How to Become a Better College Reader

College Reading Strategies

When it comes to college reading, speed isn't always the objective — especially if you're reading about something complicated, like quantum physics. But if you have to read Moby Dick by the end of the week, you can't afford to spend 20 minutes dissecting every page, either. So how do you find a happy medium? Focus on efficiency.

become a better college reader

College reading is all about strategy. Depending on what you're reading, you'll need to utilize different types of reading and reading techniques. For example, skimming and scanning are great for research purposes. When you're collecting sources and quotes, you need to read texts like a map — zeroing in on your destination. Close reading, on the other hand, is necessary for any material that is brand new to you.

Skimming is a reading method that can help you uncover the main ideas of a text very quickly. Skimming involves reading titles, headlines, first and last sentences in paragraphs. If the material seems relevant, you may choose to go back and read the entire text closely.

Scanning is used to locate specific data or figures that you already suspect you'll find within a text. You might scan a paragraph if you're looking for a specific statistic. You might scan a book that you've already read, in order to find a piece of information that you can't fully recall.

Close reading is the kind of reading that English students use in order to interpret works of literature. Close readers absorb every word on a page. They also pay attention to how written material is organized and how it relates to other fields of study. But you don't have to be an English student to practice close reading. Whenever you are connecting ideas and reading in between the lines, you are engaged in close reading.

Efficient Reading Tips

In order to become an efficient reader, you need to eliminate the distractions and roadblocks that sometimes cause readers to lose their place, to reread the same lines, or to mentally "check out" from the words and their meanings. Daydreaming is strictly prohibited!

If you're reading from a textbook (as opposed to a computer screen), don't follow the words with your finger. Try not to do this with your eyes, either. Obviously, you need to be looking at the words in front of you, but your head shouldn't swivel back and forth with each new line of text. This is like counting on your fingers — it's slower and less effective.

Don't save reading assignments for late at night. If you're tired, reading will put you to sleep faster than a mug of warm milk. Ideally, you should approach your reading in the morning or the afternoon. And if you do have to read at night, don't do it in bed! Sit in an upright position, in a chair with proper back support.

Improve Your Comprehension

Preview the entire document before you start reading. If you're asked to read an entire book, look over the table of contents, paying attention to section titles and the progression of ideas that will follow. If you're reading a chapter or an article, take a few minutes to observe how the text is organized. Are there headings or subtitles? You'll absorb more information if you're able to make predictions about what is coming next.

Read a little bit every day. Small doses of information are easier to digest. Plus, each new day of reading is an opportunity to review what you learned on the previous day. In reminding yourself where you left off, you'll further instill those main ideas.

Read with a dictionary (a hardcopy or an online version) nearby. You shouldn't have to get up from your seat every time you encounter a new term. And some new terms aren't as important as others. If a word is bolded or italicized, it's probably one that you should look up and memorize. Similarly, if a word appears several times in your assigned chapter/article, it probably represents a significant concept.

Discuss your reading with friends or classmates. Try offering a summary in your own words. If you or your listeners have questions, go back and try to answer them. Questions that can't be answered — even after you've returned to the text — will make great contributions to your online class discussion. Other students are probably wondering the same things.

Improve Memory of Material You've Read

Use your highlighter sparingly. Some readers tend to over-rely on highlighters. They wind up with textbooks covered in neon. If you're going to highlight, have a plan in place before you start. Be sure that you're only highlighting useful terms, dates, names, and concepts. When you're done reading, you might want to transfer these items onto homemade flashcards.

Better yet: take notes while you read. But don't just copy the exact words off the page. The most effective note-taking involves changing the language into your own words — or paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is an advanced exercise in cognition, kind of like translation. If you can translate the author's words into simpler language, then you can be sure you've understood the passage.

Writing your own outline is an even more active way to explore your reading. Textbooks usually supply their own unit quizzes and lists of vocabulary terms, but you can reinforce your memory by creating your own, then matching them against the book's version. Research shows that memory improves when you engage with the material, using multiple learning cues. Reading and writing about your subject will help to solidify those concepts in your mind.

Web Reading

Some experts report that reading text from a computer screen is slower and more stressful on your eyes. Other experts say that online reading offers less of a connection — if only because there are no material pages to hold in your hand.

Still, if you prefer to read on the web, bear in mind that flat screens are better for your eyes than traditional computer monitors. Try to avoid lighting that creates a glare on your screen. (You can purchase an antiglare screen to cover your monitor.)

If you're reading online, you should also make sure that you eliminate all computer-related distractions. Disable pop-ups and turn off your email alerts. Keep your homework area free of bills, magazines, and catalogues. This way, you'll be less tempted to check your bank account, surf celebrity gossip sites, or take a break for online shopping.

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