Strategic Reading Tips

You probably know that you’ll be reading A LOT in college. From textbooks to literature, you can expect that much of your time will be spent reading.

But what’s the best way to read effectively? Here are some strategic reading practices to help you make the best use of your time.

In all cases, you should follow SQ3R (Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review) comprehension strategy, but your speed and attention will depend on the kind and purpose of the reading assignment.

Types of Readings You Can Expect in College

Nonfiction
  • Survey and Question (SQ). In any nonfiction work, it’s important to Survey and Question, first with the title, then with the author's introduction, where they indicate the argument and purpose of the book, and finally with the Table of Contents, which provides information about the scope and sequence of the argument. These steps provide an efficient overview of the book.
  • Course connection. If you’re reading the book as a textbook (as opposed to, say, doing an overview to see if you might use it for a research project), pay attention to how the assigned reading fits into the whole work and/or to the course.
  • Skimming and reading. Read the introduction of the chapter to find the argument of the chapter; read the conclusion and see if you understand what the chapter is about. If you're really pressed for time, skim through the chapter; ordinarily, read more carefully.
  • Internet searches. In either case, you may be able to search the web for information about the book and/or the subject.
  • Key terms and definitions. Be sure you understand key terms. Use a dictionary, glossary (if provided), or internet search, if needed.
Textbooks
  • Most textbooks are organized to enable students to SQ easily. Look at the title, the introduction (for general comments about purpose and organization), and the Table of Contents.
  • Most texts have a chapter summary at the end with review questions. Some begin with a chapter summary. If so, read those first, to SQ, and then go back to the beginning of the chapter and through the headings.
  • Then, depending on the subject, you will read, write, recite, and review the text quickly or more slowly.
  • For science, be sure to pay attention to the illustrations, and for all textbooks pay attention to the terms in bold. If you wish, internet search for more information on the same topic.
Literature
  • There is no substitute for reading and rereading a work slowly and carefully. Make sure to keep a pencil in hand to annotate. However, you might find strategic shortcuts include using resources that summarize the work; discuss characters, themes, and issues; and point you toward key passages. You can find decent ones (like Sparknotes) on the internet.

*Based on Staying Afloat: Some Scattered Suggestions on Reading in College

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