Essential College Skills: Reading Comprehension

If you are taking a full college course load, you could be expected to read hundreds of pages a week. College reading assignments, regardless of major, tend to be lengthier and more complex than what students are used to in high school. Don't be overwhelmed. To retain what you read and learn the material, develop a few easy reading habits described below to boost your comprehension.

Learning to read efficiently and effectively will save you time later when studying for an exam. It will give you the information you need to actively participate in classroom discussions. Plus, if you develop better reading skills, you will naturally improve your writing skills, as well. By reading often and studying the mechanics of well-written texts, you will pick up clever word usage or style tips to use in your own writing.

Five tips to improve your reading
It is natural to become distracted when you are reading. The trick is to not let those interruptions get in the way of your understanding of the content. Try using the "SQRRR Method" to stay on track.

  1. Survey: Browse the reading for a quick overview.

Before you begin a chapter, skim the reading. Review the text broadly: read title headings, subheadings, photo captions, and graphics. Skim introduction and conclusion paragraphs and any chapter summaries or study guides. You want to get a basic understanding of the material before you begin reading. This will help you start to ask questions about the content. Use this time to estimate how long it will take to complete the reading assignment. Set aside a time to read when you are alert and free of distractions. Cramming or rushing through a complicated reading assignment will make it harder to understand and remember.

  1. Question: Question what you have just browsed.

Ask yourself questions about the reading material as you survey. Examples may include: Why is this important? What does this mean? What do I already know about this subject? What did my professor say about this chapter or subject when it was assigned? Write down your questions and insights on another piece of paper to help gather your thoughts.

  1. Read: With those questions in mind, read the text again more thoroughly.

As you read, look for answers to the questions you asked. Reread the paragraphs you skimmed in your initial review. Pay special attention to all bold, italicized, or underlined words. Look for any patterns or repeated words and images to indicate importance. If you get to a section that is complicated, slow down and read it carefully. Make notes in the margin or on another piece of paper if you have questions about the text or if a topic is not clear. It is helpful for some students to develop a note-taking system as they read. For example, in the margin, note a key idea with an asterisk (*) to indicate its importance, an exclamation point (!) to note something surprising, or a question mark (?) when you have a question.

  1. Recite: Talk about what you just read.

As you read, stop between sections and summarize what you just read to yourself or someone else. Talking about the content and hearing about it in your own words is a good way to remember it. It also can be helpful to write a summary or outline the text on another piece of paper. Being able to summarize succinctly what you just read is a good indication that you understand the content.

  1. Review: Review the material periodically to help retain the information.

A day or two after you finish the reading assignment, reacquaint yourself with the subject by skimming through it again. Orally summarize the material from memory. Create flash cards, a study guide, or an outline of the unit's topics and subtopics to use as a study aid at test time. Periodically review your study guide so you can avoid cramming at test time.

Digital reading strategies
As writing moves from traditional books to digital formats, college students are expected to adopt new comprehension strategies. Many of the tips described above will still apply. However, instead of jotting questions or notes in the margin, you can use an application to highlight text or digitally create a study guide. Familiarize yourself with the latest programs. Web documents are often easier to navigate and more interactive, which can enhance comprehension even more. At the same time, ads and the lure of the Internet can be distracting. Block ads and unnecessary content from the page view. Follow hyperlinks to more information to further your comprehension. Also, learn which types of sites are trustworthy and which are not.