April 28, 2014

Student Success Centre Study Strategies: Active Reading

Dreading the amount of reading that comes with many courses? The U of A Student Success Centre's Mebbie Bell shares advice to improve your active reading skills.

The most common complaint I hear from university students is that they get bored (really bored!) with the mountains of reading they have to complete. They spent hours reading only to feel they have not learned much of anything, read the same page over and over, or struggle to distinguish what’s important in long, detailed texts. Students spend a lot of time reading and getting frustrated, but you can approach your reading in ways that are less painful and much more productive. 

 You want to read actively: aim do something while you read instead of staring at the page. Active reading is deliberate and selective, and helps you learn material more quickly. Whether you’re tackling a class textbook or a stack of research articles, try these strategies:
  • Know your purpose. Do you need to know the text in detail, or just have an overall understanding? Is the material "testable"? Do you need to contribute to a class discussion or incorporate the material into an assignment? Thinking about why you're reading helps you select the right reading strategies and make better use of your time. And, if you're not sure of your reading goal, check with your instructor.
  • Before reading, preview. Skim a text quickly to identify its basic concepts and structure. For instance, scan the headings, read the introduction and conclusion, or review a bulleted summary. Previewing — or pre-reading — is fast (e.g., 5 minutes) — your goal is to familiarize yourself with the material. Make a diagram or list of the key concepts on a sticky note to which you can refer while reading or listening to a lecture.
  • During reading, organize your information. Do something active to re-organize the information in a way that makes sense to you. As you read, create an outline, concept map, or flowchart that represents the ideas; annotate the text; or, summarize the main points in your own words.  
  • After reading, test your knowledge. Apply or use the information to consolidate your understanding. For example, quiz yourself, turn headings or learning objectives into questions, identify additional examples, or compare and contrast the reading with other resources (such as lecture notes or related texts).  
And, if you’re bored, stop reading! You'll just have to repeat the material. Take a short break, and try one of the strategies discussed here to make your reading more efficient, effective, and productive. 

Interested in more study strategies from the U of A Student Success Centre? Visit their website to find out more.