back to think about it, you have comprehended very little? What makes reading online different (and potentially more difficult) than reading in print?
- Pace. Many of us have a habit of motoring through digitized readings for pleasure. While I might read a paperback with a lingering pace, when I read on my phone, I am a scrolling speed demon. My quick pace is not usually an issue for pleasure reading: even with my quick clip, I can comprehend what I need to from the news, blogs, and personal emails. The problem is that my speedster habit doesn’t stay contained to my pleasure reading—it carries over to work done online. But items I read for professional purposes usually require a greater depth of comprehension.
- Multitasking. I also find that I am driven to distraction in online reading. It is simply too easy to click a link, open a new tab, or field a text or email alert that pops into my view. These distractions are “baked in” to the online reading experience. As a result, it is much less likely than I am reading items from start to finish without diversion.
- Spatial memory. Beyond distractions, it is more difficult for us to create a solid memory of the content we read online. Some experts theorize our recall of information is tied to its positioning on a physical page. Our brains form connections to information based on where it is printed—for example, a chart on the left-hand side, or a paragraph below a bolded heading on page 22. When we read in print, our ability to hold the page reinforces these spatial connections. Online reading, however, which lacks stable positioning of information, robs our brains of this spatial connection. So, we must work harder to recall what we read.
- Flicker and glare. Some experts theorize, too, that the screen taxes the brain more than reading in print. After a full day of reading on screen, I often walk away with a jittery, seasick feeling. This isn’t something that happens when I spend hours with my nose in a book.
Despite these difficulties, reading online seems like it is here to stay. So how can you make the best of it?
Strategies for success
- Mark it up. Many reading comprehension strategists recommend marking up a text as you read it. Many online document distribution platforms permit the reader to react to a text as she reads it—take advantage of this functionality. Highlighting is one commonly available tool. But highlighting alone usually is not an active enough strategy to produce deep comprehension. Check out the platform for a comment feature, which enables you to highlight text and add your own notes in the margins. Use this feature to practice effective comprehension strategies. You can define key terms and paraphrase difficult to comprehend arguments. And go that extra step beyond paraphrase: talk back to the text! React to and analyze the arguments you are reading for better comprehension.
- Stop and reflect. What can you do if your online document does not permit marking? Stopping and reflecting can produce similar results. You can practice the same strategies as you would if you were digitally annotating the text. But you produce an internal monologue instead of a digital annotation. Importantly, screen readers have a tendency to overestimate their comprehension. So, developing a practice of stopping and reflecting to ensure comprehension is a good idea to ensure that the information is truly sticking.
- Practice the 20/20/20 rule to reduce screen fatigue. After twenty minutes of online reading, take a break: look out a window and focus on something twenty feet away for at least twenty seconds. Giving your eyes a chance to select a focal point that is further away than your screen can help you refresh, so that you take up the reading again with greater efficacy.
With these helpful tools, you can better cope with online texts. Looking for more help surviving an online bar exam? Check out this podcast.