Learning From Reading

As the section of this website called Study Strategies that Work explains, reading without using active learning strategies is not an efficient way to study. When students think with and about what they are reading, however, they learn – and they save time. Explore this section to learn strategies for actively engaging with your reading in textbooks, e-books, and other materials. 

Click the links below for more on how to make reading more active.


Learning From Reading

Know What’s Important

A common reading challenge for students is knowing what specifically to focus on when studying. A great strategy is to start by identifying what you don’t know or understand in your class notes or your professor’s slides. Research tells us that when you read to answer questions, your brain organizes and memorizes what you’re learning more effectively. You can also use things like chapter summaries, review questions, and charts the same way – like notes and slides, they tend to focus on the key concepts in a chapter.

Check out these links for tips and strategies on what and how to teach yourself using your textbooks.

Stay Focused

Staying focused when you read is easier when you give your brain a specific assignment, like finding information to answer questions or understand the professor’s slides, for example. It also helps to break your reading sessions down into small chunks with short breaks in between and to pace yourself as you read. Focus on reading slowly enough to process. If you find your eyes wandering down a page without processing the text, try using a ruler, paper, or your finger to trace the text. Similarly, reading out loud can help you slow yourself to a pace that is better for processing and understanding.

Check out these links to see tips and strategies for staying focused when you read.


Reading Math Texts

Textbooks for Math and math-intensive sciences like Chemistry and Physics are written very differently from other texts, and different strategies are sometimes needed. Again, when we read to try to understand how to do something (like solve a problem you are working on, we tend to analyze what we read more carefully. This kind of thinking can keep us focused and helps us to understand and retain the information better. Try starting with your practice problems first – then use the text to help you solve them.  Your brain will have an easier time connecting the information to what you need to know.

Check out these links for tips and strategies on how to read math textbooks.

Reading Social Sciences

When reading social science texts, the task is often to understand what the author is trying to say and how they are saying it. You can activate your critical thinking by approaching your reading looking for specific things. What is the topic? What is the author’s main argument? Do their points or examples support their argument well or not? Can you think of counter-arguments or better ways of making the case? What tone and persuasive strategies is the author using? As you read, make notes on these questions. Also, make notes on your own reactions and opinions.


Make Notes When You Read

In the section of this website called Study Strategies that Work, you’ll find lots of specific strategies for making notes as an active learning process. Try them whenever you read. Note-taking is not just for studying later. It is an active learning strategy. Taking notes requires you to think more closely about what you are reading. You are trying to organize the information using fewer words, which requires you to understand what things mean and how they relate to other things. As you make the notes, your brain will also read the notes back and reevaluate if they make sense. All of this processing results in better understanding and memories that last longer.