Reading is a foundational learning activity for college-level courses. Assigned readings prepare you for taking notes during lectures and provide you with additional examples and detail that might not be covered in class.  Also, according to research, readings are the second most frequent source of exam questions (Cuseo, Fecas & Thompson, 2007). 

Reading a college textbook effectively takes practice and should be approached differently than reading a novel, comic book, magazine, or website. Becoming an effective reader goes beyond completing the reading in full or highlighting text.  There are a variety of strategies you can use to read effectively and retain the information you read.

Consider the following quick tips and ideas to make the most of your reading time:

  • Schedule time to read. Reading is an easy thing to put off because there is often no exact due date.  By scheduling a time each week to do your reading for each class, you are more likely to complete the reading as if it were an assignment.  Producing a study guide or set of notes from the reading can help to direct your thinking as you read.
  • Set yourself up for success.  Pick a location that is conducive to reading.  Establish a reasonable goal for the reading, and a time limit for how long you’ll be working. These techniques make reading feel manageable and make it easier to get started and finish reading. 
  • Choose and use a specific reading strategy.  There are many strategies that will help you actively read and retain information (PRR or SQ3R – see the handouts and videos).  By consciously choosing a way to approach your reading, you can begin the first step of exam preparation or essay writing.  Remember: good readers make stronger writers.
  • Monitor your comprehension. When you finish a section, ask yourself, "What is the main idea in this section?  Could I answer an exam question about this topic?" Questions at the end of chapters are particularly good for focusing your attention and for assessing your comprehension. If you are having difficulty recalling information or answering questions about the text, search back through the text and look for key points and answers. Self-correction techniques like revisiting the text are essential to assessing your comprehension and are a hallmark technique of advanced readers (Caverly & Orlando, 1991).
  • Take notes as you read. Whether they’re annotations in the margins of the book, or notes on a separate piece of paper. Engage with the reading through your notes – ask questions, answer questions, make connections, and think about how these ideas integrate with other information sources (like lecture, lab, other readings, etc.)

Want to dive in a little deeper? Take a look at Kathleen King's tips below to help you get the most out of your reading, and to read for success. You'll see that some are similar to the tips above, but some offer new approaches and ideas; see what works for you:

  1. Read sitting up with good light, and at a desk or table.
  2. Keep background noise to a minimum. Loud rock music will not make you a better reader. The same goes for other distractions: talking to roommates, kids playing nearby, television or radio. Give yourself a quiet environment so that you can concentrate on the text.
  3. Keep paper and pen within reach.
  4. Before beginning to read, think about the purpose of the reading. Why has the teacher assigned the reading? What are you supposed to get out of it? Jot down your thoughts.
  5. Survey the reading. Look at the title of the piece, the subheadings. What is in the dark print or stands out? Are there illustrations or graphs?
  6. Strategize your approach: read the introduction and conclusion, then go back and read the whole assignment, or read the first line in every paragraph to get an idea of how the ideas progress, then go back and read from the beginning.
  7. Scan effectively: scan the entire reading, and then focus on the most interesting or relevant parts to read in detail.
  8. Get a feel for what's expected of you by the reading. Pay attention to when you can skim and when you need to understand every word.
  9. Write as you read. Take notes and talk back to the text. Explain in detail the concepts. Mark up the pages. Ask questions. Write possible test questions. Write down what interests or bores you. Speculate about why.
  10. If you get stuck: think and write about where you got stuck. Contemplate why that particular place was difficult and how you might break through the block.
  11. Record and explore your confusion. Confusion is important because it’s the first stage in understanding.
  12. When the going gets difficult, and you don’t understand the reading, slow down and reread sections. Try to explain them to someone, or have someone else read the section and talk through it together.
  13. Break long assignments into segments. Read 10 pages (and take notes) then do something else. Later, read the next 10 pages and so on.
  14. Read prefaces and summaries to learn important details about the book. Look at the table of contents for information about the structure and movement of ideas. Use the index to look up specific names, places, ideas.

(Reading strategies by Dr. Kathleen King. Many of the above ideas are from a lecture by Dr. Lee Haugen, former Reading specialist at the ISU Academic Skills Center.

Curious to learn more? Check out our Reading video, and hear what we have to say!