Active Reading Tips

October 31, 2014

Do you really UNDERSTAND what you're reading?  (And how you can remember it later)

Picture this: It’s 10pm and you are exhausted from a long day at school, a volleyball game, piano lesson, and dinner with friends.  All you want to do is crawl into bed but you have to read an entire chapter on photosynthesis for biology, your least favorite class.  Sound familiar?

Sure, you can skim the text and convince yourself you have done the reading and by the morning it will all be a distant memory…OR you can practice active reading strategies. 

And the good news? For the cost of a small additional investment of time you will not only more prepared for class but you are studying for a future exam at the same time!

Follow one or more of the following simple tips to read more effectively and study more efficiently!

Before Reading

1.    Orient yourself to the passage
What does this reading cover?  What do I already know around this topic?  

2.    If the reading if from a text book, review questions at the start or end of the chapter
Generally, chapter questions are intended to help you reinforce learning of the most important concepts.  If you know what these are ahead of time, you can pay extra special attention when you reach a section that touches on the topics from the questions

While Reading

3.     Think critically about what to highlight (aka chill with the highlighter!)
Highlighting something does not mean you have read it, (although that sure would be nice!).  On an entire page of text you should not have more than 3-5 sentences highlighted or just a few key words.  More than that and you are not doing the critical thinking about what is important to remember.   It does you no good to have entire paragraphs covered in neon marker.  Your job should be to try to highlight only those important passages that help you summarize the main ideas, authors argument, etc.

4.     Use brackets and symbols
Using brackets around key sentences and a symbol system can help you create your own language within the text.  Consider: *= important, ! = revisit this later, ? = I don’t understand, & = linked to a HW question…or make up your own system!

5.     Take notes in the margins
If you own the textbook – feel free to write down important notes right next to the text.  This is an important strategy as it engages different pathways in your mind that make recall easier.  You may want to add more information, link it to something you learned in class, write down a question, create an analysis/opinion.  This strategy also helps you return to your thinking later when you are reviewing for an exam!

6.    Paragraph/Section Summaries
After you read the text under each topic or heading – pause and think about what the most important take away is.  For each section heading write one sentence that summarizes what you have learned.  This is another way to create a study guide as you are reading.

After Reading

7.    Supplement your reading
It is perfectly OK if you do not understand everything that you read, in fact, I bet most people in your class are in the same boat!  Feel free to use reliable Internet sources, family, friends, and your teachers to help you fill in any aspects of the reading in which you need clarity.  

8.    Make your own study guide/cliff notes
The best way to read and study is to reinforce the material.  What better way to do this than rewriting it in your own words?  As you read – take notes on a separate piece of paper.  Write down the most important information and you will practically have your study guide done for you! Consider taking major headings from the textbook and making them the categories for your study guide.  Fill in only the most important details below.