Effective reading

  • Reflecting content after reading

Reading to Learn

  • Active reading
    • Purpose
      • gathering much of the new information
      • define where to invest my efforts
    • Attributes
      • a planned, deliberate set of strategies
      • the primary method for absorbing new ideas and information in college.
    • applies to and facilitates the other steps of the learning cycle:
      1. Prepare
      2. Absorb New Ideas: Listen/Read/Observe
      3. Record: Taking Notes
      4. Review/Apply
  • 4 steps of active reading
    1. Preparing
    2. Reading
    3. Capturing the key ideas
    4. Reviewing

Preparing to Read

  • Start by thinking about why my instructor has chosen this text.
  • Understand the background
    • to get the context of the book
    • to define what is most important in the text.
  • Question example:
    • Has the instructor said anything about the book or the author?
    • Look at the table of contents
      • how does it compare with the course syllabus?
      • What can I learn about the author from the front matter of the book?
  • Develop a plan to attack for my assignment
    • understand the context
    • Think of the reading assignment in relation to the large themes or goals the instructor has spelled out
  • Question sample, with critical thinking, for understanding the context:
    • What is the chapter title? Is the chapter divided into sections?
    • What are the section titles?
    • Which sections are longer?
    • Are there any illustrations?
    • What are they about?
    • Illustrations in books cost money, so chances are the author and publisher thought these topics were particularly important, or they would not have been included.
    • How about tables? What kinds of information do they show?
    • Are there bold or italicized words?
      • Are these terms I’m familiar with, or are they new to me?
    • Am I getting a sense for what is important in the chapter?
    • Why did the author choose to cover certain ideas and to highlight specific ideas with graphics or boldface fonts?
    • What do they tell me about what will be most important for me in my course?
    • What do I think my instructor wants me to get out of the assignment? Why?
    • Summarize chapter outlines
  • Write note
    • Turn the title of each major section of the reading into a question and write it down
    • Example (section title => question):
      • “The End of the Industrial Revolution” => “What caused the Industrial Revolution to end?”
      • “The Chemistry of Photosynthesis” => “What chemical reactions take place to cause photosynthesis, and what are the outcomes?”
    • jot down any keywords that appear in boldface
      • find their definitions and the significance of each as I read
  • With the outline method
    • start with the chapter title as my primary heading
    • create subheadings for each section
    • rephrasing each section title in terms of a question.
  • with map method
    • start with the chapter title as my center
    • create branches for each section within the chapter
  • Make sure I phrase each item as a question.


  • Start by taking a look at my notes
    • What is the question I’d like to answer in the first section?
    • reflect about what I already know about the subject.
  • read through the entire section with the objective of understanding it.
    • do not start taking notes or highlighting text at this point:
      • Look for answers to the questions I wrote.
      • Pay particular attention to the first and last lines of each paragraph.
      • Think about the relationships among section titles, boldface words, and graphics.
      • Skim quickly over parts of the section that are not related to the key questions.
    • Expect to learn something new even if I’m familiar with the topic.
  • Note taking
    • Write the deep and complete answers for the questions I wrote before

Capture the Key Ideas

  • Make it my objective to highlight no more than 10 % of the text.
  • Use my pencil also to make annotations in the margin.
    • Use a symbol such as ! or * to mark an idea that is particularly important.
    • Use ? to indicate something I don’t understand or are unclear about.
    • Box new words, then write a short definition in the margin.
    • Use TQ (for “test question”) or some other shorthand or symbol to signal key things that may appear in test or quiz questions.
    • Write personal notes on items where I disagree with the author. If I’m reading an essay from a magazine or an academic journal, remember that such articles are typically written in response to other articles.
  • remarkable words
    • according to”, “Jones argues”: make it clear that the ideas don’t belong to the author of the piece I’m reading.
    • yet”, “however”: indicate a turn from one idea to another.
    • critical”, “significant”, “important”: signal ideas I should look at closely.
  • Be sure to note when an author is quoting someone else or summarizing another person’s position.


  1. Answer the questions:
    • What did I learn?
    • What does it mean?
  2. write a summary of the assigned reading in my own words
  3. cover up the answers to my questions and answer each of my questions aloud
    • If the text has review questions at the end of the chapter, answer those, too.
  4. Talk to other students about the reading assignment.
  5. Merge my reading notes with my class notes and review both together.
    • How does my reading increase my understanding of what I have covered in class and vice versa?

Strategies for Textbook Reading

  • Pace myself
  • Schedule my reading
  • Avoid reading fatigue
    • Work for about 15 minutes, and then give myself a break for 5-10 minutes.
    • Put down the book, walk around, get a snack, stretch, or do some deep knee bends.
    • Short physical activity will do wonders to help I feel refreshed.
  • Read my most difficult assignments early
  • Make my reading interesting.
    • Try connecting the material I’m reading with my class lectures or with other chapters.
    • Ask myself where I disagree with the author.
    • Approach finding answers to my questions like an investigative reporter.
    • Carry on a mental conversation with the author.