Reading Strategies

These strategies can help you pay fuller attention to your reading and really get absorbed in it. Included below are some Quick Tips and some Activities for you to try out, including a section on How to Read when You don't have time.

Quick Tips

  • Don't waste your time. There's no point in reading if you do it mechanically without learning. If you're not getting anything out of it, quit reading! 
  • Take regular breaks. You'll be more alert.
  • Never read for longer than 20 or 25 minutes. Then take a break and start again.
  • Check out more tips on concentration.
  • Divide chapters into small (1 page or less) sections instead of going non-stop all the way through.
  • Dirty Books: Write, highlight, and draw all over your books (not the library ones tho!) in meaningful ways.
  • Alternatively, take notes in a separate notebook while you're reading.
  • Meet with a friend regularly to recall what you've read. This will force you to get the reading done by a certain time, and will do wonders for retaining the information.


Some activities to modify SQ3R, or make it your own, including:

And finally, a few very specific activities:

Activity: Jump-Start Reading a New Book

  • Materials: A new text book
  • Action: Check your book over. Try to figure out what it's going to be about, what major elements will be covered. The basic principle here is not to just dive in, but to test the water a little first.
  • Results:
    • You have a better knowledge of what to expect.
    • You've taken the first step toward pre-reading the material.
    • You may find out there's a glossary of terms, or a table of verbs, or an exhaustive timeline in the appendix, which could make your life, and studying, a lot easier.

Activity: Find your Reading Rate

  • Materials: Chapter, article, or other assigned reading, and Clock
  • Action:
    • Break the text into several sections.
    • Set a goal of a couple of the sections.
    • Estimate how long you think it will take to read these sections.
    • Note the time when you begin to read.
    • Read the sections.
    • Note the time when you finish reading the sections.
  • Calculation of Reading Rate:
    • Subtract your beginning time (d) from your end time (f).
    • Note how many pages, paragraphs, or lines you read.
    • Divide the length by the time. This is your reading rate.
  • Example: 30 paragraphs in 20 minutes = 1.5 paragraphs/min and repeat. Repeat this procedure to discover your rate reading different materials, i.e.
    • difficult reading,
    • reading from different classes,
    • reading that is fun.
    • See also how your rate differs depending on the conditions you're reading under (environment, amount of sleep, whether you ate right before hand, etc.)
  • Result: Greater control over your reading. When you know your reading rate, you will be able to,
    • better estimate how long it will take you to read a given text,
    • know what your optimal reading conditions are, and
    • know when you are not performing up to your abilities in your reading rate, and decide to take a break until you are better able to do the reading.
  • The Next Step: Work to improve your reading rate. Here are a few suggestions:
    • If you have a problem with backtracking, put an index card on the line above where you're reading.
    • Trace your finger underlining the words as your read, focusing on the material at hand. Move as quickly as you can without losing comprehension.

Activity: SQ3R

  • Materials: A text you must read thoroughly; SQ3R works particularly well for books with many subject headings, such as books for sciences, math, and social sciences.
  • Action:
    1. Survey: Look the text over. Note the subject headings, words in bold, key points, outlines, graphs, questions at the end, etc. This should be quick, and will just give you a simple idea as to what the text talks about.
    2. Question: Ask questions about the text. For each subject heading, and sub-headings, ask a question. It can be as simple as turning the subject heading into a question. For example, "The Origin of Language" could be turned into "How did language originate?" or "When did language originate?" Write these questions down.
    3. Read: Now, finally, read through the material. Only it won't be nearly as boring as it usually is. Because you used the first two steps to pique your interest about the material. Now, you want to know the answers to your questions. So find them, and write them down, too.
    4. Recite: Once you've finished reading, you're not done yet. You need to solidify the information in your mind. Read through your questions and answers. Check if you've left anything important out of your notes. Then read your questions, and answers, ALOUD. Quiz yourself, using your original questions, OUT LOUD. Listening to yourself say it will help you figure out if you really know what your talking about.
    5. Review: Don't let your knowledge fall out now! You've done so much work this far, so don't forget this last step. In order to cement the material in your long-term memory, review the material again a day or two later, and then a week or so after that, etc. Keep quizzing yourself. If a month later you can still recite all the answers to your questions, you've retained all of what was important in your reading! Good Job!
  • Result: Greater retention of reading material. Instead of feeling like you've been reading and reading for hours, and not remembering a thing, you'll remember a whole lot! In turn, you'll be better prepared to hear about the material in lecture, and study for the exam, and take the exam!

Activity: Pre-Reading, or How to read when you don't have time

  • Materials: A text which you are just beginning to read, or which you must read more quickly than usual.
  • Actions:
    1. Read the introduction and conclusion. Of the book, or of each chapter, or of each section.
    2. Read the opening and/or closing paragraphs of each chapter.
    3. Read any summaries provided by the author(s).
    4. Read the first and last sentence of each paragraph.
  • Results:
    • A quick perusal of the text, so you can go back and read it through with some idea of what the author is talking about.
    • Only a cursory idea of what the text is talking about, without the specific details that come from thorough reading.
    • Lower retention if reading ends with this step, because very little of the information will be solidified in the long-term memory.

Activity: A Guessing Game

  • Materials: A text you must read thoroughly, which does not work well for the above version of SQ3R because it does not have a lot of (or any!) subject headings, words in bold, or graphics, etc.
  • Actions:
    1. Glance over the material. Put in your own headings when you think the author is onto a new point. (This should look approximately like an encyclopedia article, with a few words in the margin every couple of paragraphs.)
    2. Read. As you're reading, check if you were right in what you guessed the author was talking about. See if they surprise you, or if you were dead on. Have fun, make it into a game!
    3. If you weren't right, modify the heading accordingly.
  • Results:
    • You're more interested in your reading because you're always trying to figure out if you guessed right.
    • You have notes throughout your reading (i.e. your own subject headings) that cue you in to what the author is talking about, so you can quickly find what you're looking for when you look back.

Activity: Have a conversation with your books

  • Materials: A text which you need to read.
  • Actions:
    1. Ask lots of questions of the text. Pretend you're having a conversation with the author(s). What would you like to know? If you don't really care, pretend you do. Or think of what you could ask that wouldn't make you look/feel too stupid in front of them. Or what would make you feel stupid, but you'd like to know anyway.
    2. Write the questions down, and search for the answers while reading.
  • Examples:
    • "Does Descartes really believe in God?"
    • "What is an example of this from my life?"
    • "How does what the author says mimic or differ from my experience?"
    • or, the time-honored "What is your point?"
    • You can also use chapter headings to formulate questions.
  • Results: You will be more interested and involved in the text as you read it, just like you are much more interested and involved in a conversation when you are talking and asking questions, as opposed to when someone is constantly talking AT you.

Reading the Night Before the Exam

Break the material down into parts. Figure out what you already have a grasp on, and what is least likely to be on the test. Throw these out (of your agenda, not literally). Then decide how long you are going to take to get through the rest. For each section, skim first, look for key concepts, ask yourself the "who, what, when, where, and how?" Recite what you have learned in order to retain the material. When your time limit is up, move on to the next section.