Many students may feel a little shell-shocked their first year of college. The amount of reading required for classes can feel a little (or a lot) overwhelming. Students will find out soon enough if their skills are up to the task.
If you’re having trouble keeping up with the course reading, you probably need to become a better reader. Here’s how:
Know What You’re Reading For
College courses often require you to read a lot of texts. It’s not always possible for you to digest each text word for word and still get any sleep. If you know what you’re looking for, it will allow you to find key words and phrases and skip over the parts that aren’t as relevant. For example, if your professor wants you to be able to explain the most divisive issues that led to the Civil War, you won’t have to read all the parts about the war itself, just the parts leading up to it. That would save you a lot of time.
Learn to Skim
With that being said, if you don’t know how to skim, you’ll have more difficulty finding the bits that are important to you. You can scan a text to find out what it’s about or you can scan it to search for specific information. Look for the following when skimming:
- Chapter titles, headings and sub-headings
- Names and dates
- Words written in bold or italics
- Pictures, charts and graphs
Getting a quick overview of a book will allow you to be able to identify its main points and know where to go to find something in particular.
Interact with the Text
If you own the textbook, mark it up by underlining, highlighting, writing in the margins, sticking post-it notes on the pages, whatever works. By working with the material in this way, you won’t let paragraphs or pages go by in a blur. Instead, you’ll be paying attention and reading more intently.
Take Good Notes
Don’t expect that you’ll remember everything you read. Unless you have a photographic memory, you will need to take notes. If your professor has given you a specific topic to look for or question to answer, write down anything related to that. Write down questions and thoughts you have on the subject. Don’t just copy things word-for-word. Paraphrase the main ideas in your own words. This allows you to process the information more deeply and your ability to recall it later will be greater.
This tests your reading comprehension skills. College books tend to elaborate on a subject and go into great depth of detail. When you write a summary, you’re showing that you’re able to take a dense text and find the main points in it. Practice writing summaries of paragraphs or entire chapters.
Part of being a good reader is being able to take a critical view of a text. Professors will often present conflicting sides of a discussion or issue specifically so that students can develop their critical reading skills. When reading a new text, ask yourself if you’ve read other books that support a different opinion? If so, which one is more persuasive to you and why? Are there important points an author failed to discuss? Is the evidence that one author presents more convincing than others? Why?
Keep a Dictionary Nearby
The better your vocabulary, the better you’ll be at reading. If you’re stumbling over words a lot, take the time to use the dictionary and do some vocabulary improvement exercises like writing down the words you didn’t know and making flashcards out of them. If you do this consistently, you’ll build up a good vocabulary over time.
Use these tips to save time and improve your reading skills and comprehension.
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