Study Tips: Reading Comprehension

Devote some time to reading every day.  (Photo by Matt Katzenberger)

Devote some time to reading every day.
(Photo by Matt Katzenberger)

Succeed In College: Read To Understand

By Texas State SLAC

Love it or hate it, you have to get familiar with academic reading in college. Your exams may include questions about readings that professors assigned but never discussed in class, so learn to read to understand. The more active your reading, the better your chance for thorough comprehension. Use a structured reading method involving forethought, performance, and reflection.

During the forethought phase, gather and prepare materials, and form a context for what you read before you read it. This helps you connect your thoughts to prior knowledge and builds retention:

  • Spend 5 to 10 minutes on the chapter title, topic outlines, headings, charts, diagrams and illustrations to create familiarity with content.
  • Read the chapter summary twice; think of what you already know about the topic.
  • Ask yourself what question the chapter is answering.
  • Determine how much energy to put into reading based on earlier study and knowledge.
  • Use the Internet if necessary to create another framework in which to put what you read.

Use the performance phase to actively read:

  • Focus attention by following the text with your index finger, a pen or pencil, and a note card with colored edges to keep you on the correct line.
  • Divide the chapter into parts; use a timer and short breaks to question yourself about the material.
  • Read and then mark or highlight primary points and write notes in the margin.
  • Explain to yourself (aloud) what you understand; hearing yourself increases retention.
  • Use headings to formulate questions in the margins and to prep for exams; ask yourself what the primary ideas are in each section.
  • Reread confusing sections and get help from learning centers and classmates if you need it.

Give yourself a reflection phase to review and understand:

  • Review the day of your first read-through to increase retention, and review each day until the exam.
  • Use chapter review cards, mapping, study guides and test preps to organize thoughts.
  • Explain aloud what you’ve understood to others; teaching leads to understanding.
  • Continue building a context from what you know — and connect the text to your class notes. Write the text’s page numbers beside corresponding in-class notes.

Other types of college texts require different reading strategies. Problem-centered texts require that you read and work problems; selected readings require you to use introductions and notes from class lectures; literature requires you to read after gaining a context for the work from prior knowledge or the Internet; research articles require you to read abstracts before starting; and reference works require you to preview structure, use tabs to mark key points, and note other textual facets.

Watch for two common stumbling blocks: an inadequate college-level vocabulary and poor concentration. Electronic or paper vocabulary cards can help tackle the former, as can learning Greek and Latin roots, prefixes and suffixes. Build your concentration by reading through a chapter in smaller increments in a setting that puts demands on your space and time.

Remember that your primary goal for reading is to understand, not simply memorize. You are building a structure upon which your future depends, so make it sturdy.

Source: Adapted from Sellers, D., Dochen, C., & Hodges, R. (In press). Academic Transformation: the Road to College Success. Boston: Pearson.

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