Reading Strategies


Below are some strategies for active reading and studying. We hope it helps!

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will learn what factors hinder reading efficiency and intervention techniques to improve
  • Students will learn techniques to improve their reading speed and comprehension
  • Student will learn to view reading as an active process
  • Student will learn to use his/her textbook as an essential tool
  • Student will understand different active learning methods and choose the best one to fit the course (e.g. SQ3R)

Knowing what you need to get out of your reading will help you choose the appropriate learning strategy and set your reading speed. The appropriate choice helps to maximize comprehension and reading efficiency. Having a planned reading schedule with realistic and attainable goals will ensure a successful learning outcome. The plan must consist of organization, time management, an understanding of what should be learned, consistent review and recall to monitor comprehension, and a way to assess results (ability to fluidly recall information presented in chapters read). An active reading method like SQ3R encompasses all of the parts of the described plan. Before an active reading method can be learned successfully, the reader must analyze their reading skills and rate.

There are many factors that contribute to slow reading speed. These factors may point to reading problems that must be addressed before you can increase your reading speed for maximum benefit. Three of the main factors that inhibit reading efficiency are poor concentration, vocabulary, and comprehension.


  • Are you unable to concentrate for a specific block of time that allows you to complete a task (e.g. reading a full text chapter)?
  • Are you easily distracted by others while reading?
  • Are you distracted by internal thoughts and your environment while reading?

If you answered yes to one or all of the above questions then concentration may be an issue for you. To combat this issue you must:

  • Break up your reading into small sections - the text naturally does this for you by introducing each topic by heading. Read the first heading and turn it into a question. For example, PHOTOSYNTHESIS. Turn this into the question -What is photosynthesis? Now read that section. Periodically evaluate if you are concentrating. If not, why and diffuse the situation. Are you daydreaming? Stop the thought, refocus, and begin reading again. Are you getting tired? Stand up and stretch or pace while reading. When you are done with that section write down the answer to the question. Count how many paragraphs you were able to read in the short period of time. Keep yourself accountable for the time you use.

  • Take breaks between reading sections. After each break try to recall what was previously read before starting the new section. After practicing this technique consistently, your ability to concentrate for longer periods of time should increase.

The environment you create to study has a great impact on your ability to concentrate.

  • Where do you study?
  • What type of environment allows you to stay focused?
  • Do you have an organized process for studying?

Most students go to the library, to an extra classroom, or stay in their dorm rooms to study but are these places the best for optimum concentration?

  1. Are there numerous distractions where you study (e.g. television, play station, telephone...)?
  2. Is your study area organized or do you have to search for your texts, assignments?
  3. Is the chair you use uncomfortable or to comfortable?
  4. Is the area quiet or to quiet (some need "white noise" in order to focus).

By answering these questions then making appropriate adjustments you are creating a positive learning environment that supports your study and concentration efforts.

Much like external factors, internal factors can also impede your concentration.

  • Do you enjoy the subject you are studying
  • Do you have personal issues that are taking over your thoughts?
  • Do you have so much to do that you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel?

If the problems are so intrusive that you find yourself primarily concentrating on them and they are impeding your ability to get things done then you should immediately seek assistance through the appropriate resource (e.g. Counseling Center, Health Center...). Otherwise, creating a plan of action each time you study will assist you in knowing what should be accomplished for that study period.

  • Make a list of assignments and break them up into blocks of time that allow for maximum concentration yet don't overwhelm you.
  • Study subjects that are the most difficult or that you have the least interest in first. Each time you accomplish an assignment reward yourself by taking a break, exercise, or visit a friend for a few minutes.
  • Set goals that are realistic and attainable.


The better your vocabulary the better understanding and recall of information read. To improve your vocabulary:

  • Read often and vary your reading material to give yourself a varied vocabulary background.
  • Read with a dictionary available. Do not assume you know the meaning of a word! If you hesitate then look it up. Write the word on an index card and create a file of new words learned each week. Write the definition in your own words and create a sentence using the word that relates to your life. The more you associate the word to your life the better the recall.
  • Get a vocabulary calendar and learn a word a day! File the calendar pages in your word file.
  • Use the words each day in conversation.


The best way to know if you are comprehending material is to monitor your recall as you read.

  • Learn an active reading method to ensure you are staying engaged in the reading process. The SQ3R method is described in later in this section
  • Try to recite details and main ideas after each section. The more you can recall the better the comprehension. If you find that you cannot recall much, break your reading up into smaller sections using the subheadings and again recite. Increase the section size as you see improvement. Remember, concentration plays a large part in your ability to comprehend so assess your focus.
  • Do not slow down your reading speed to try and compensate for lack of comprehension. Research tells us that reading at a slower speed often interferes with comprehension because it forces us to resort to word for word reading. Use and index card or ruler as a guide to keep focused and your eyes moving.
  • You should see improvement in comprehension as you learn to monitor your recall, practice and develop the habit of active reading, and increase your reading speed (next section).

Reading Speed

Increasing your reading speed can help you maximize your study time and develop additional skills for better learning efficiency. In order for reading speed to increase with effective results you must have the motivation to practice the necessary techniques and the desire to improve. Once you understand your present reading rate you can learn to increase your speed by practicing the hints described below. These hints are not to be confused with speed reading techniques that are best learned by taking a speed reading course for maximum benefit.

  • Understand that each type of reading demands a different reading rate. An adventure novel may allow for a quick rate whereas a science text may demand a steadier rate.
  • Most individuals fixate on each word. To increase speed you should proactively focus on 2-4 words at a time. For example: Increasing my/ reading rate will/ help me maximize/ my study time.
  • The better your vocabulary, the better your recall, the faster you read, the better your comprehension.
  • Mouthing the words while you read slows down your reading speed because it forces your to focus on each word rather than groups of words.
  • Practice makes perfect therefore the more you read the more proficient you become. Practice will increase speed, vocabulary, comprehension, knowledge base...
  • The type of reading you need to do dictates the reading rate. If you are reading for detail you must read at a rate for comprehension. If you are reviewing, reading for general main ideas then skimming and using a faster rate is appropriate.
  • To increase your speed you need to force yourself to read at a faster rate for short periods of time. Use a card or ruler to guide your speed and focus on the page. Go at a speed that is uncomfortable but you are still comprehending the material. This must be practiced daily. After practicing the above for a few days, retime yourself reading at an average rate and you should see a speed rate increase. The rate increase will only continue if you practice this technique. If you do not practice then your speed rate will revert back to your previous "comfortable" rate. Remember to check for comprehension as your reading rate increases to ensure that you are increasing at appropriate increments to enhance learning.
  • Try to avoid rereading. Pay attention to your concentration so that rereading becomes unnecessary. Rereading is usually a habit formed from lack of confidence in comprehension ability. If you practice the SQ3R method and consistently recall and review while reading, the rereading habit will become unnecessary.
  • You should never read at a rate that is slower than your average rate. Research shows a correlation between reading rate and comprehension. Slower speed does not guarantee a better understanding of the material, in fact, research implies that increasing the rate of speed often results in higher comprehension. While you are increasing your reading rate, it is important to constantly monitor your comprehension by periodically recalling details and main ideas to ensure that you are not forcing a speed that might hinder rather than enhance your reading efficiency.

This is an active reading method that, although will seem time consuming in the beginning, will enhance your reading comprehension and learning efficiency

If it is a new book make sure you take a few minutes to look over the table of contents. Bring your syllabus out and look to see how your professor broke the book chapters up - is the professor following the format of the book or is he/she changing how the order of the chapters will be read.

Survey the entire chapter before you start reading so that you become familiar with what will be presented and how much time you need.

  • Look at the title and all subtitles to know what the chapter is about and how it is broken up into parts. Label major headings with Roman numerals and subheadings with capital letters to show the relationship between topics.
  • Look at the chapter outline - it is the blueprint to the chapter
  • Look at the end of the chapter aids - questions, summaries... this will give you an idea of what the author feels is important and help you select the main ideas as you read
  • Read the introduction and/or first paragraph first - this will tell you the purpose of the chapter
  • Read the last paragraph - this will summarize the key information
  • Look to see how important terminology is presented (in bold, italic...). If there is a lot of terminology you should bring out index cards and create a terminology index as you read

Before you begin reading, turn the subheadings into questions so that your mind is actively looking for answers rather than passively reading along.

  • Turn subheadings into questions
  • Create questions from information printed in the margins
  • Create questions for each graph presented

Try writing out the questions so that as you read you can periodically look at the questions and stop to see if you can recall the information.

Concentration and attention to detail are essential to active reading and comprehension.

  • You must locate the main idea of each paragraph
  • Read the paragraph
  • Identify the topic - usually the idea that is repeated once or twice
  • Find the main idea - the sentence that summarizes the details
  • Look for the supporting details: key words, small groups of words - make sure the details refer to the same main point
  • Now underline the main idea
  • Write notes while reading. This is an additional step to SQ3R which would change it to SQW3R
  • Write notes in the margins of your book
  • Write by filling in class notes
  • Create new notes
  • Create an index card file of terms, definitions, cycles...
  • Write the answers to the questions you developed from the subheadings. You have now developed a practice test for the chapter!

While reading take time to paraphrase what you read out loud

  • Assures that you comprehend what you are reading
  • Helps avoid plagiarizing if writing a research paper
  • Helps you remember the main idea and details or examples
  • As you read try to associate read material with life experience for better recall


Reviewing is a daily process. It is essential that this process take place in order for true learning and comprehension of material to happen. The more you review and recite the better the recall. It may seem like a tedious task but when this process becomes a consistent study habit it actually makes your study time more efficient. You will no longer cram for exams because you are starting the exam process on the first day of class.

Review starts with organization. Make sure your binder starts with the syllabus and all notes and handouts are inserted in date order.

  • Review your notes and questions created for the chapter daily
  • Review the highlighted areas of your text
  • Review your comments you made in the text as you read
  • Recite the main points of each section of the chapter
  • Review your index card file
  • Develop study aids like mnemonics for material you must memorize  lists, categories...
  • Create an outline from your texts subheadings, your class notes, reading notes, margin comments, and the questions you developed for each chapter. This will act as a study guide for the exam. Recite the information daily to ensure automatic recall and true learning. Make sure you recite the information in your own words for better comprehension. Check and recheck the information where you hesitate or aren't able to recall details.


Bishop, Joyce, Carter, Carol, Kravits, Sarah Lyman. Keys To Success/Building Successful Intelligence for College, Career, and Life. (5th ed.), Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey

Bishop, Joyce, Carter, Carol, Kravits, Sarah Lyman. Keys To Effective Learning/Developing Powerful Habits of Mind. (4th ed.), Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, NewJersey

Crawford, June. A College Study Skills Manual: Ten Tips for Academic Success, Cambridge Strafford, Ltd

De Sellers, Dochen, Carol, Hodges, Russ. Academic Transformation (1st ed.), Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey

Ellis, David B. Becoming A Master Student. (11th ed.), Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston, New York

Gardner, John N., Jewler, A. Jerome. Your College Experience/ Strategies For Success (1st ed.), Wadsworth Publishing Company, Belmont, California

Pauk, Walter. How to Study in College. (2nd ed.), Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston, New York

Smith, Laurence, Walter, Timothy. The Mountain is High Unless You Take The Elevator (1st ed.), Wadsworth Publishing Company, Belmont, California

Contact Us

Collin Pugh, Coordinator for the Tutorial & Academic Skills Center

TASC Center: De La Salle 110
Phone: (925) 631-4869
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