This guide is created to aid you in improving your reading skills.


The life of a university student involves a lots and a lots of reading. A typical week may involve reading one-to-two chapters of a textbook, per class, which totals 5+ chapters a week. Therefore, it is important to develop a plan so you can accomplish all of your reading, homework and studying for all of your classes plus still have time for a life.

Reading well is one of the most important skills you need. Good reading skills will help you understand, learn and remember new material and they also help you write better. The goal of reading at the university level is to learn new concepts, extract main ideas, become familiar with new vocabulary and learn information about a topic. Getting the reading done before the lecture will help significantly with note taking during class, understanding the professor and remembering information.

Definition of Reading

Many texts contain information and details that is unrelated to the most important concepts and ideas. Identifying a purpose or objective when reading will keep you focused on what's important. Defining your purpose ahead of time will also help you classify information that is relevant to the main concepts, as well as that which is nonessential, so you can maximize the time spent studying what's most important.

Before reading a text, complete a pre-reading survey for a brief summary of it. This will give you an idea of what to expect in the text, so your reading will be more productive. The first thing you should do in a pre-reading survey is read the introduction and review the table of contents. Next, read section and chapter headings and text highlighted with bold print. Throughout the process, be sure to focus on general information, not specifics.

The following is a bullet list of specifics things you should look over and/or read when performing a pre-reading survey of a textbook chapter.

  • Chapter title and subtitles
  • Focus questions at the beginning of each chapter
  • Chapter introductions and first paragraphs
  • Boldface subheadings
  • First sentence of each paragraph
  • Visual aidsLast paragraph or chapter summary
  • End-of-chapter material

After you do the pre-reading survey and identified a purpose of your reading, it's time to actually sit down and read the text. If you have a difficult time concentrating when you read, we recommend reading out loud. Many people comprehend material better if they read it out loud – especially if you're an auditory learner.

Writing something down is one of the most effective memory techniques. As you come across key concepts, facts and ideas, use a highlighter, write them down on a piece of paper, or make a note in the margin. This will help you remember what you've read and be able to quickly access important sections for future reference.

After reading a text, take time to identify what you've learned and important take aways. This will help you internalize what you've learned and help you retain it for future reference. Identifying what you've learned will also help you identify what you still do not fully comprehend, so you can spend more time reviewing unclear concepts.

Meaning of Reading Actively

Active reading simply means reading something with a determination to understand and evaluate it for its relevance to your needs.

Reading and re-reading the material isn't an effective way to understand and learn. Actively and critically engaging with the content can save you time

Try these techniques to make your reading active:

  • Underline or highlight key words and phrases as you read. When you return to it later on, you can easily see which points you identified as important. Be selective - too much highlighting won't help.
  • Make annotations in the margin to summarise points, raise questions, challenge what you've read, jot down examples and so on. You can do this in printed books or etexts. This takes more thought than highlighting, so you'll probably remember the content better. (Use sticky notes if you don't want to mark the text.)
  • Read critically by asking questions of the text. Who wrote it? When? Who is the intended audience? Does it link with other material you've studied in the module? Why do you think it was written? Is it an excerpt from a longer piece of text?
  • Test yourself by reading for half an hour, putting the text away and jotting down the key points from memory. Go back to the text to fill in gaps.
  • Look for 'signposts' that help you understand the text - phrases like 'most importantly', 'in contrast', 'on the other hand'.
  • Explain what you've read to someone else.
  • Record yourself reading the module material or your notes, and listen to the recording while you're travelling or doing household chores.


Good reading comprehension comes only with practice. The basic aspects of reading, such as word recognition, phonetics and fluency, can be mastered in just a few years.

However, throughout this process reading comprehension must be emphasized. Students may be able to eloquently repeat the words that they see on a page all day, but without reading comprehension skills, they're unable to fully understand the content, predict what will happen next, recognize characters, gain insight or understanding to build upon, or relate what they're reading to their own life's experience.

Students frequently enter college without understanding how necessary good reading comprehension skills are for academic success. Those who grasp the information they read in textbooks earn better grades and experience far less stress than those who struggle to fully understand what they're reading.

The following tips will enhance your ability to understand complicated concepts detailed in textbooks and improve your reading comprehension.

  • Do a pre-reading survey
  • Define the goal of your reading
  • Conduct an active reading of the text
  • Take notes and highlight important concepts
  • Review and summarize after reading

Video Resources

Active Reading Strategies (1)

Active Reading Strategies (2)

How to Read Your Textbooks Efficiently

PQRST Strategy

SQ3R Reading Method

How To Remember More Of What You Read