Study Strategies

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Increasing Reading Comprehension

To improve your reading comprehension, use the following 3-step process:

I. PREVIEW: A preview can help build your interest and focus in the text, much as a movie preview builds interest in a movie.

  • Preview the textbook by looking through the table of contents to see how the concepts are organized. Also, look for any study aids, such as a glossary, answer key, questions at the end of the chapters, etc.
  • Preview the chapter by spending 5-10 minutes scanning headings, diagrams, charts, terms in bold, questions at the end, a summary, etc.
  • Think about what you already know concerning the topics in the chapter.

II. ACTIVE READING : Active reading means engaging in the text by taking notes, asking questions, and searching for answers.


  • Think of a paragraph or section (3 or 4 paragraphs under a heading) as your unit of meaning . Do not reread when you are confused about a word or sentence; read on. The next sentence will often clarify the meaning.
  • If you are still confused at the end of a section or paragraph, stop at that point to reread or to look up important, unfamiliar words.
  • For a science or technical book, think of the charts and diagrams as the heart of the text , with sentences simply explaining what is presented visually.


  • Turn each heading into a question and read that section with the purpose of finding an answer.
  • Stop at the end of the section and ask yourself what’s most important that you didn’t know previously. Write a note in the margin, highlight the important ideas, or do both.
  • Do not highlight as you go or you will end up highlighting too much. Wait to highlight until you finish reading a paragraph or section.
  • Most students find that a combination of highlighting and taking notes in the margins works best . Caution : when you do highlight, mark words and phrases rather than whole sentences.
  • Number parts or items (for example, 3 parts of a definition, 4 causes of something, etc.).
  • Look at how other students mark their texts.


  • Determine your professor’s purpose in assigning the book (look at the syllabus or ask). For example, three paperbacks in a history class may have been assigned so you learn how historians work and think, not with the intention that you memorize dates.
  • Decide whether you should read the book quickly or more slowly . Ask the professor or simply note how many class meetings are devoted to the book.
  • Stop at the end of each paragraph and ask yourself the main point. This will help you concentrate because you have something to do besides moving your eyes across the page. (In most cases, students do not highlight this kind of book, preferring to write notes in the margin or brief notes in a notebook.)
  • If you use a notebook, do not stop to write at the end of each paragraph; wait until you have read a few pages.
  • If you will be writing a paper about the book, include pages references in your notebook entries.

III. REVIEW : A review allows you to refresh your memory on what you just read, process key concepts, and start to test yourself.

  • Spend 5-10 minutes at the end of a chapter or reading session scanning back over the headings and your own markings.
  • Begin to self-test if time allows. (Turn a heading into a question and try to answer it.)
  • Compare your marked text with your lecture notes.
  • Consider forming a study group to discuss the material with others and to study for exams.


  • Preview: Look at a map before you go. You need a look at the whole territory so you will see how one part relates to the others. You also need a sense of what you should look for as you proceed.
  • Active Reading: Take pictures as you go . These “pictures” (your highlighting or notes) will not show the entire trip but will act as “memory pegs” to help you recall your trip.
  • Review : Look over your “pictures” and recall your trip.


  • Preview your book by first reading a simplified version (a review outline book, a high school text, an encyclopedia entry, etc.). For example, if you find that you’re having trouble reading Kant, stop and read a brief summary of his ideas and then return to the original text.
  • If a text is extremely difficult, read it twice rather than doing a single slow reading. (If you read too slowly, you may begin to lose sight of the major concepts.)
  • Try reading aloud.
  • Get help. Consult with your professor or T.A., a tutor, or a fellow student.
  • For a long-term solution, work on building your vocabulary. Take a vocabulary course (ASP 092), buy a vocabulary book, create vocabulary flash cards, or read a more challenging newspaper, such as the New York Times .