Get the most out of your reading
Reading is an important part of your studies - this page provides tips and techniques to get the most out of your reading.
As part of your studies you'll need to read course materials and assessments, and most likely set texts, recommended readings, library books, journals and Internet sources.
To succeed in your studies, you'll need to read effectively and efficiently: This means reading what is relevant, without wasting time, so that you understand and can use and remember what you have read. The tips, techniques and strategies on this page should help.
Active reading can help you get the most out of your reading. This is how to do it:
Break the reading task into manageable sections or chunks.
- Skim read each chunk in turn. This is how:
- Start by thinking about the topic.
- What do you know about it?
- What do you expect to learn about it?
- What do you want to learn about it?
- Look at headings, bits in bold or italic print, graphics, and boxed text.
- Do you see anything familiar?
- Do you see anything new?
- What is your overall impression of the text?
Think about what you have just read.
- What are the main points?
- Make a note of the main points, using your own words to explain what they mean.
- Could you explain what you have learnt to another student or a family member? Try, and remember to say it out loud as this will help to clarify your thinking. (And if you don't have anyone to explain to, try an 'imaginary' friend, or explain it to your dog or cat.)
- If you're not sure what all the words mean, find out - you can't take something in if you don't understand what it means.
- Compile a glossary, e.g. keep a notebook with definitions of new words, jargon and technical terms you need to know.
The scan, skim, slurp and summarise strategy
Recommended for levels 2 - 3
This is a simple four-step process to help you with your reading.
- Look quickly over the page or pages that you are going to read.
- Notice the main headings (usually in large print), pictures and diagrams.
- This should give you an idea of what the reading is about.
- Skim read the text just as you would skim a stone over the surface of a lake or a dam.
- Dip into the text (like a stone touching the surface of the water) by looking for sub-headings, important word and key ideas – the bits that stand out.
- Pay attention to words in bold or italics, or to parts of the text inside boxes.
- Go back to the key ideas you found when skimming the text and ‘slurp’ (or ‘drink’) the information up off the page with short bursts of concentrated reading.
- Ask yourself questions as you read as this will help you understand and remember the information. This is what you should ask:
- What is this about?
- What do I already know about this topic?
- How can I use this information for my studies / in my own life?
- After each slurp (5 to 10 minute burst of reading), stop and think about what you have read.
- Give yourself a chance to let the information sink in.
- Summarise the information, i.e. put the information and ideas that you have just read about into your own words.
(Based on Gawith, G. (1995). Learning Alive: A guide to learning for secondary students, tertiary students and all teachers. Auckland: Longman Paul.)
The preview, view and review strategy
Recommended for levels 4 and above
First divide the material into meaningful ‘chunks’, i.e. sections that will take you about 30 – 45 minutes to read.
Make sure you know what you have to read and why.
- Think about the topic: What do you already know about it and what do you hope to learn from your reading?
- Make sure you’re clear about your purpose, i.e. why you are reading.
- Scan (look over) the material you’re going to read. Try to get an overall sense of what the text is about – the big picture. The details will be easier to understand and remember if you know the context. This is what you should do:
- read the list of contents (if applicable) and note how the text is divided into sections
- read the main headings
- look at the pictures, diagrams, charts, tables, etc.
- If your lecturer/tutor has set questions on the text:
- read the questions first, then start reading the text.
- make sure you understand the questions; if not, ask your lecturer, a fellow student, or a learning adviser.
- If your lecturer hasn’t provided any questions:
- check: some books include questions at the beginning or end of chapters.
- set yourself some questions.
- You could also ask yourself:
- ‘What’s new and how does it relate to what I already know about the topic?’ or
- ‘What do I need to know to do my assignment?’
- Answering questions about the contents helps focus your attention while you are reading and helps you concentrate.
- Skim read the text by reading:
- the headings and subheadings
- words in bold or italics
- text in boxes
- the first and last sentence in each paragraph, and
- anything else that catches your eye.
- Then read start reading the first chunk slowly and with concentration! It helps to make notes as you read, either in the margins in pencil (as long as you own the text!) or in a notebook.
- Ask yourself questions as you read, for example:
- ‘Why is this important?’
- 'How can I apply this / use it in my assignment.’
- ‘If this topic were in the exam, what would the question be?’
- If there’s something you don’t understand, make a note of it but keep on reading, trying to figure it out from the rest of the text.
- Once you have identified the key points, underline them (if the text is yours!) Use pencil - you may change your mind.
- If there are words you don't understand and they are preventing you from understanding the text, use a dictionary.
- If there are aspects of the text that you don't understand, formulate a few questions to ask your lecturer.
- Take a short break (+ 5 minute) and continue with the next chunk.
When you have finished reading:
- Think about what you have read.
- Summarise the main points in your own words.
- Explain what you have read to another student or family member - this will help clarify your thinking and help you to remember the content. (And if you don't have anyone to explain it to, tell your dog or cat, or imagine someone is with you.)
- Add the text to your reading list which should contain details such as the author, title, publication date, ISBN, URL, etc. If the text isn’t yours make a note of where you got it from (for example, the Open Polytechnic library), the date you read it, your opinion (e.g., was it useful or not), and a few key points. You'll need this information for your reference list.
- Compile your own glossary - either in a notebook or online - with definitions of new words, technical terms or jargon.
How to quote, paraphrase and summarise
SQ3R - a strategy to help you concentrate, and understand and remember what you read
More about reading
Reading - BBC Skillswise (opens in a new window)
Good information for lower levels. There are a number of topics including dictionaries and indexes; skimming and scanning; fact or opinion; and reading and understanding. Includes videos, quizzes and games.
Reading skills - RMIT (opens in a new window)
A video and an online tutorial and transcript.
A guide for reading non-fiction - Clare Hazledine and Mary Silvester, Whitireia, NZ (PDF, 865 KB)
Reading efficiently - UniLearning, University of Wollongong (opens in a new window)
an online tutorial, includes a critical reading checklist.
Get the most from your textbook - University of Athabasca (opens in a new window)
A good, clear explanation of how to read a textbook efficiently and effectively and remember what you’ve read.
Effectively marking your text - University of Athabasca (opens in a new window)
Tips on effective underlining and highlighting.
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