Why do we need to be wary of what others highlight?
Students get given books and these are mostly well-thumbed and well-used. These will also contain some notes, underlining or sections of text highlighted. Is this a problem?
Well, yes it is. One, students shouldn’t be defacing books if they are being passed on. If it’s their own book, fine, let them do what they want.
But books that get passed one year to the next can be confusing for those that are next in line. There can be nothing worse than looking at what someone else has decided is important information that actually isn’t.
You might not think highlighting makes much difference to revision and studying and you’d be right. I’ve examined this before. But, some of the stuff can stick and if that text is superfluous or just not relevant, students can end up remembering it.
Vicki Silvers and David Kreiner of Central Missouri State University looked at ‘The Effects of Pre-Existing Inappropriate Highlighting on Reading Comprehension’ and what they found was more than relevant.
They had students read some text and for some this was highlighted appropriately. Others had unhighlighted text and others had inappropriate text highlighted. Guess what? When tested, those with the inappropriate highlighting scored lower than the others. Even when students were told in another experiment about the inappropriate highlighting they still found it hard to ignore.
Silvers said she came up with the idea for the study in 1994 when she was an undergraduate student. She said that she was standing in line at a bookshop and noticed another student buying a used book.
“This person in front of me was looking through a used book and said, ‘Oh, cool dude, look at this book it’s highlighted. All I have to do is read the highlighted parts.’ ” Silvers said. “I got a chill all over me. I thought, ‘Oh my god, what if some person reads my book whose obviously not too bright like he is?’ ”
So there we have it. Inappropriate highlighting appears to impair text comprehension and metacognitive accuracy.
Don’t buy a textbook that was highlighted by an idiot.