Reading Skills for College

College students can be expected to read hundreds of pages a week.
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Whether attending a community college or an Ivy League university, students will face challenges in accomplishing and processing all the reading that is expected. To be effective, you need a mental toolbox filled with skills including an organized approach to reading, active self-monitoring of understanding and a willingness to critically evaluate what you read. Sometimes, a trip to the hardware store -- or in this case, the college tutoring center -- might be necessary.

1 Getting Organized

Being organized doesn't only mean finding workplaces and study time free of distractions. It involves applying structure to the reading process to improve your comprehension. Before reading an article or textbook chapter, assess whether you already know something about the subject. Then, skim and scan the text. St. Martin’s University notes that when skimming, your objective is “to obtain an impression” of a text; whereas scanning involves gliding the eyes over the text in search of a particular piece of information. Skimming the text requires noting the chapter title and subheadings, looking at any text features such as pictures and captions and quickly reading the opening paragraph of each subsection. Then, after reading any review questions at the end of the text, you might read the text again by scanning for answers. Harvard University calls this process “previewing,” and some experts refer to it as “surveying.”

2 Being an Active Reader

While skimming, scanning and thoroughly reading a text, it's necessary to be an active reader who self monitors for understanding. This involves actions such as scribbling notes on stickies or in the margins of your text, asking yourself questions and answering them as you go and identifying the main idea of each subsection. Harvard describes this involvement with the text as a "dialogue" between you and the author. Use a highlighter only if you accompany the marks with penciled notes and symbols reminding you why a portion of text is significant. Using symbols -- such as asterisks to mark key ideas and exclamation points to mark surprises -- speeds the process. You can absorb a text in chunks by reading a subsection and turning each subhead into a question asking who, what, why, when, where or how. Then, you answer the question to make the information stick in memory.

3 Thinking Critically

Critical thinking involves evaluating what you read by summarizing in your own words, reflecting on whether you agree with the writer and making connections between the reading and other texts or classroom lectures. It's the process of asking yourself what you think and how you support those ideas. Harvard says to compare the text with other materials you have read for a course. Also, ask yourself analytical questions, such as what the author's point of view is and whether you agree with it.

4 Seeking Support

One of the most important skills any college student can learn is to ask for help when needed. One clue to seek support is when you can't keep up with your reading coursework. Most colleges have tutoring centers that help students with many subjects, including reading. Some, such as Amherst College, offer workshops on effective reading strategies, managing a heavy reading load and learning how to be an active reader who can respond to viewpoints posed in texts and in class discussions about readings.

Alicia Rudnicki's Library Mix website blends book buzz for all ages. A gardener, she writes for California's Flowers by the Sea nursery. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from UC Berkeley, a Master of Arts in education from CU Denver, and has taught K-12.