1. force yourself to make notes in the margin.
The habit of making notes in the margin is a learned one, but it will serve you well if you can master it before college. Jot down ideas that come to you as you read - don't worry if they seem obvious or silly, as some of them will be.
Little inscriptions like "unhappy childhood = cause of current situation," or "foreshadowing," not only help you to consciously recognize the literary techniques the author uses, they identify passages you might want to quote from later on when you write your essay.
2. Underline words if you don't know what they mean.
Ideally you should go look these up, but even if you don't do that, underlining them makes you stop to look at the words, and more often than not if you take a few seconds you'll be able to tell what words means by the context. This is a good technique for building up your SAT/ACT vocabulary skills.
3. Circle or use a squiggly line to identify recurring themes, ideas, or symbols.
Is that the third time you've picked up on a reference to a serpent? Circle it - you might have found a common symbol for evil. Is this character always having dreams about water? Throw a squiggly line on the side of that paragraph, as you might want to come back later and take a closer look.
4. At the end of each chapter, take a few minutes to think about what the author has accomplished in the preceding pages.
What are the major shifts in the story line? How are the characters progressing? How does the chapter fit in with the other chapters in the book?
Jot a few ideas at the bottom of the last page of the chapter: "We learn about Gatsby's love for Daisy," or "contrasts city atmosphere with country setting." In doing so, you will create some helpful review notes and prepare yourself to absorb the next chapter.
5. If your book is a different version from the one issued by your school, you might want to hand in your copy with any essay that you write; that way your teacher will be able to find the page references for the quotations you might have included.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society