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Student Learning Success: Reading

READING TEXTBOOKS strategically can save you time and help you learn. In most cases, you don't need to read every word!


Pay attention to titles, subtitles and headings. They often provide clues that allow you to grasp key concepts and organize ideas.

Create practice test questions as you read. This strategy is much more effective than highlighting.

Choose the best approach based on the type of information you need:
scan to find a particular piece of information; skim to find the most important information as quickly as possible; focus to find specific or detailed information.

Read in depth to fully understand the content.


How do the concepts covered in a section or chapter connect with previous readings or lectures?

What does your instructor reference the most: textbooks, articles, web sources? Which format is easiest for you to understand?

Which memory strategy works best for you (mnemonics, concept maps, self-tests)?

Survey + Scan

Survey how the readings connect to your course outline.

  • Is the textbook a primary source for the course? If so, read it thoroughly.

  • If the textbook is secondary to lecture notes, focus mainly on the first three steps: survey–question–read.

  • Ask yourself what you already know about this topic. What concepts would you like to learn more about?

Scan the headings and objectives in the assigned chapters/articles. Look for these key terms:

  • chapter glossary

  • summaries

  • self-tests

Create Questions

Ask Questions:

While scanning your textbook, create questions based on the headings and objectives.

  • Have a notebook handy while you read to take notes and jot down questions. Writing things down by hand is an effective way to learn.
  • Write down the answers to your questions as you read and learn more.

Read Selectively

Read selectively:

  • Identify which areas you need to concentrate on, either because your instructor has emphasized the importance of certain concepts/chapters, or because you feel like your knowledge in that area is lacking.
  • Read a section and then take notes, sometimes called the “chunking method.”
  • Your notes should be a study tool – like flashcards – which prompt you for the answers. Focus on important concepts and leave out the small details.

Recall and Review

Recall: Take a few minutes to recall what you’ve just read; see if you can write a short summary paragraph.

Review: Look over the notes you’ve taken or the parts you’ve highlighted. Review the questions you created and see if you can answer them.

If you still have unanswered questions after you've finished your readings, bring those questions to class and ask your instructor for clarification.