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Reading in College

Improve Your Reading Comprehension

Reading assignments are a common part of university courses, and it is important to get the most out of these readings. Here are a collection of tips to help you do so. 

General Reading Comprehension Tips

Put yourself in a position to succeed. Find a space where you will be able to focus—this can be in the library, Davies Student Center, a coffee shop in town, your dorm, or any number of places. Avoid reading for class while lying in bed, as it can lead to unplanned naps. Sitting upright is best. Some students prefer quiet, others find that a white noise app or instrumental music can help them focus. 

Skim the reading beforehand. Students process information better when they can see the big picture.  Before diving into the details of a reading, review the topics that will be covered and how the reading is organized.  If there are review questions at the end of the reading, make note of those as they will guide you toward the key points.   

Think about why your instructor assigned the reading. Is the reading a routine textbook assignment that is meant to preview material you will learn about in lecture? Is the reading preparing you for an in-class discussion? Are you writing a paper about the reading? Think about the reason you are reading the material and what you need to get out of the assignment.  This will help you prioritize the information and stay focused. 

Plan your reading. How long is the reading assignment?  

  • If it is a thirty-page textbook chapter or twenty-page scholarly article, you should consider breaking the assignment into two or three reading sessions.  Breaking up the assignment and taking good notes will allow you to follow the information more effectively. Be sure to reread the notes you took from the previous session before jumping back into the reading. 
  • Are you reading an entire book? Get out a calendar and plan for when you will read each chapter so that you can prepare and submit your assignment on time. 

Don’t rely on highlighting. Highlighting can seem helpful in the moment, but if you highlight too many things in a reading it is not clear what is significant.  If you plan to highlight a text, be sure to read a page before highlighting anything on the page and then only highlight key terms and phrases that support those ideas. 

As you read, write down notes, questions, and reactions. Try to finish reading a page or section before taking notes, this will help you recognize what is worth writing down. Take some time and try to summarize the point that was made on a particular page or section. As you read, keep a record of your thoughts. Did you find a passage particularly helpful in explaining a concept? Note the paragraph location and include the page number. Will a specific point be useful when you write an essay about the reading? Write down the page number, a quote, and your analysis.

  • Taking good notes will help you:
    • process and understand the reading 
    • stay focused and engaged while reading 
    • keep a record of what you read and the page numbers for specific information 

Use a system to keep your notes organized. At a minimum, writing down the author and title of the reading as well as the date you are taking notes can be helpful.  Using a digital program like OneNote or Evernote allows you to organize detailed notes for a variety of topics and classes. 

Visit your professor’s office hours. Your instructor has hours each week where students can visit their office and ask questions.  This is a good opportunity to talk to the professor about a reading and ask some questions.  Be sure to write the professor’s office hours in your planner. 

SQ3R

When sitting down to read a complex textbook chapter or scholarly article, the SQ3R method offers a helpful routine to stay focused and get the most out of the reading. 

Follow these steps: 

S - Survey 
Q - Question 
R - Read 
R - Recite 
R – Review 


Survey 
The human brain thrives on context. Before beginning to read an assignment, survey the entirety of the text to see the general topics covered and if there are any review questions at the end. This will help you understand how the reading fits into the class and what information to key in on. Quickly flip through the pages and think about the following: 

  • What type of reading is this (scholarly article, textbook, memoir, fiction)?
  • Who wrote it and when?  
  • How does this reading relate to the class? 
  • Why did the professor assign this material? What do they want you to get from it? 
  • Make note of the title, look for an abstract, author bio, or any introductory information that offers context. 
  • Note section headings, sub-headings, and bolded words, charts, and graphs 
  • Set a goal for how much to read. If it is a long assignment, you may want to break it into two-to-three chunks. 

Question 
To follow along with a reading, one must actively engage with the material. One way of doing so is to create questions you want to answer as you read.  

  • Are there questions at the end of a chapter? Try to answer those as you read.  
  • You can also use questions your professor provided.  
  • Use ideas you learned from the “Survey” step to create your own questions.  

Read 
Having scanned the text and come up with questions you want to answer, you can now begin reading the material.  

  • Try to answer the questions you posed. 
  • Annotate the text and make note of main ideas, connections to other concepts, etc. 

Recite 
After reading the material you set out to complete, recite aloud the answers to the questions you posed and other important ideas. 

  • Try to explain the ideas in your own words. 
  • Without looking at the text, try to answer the questions you wrote down. Check your work.

Review 
Repetition is critical to learning. The more we engage with material, the better we understand it. After the “recite” step, it is important to look at your notes and think about the big ideas and how this reading relates to the course.  

  • Review the text, your notes, and annotations. 
  • Note connections between the reading you just did and other concepts from class.  
  • Summarize the reading in a few sentences. 

For more support with reading comprehension, schedule a free appointment with a Peer Academic Coach!  These hour-long meetings provide students with one-on-one support from another student trained to offer support and accountability.    

Check out the following videos for additional study tips!

Works Consulted: 

Taking Notes While Reading.” University of North Carolina. Retrieved from https://learningcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/taking-notes-while-reading/ 

“Reading Comprehension Tips.” University of North Carolina. Retrieved from https://learningcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/reading-comprehension-tips/ 

“Reading Textbooks Effectively.” University of North Carolina. Retrieved from https://learningcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/reading-textbooks-effectively/ 

"The SQ3R Method." Texas A & M University.  Retrieved from https://asc.tamu.edu/Study-Learning-Handouts-(1)/Reading-Strategies-SQ3R-Method

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