How to Improve College Reading Skills

by W D Adkins

When they start college students often feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading they are expected to do—and many stay that way throughout their college career. That’s unfortunate because there are methods to improve college reading skills that make it easier and faster to handle the load. If you want to improve college reading g skills, you need to learn how to apply three principles. These are the Three E’s: efficient, engaged and effective reading.

Learn to focus your reading efforts to achieve maximum results. The first step is to organize your reading so you have an efficient plan (step 2 explains how to do this). It’s equally important to carry out your plan for reading an assignment, whether it’s a textbook, article, or book. Second, you should be an engaged reader. Don’t just go through the motions. As you read think about what you are reading. Take breaks frequently—if you become too fatigued you are simply wasting your time. Finally, develop strategies to be an effective reader in the sense that you retain the key concepts and facts when you read.

Examine each reading assignment before you begin to read. Look at the author’s introduction, preface, or abstract. Most of the time you’ll find an explanation of the main points of the book or article and an outline of the book. Read the table of contends carefully to see how the book is organized. Plan which parts of the text you will read and which you will skip or skim over. One misconception new college students have is that they should read every word and that is rarely the case. The only time you need to read everything is if you are taking an introductory curse (like US History 101). The “survey text” has to be read word for word. Most other books do not.

Examine each reading assignment before you begin to read. Look at the author’s introduction, preface, or abstract. Most of the time you’ll find an explanation of the main points of the book or article and an outline of the book. Read the table of contends carefully to see how the book is organized. Plan which parts of the text you will read and which you will skip or skim over. One misconception new college students have is that they should read every word and that is rarely the case. The only time you need to read everything is if you are taking an introductory curse (like US History 101). The “survey text” has to be read word for word. Most other books do not.

Read actively. As you read, think about what the author is saying and take notes as you go. Note taking strategies vary, but you are well advised to hand-write your notes. This forces you to slow down and think. The physical act of writing helps you retain the information. “Interrogate the text.” You’ll hear professors say this sooner or later. What they mean is you should be thinking of questions and looking for answers in the text—almost as if you are talking to the author.

Make effective use of book reviews when you read books. Published book reviews are written by people who already have advanced degrees and have taken the time to thoroughly analyze a book. They will give you a capsule of what’s in the book and their views on its quality and value. However, it is a very bad idea to read a book review before you read the book. If you do you will read from someone else’s perspective instead of our own. Reading one (or more) book reviews afterward will help you develop your own ideas about what you’ve read.

Review your notes and the text you have read a few days later. It is a rare student who can grasp what they read the first time through. If you’ve taken good notes, you won’t need to do much re-reading. Be ready to make additional notes, though. As you review, you will find new insights and ideas coming into your mind and you want to write them down. You will have a much better understanding of what you have read.

Develop strategies for committing key ideas and facts to memory. This is especially important for students facing tests on the material they have read. There are many techniques for doing this. One very good approach is to write each key fact and idea down on an index card. Then you can take a set of cards with you and review them whenever you have a few minutes. The link at the end of this article will give you other ideas for retaining the information you need to remember most.

Things You Will Need

  • Note taking materials (handwritten is recommended)
  • Book reviews when appropriate

Tips

  • For textbooks that present general material (such as introductory (survey) texts used in freshman and sophomore classes) you need to read every word. Otherwise the same principles apply.
  • When reading survey texts, start by noting down any introductory material at the beginning of a chapter and the heading s of each section. These tells you how the author has organized the material and save you a lot of time.

About the Author

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, W D Adkins has been writing professionally since 2008. He writes about business, personal finance and careers. Adkins holds master's degrees in history and sociology from Georgia State University. He became a member of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2009.