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1.3: Strategies for Active Reading

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    Learning Objective
    • Describe active reading strategies

    Good writing begins with good reading. Every time you read, you’re exposed to someone else’s ideas and to their way of writing: their word choice, vocabulary, knowledge base, use of language, and so forth. You can become a better reader by reading every day and practicing effective reading skills.

    Reading effectively means reading in a way that helps you understand, evaluate, and reflect on a written text. As you might guess, these skills are very important to college students. No matter what field you’re going into, you’ll be doing a lot of reading. The more effectively you read, the easier it will be, the less time it will take, and the more you’ll enjoy the experience.

    These tips can help make your reading more effective:

    • Create an optimal setting for reading—pick the best time, place, and conditions. Create a reading environment that helps decrease distraction.
    • Engage in pre-reading strategies before starting to read
    • Read material efficiently: pick up a piece of material, engage actively with it, and finish.
    • Annotate written texts—write directly on the texts and/or take notes as you read. By doing this, you can enter into a discussion with the text, interacting with it.
    • Research or investigate content you don’t fully understand.
    • Work to discover the central meaning of the piece. Ask questions like:
      • What is the author’s point?
      • What is the text trying to say?
      • What story is the author telling?
      • How does the author create and build this meaning?
    • Reflect on what the text means, internalizing the meaning:
      • How am I responding to this text?
      • Why am I responding that way?
      • What does the text make me think about?
      • What does this information mean to me?
    Two women reading.
    Figure 1. Although reading anywhere you can is a great idea, active reading generally requires sitting down with a pen or computer in a distraction-free environment and taking notes so that you can fully engage with the text.

    Active Reading Strategies

    You have already learned that college requires active reading, not passive reading. But it is hard to keep our minds focused on a task all the time. Further, it is difficult to get away from the excitement and “noise” of a college life.

    Read Thoroughly and in a Distraction-Free Environment

    It is a good idea to read multiple times, especially items such as prompts, texts for analysis, materials for exams, etc. Reading multiple times will enhance your ability to cognitively process the material. If you can do your reading in a distraction-free environment, that will also increase your ability to make sense of the material and to commit it to memory.

    Annotate Your Texts

    Readings in college are meant to marked-up. You cannot make the most of your reading experiences if you do not synthesize complex parts, write questions that arise, or note connections. And don’t simply highlight parts you find interesting—highlighting certainly isn’t a bad strategy, but it doesn’t advance active reading in and of itself. If you are using an online text, you can use programs to take online notes, or take notes on your readings in a separate notebook.

    Think of your reading experience as you would a conversation with someone, especially someone you might not know well. If all that happens is the other person talks to you while you sit passively, you may well get some information, but you would be unable to get clarification, ask questions, or think about the larger context, just for starters. Conversation works best when multiple people are active participants. Think of reading in a similar way.

    Use Your Personal Knowledge to Your Advantage

    Though college involves a lot of reading on subjects or topics that are new to you, your prior knowledge can still help. Try to connect readings to what you already know, even if that isn’t a lot. For example, you might be reading for your Biology class and remember a relative’s heart attack. What you learned as your family member went through the treatment could help you contextualize the reading. One trick to helping you retain knowledge during reading is to apply the information you read to what you already know about a topic.

    Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

    You probably learned long ago that you can’t read the 200-page text that is the basis for your book report the day before the paper is due; however, you might not have thought much about shorter readings. Remember, reading in college is more difficult than it was in high school, so even that 20-page chapter might be more work than it sounds like.

    Since you will be annotating and thinking critically about the material, it might be a good idea to stop once in a while or break up even shorter pieces. Of course, you should probably be able to read a six-page article in one sitting, but you might want to go back at a later time to re-read it. You know your reading and thinking capacities better than anyone else, but don’t push ahead if you find yourself not reading critically or not retaining information. This is why it is important to get to reading assignments early and leave time to come back to them if you need to do so.

    The Reading-Process Loop

    On the next page are strategies for a reading process loop—previewing, questioning, annotating, and reviewing—that will help you better think about and understand what you are reading. Don’t forget, reading is a recursive act, which means you can move back and forth through different steps as you work. Keep reading and thinking about what you have read until you feel comfortable with the material.

    Contributors and Attributions

    CC licensed content, Original
    • Authored by: Guy Krueger. Provided by: University of Mississippi. Project: PLATO Project. License: CC BY: Attribution
    CC licensed content, Shared previously

    This page titled 1.3: Strategies for Active Reading is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Lumen Learning via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.