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Essential Study Skills

Reading With Purpose

College textbooks can cover a lot of complicated or highly technical information. Simply reading through your texts will not be enough for you to retain the information. This module will explain reading strategies to help you understand the information needed to be successful in your classes.

Reading study skills

Study Tools

How to Use Active Reading Techniques

Watch this video to learn about active reading techniques that can help you learn material.

SQ4R Reading Technique

SQ4R is a technique for active reading. Watch the video or follow the steps below to learn how to use this technique with your assigned readings.

Reading study skills

How to Use the SQ4R Reading Technique

Watch this video to learn about the SQ4R reading technique to help you actively engage with your study material.

SQ4R Six Steps

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Reading skills

Critical thinking for reading and research

When you’re studying it’s important to be able to read effectively and efficiently. This page includes some reading strategies you could try.

Reading efficiently and effectively means reading what is relevant, without wasting time and being able to understand, use and remember what you have read.

Tip – Before you start, break your reading down into manageable chunks, such as a chapter or topic. This will help you set achievable goals.

Survey, skim and scan

Survey, skim and scan will help you figure out what an article or book is about, and find main ideas or specific information. This can help you decide if you need to read in more detail.

Surveying will give you an overview of the topic. Look at the:

Diagram showing the title, cover blurb, contents and chapter headings

Skim through the text to look for the main ideas in what you are reading:

Diagram showing how to skim read

Scanning is when you search through the information to find specific information. For example:

When you scan:

The SQ3R strategy

The SQ3R strategy is like the Survey, skim and scan strategy, but goes deeper. It will help you understand and remember what you’re reading and studying and find the information you need to write an assessment.

SQ3R stands for:

Each step is useful on its own, so don’t feel you have to do every step for everything you read.

Survey (or skim)

Surveying will help you get an overview of what you are reading and let you decide if it is a useful source to read further. To survey:

As you are reading ask yourself questions:

Check our information on critical thinking to help you think of other questions you could ask while you’re reading.

While you read:

If there are any words you don't understand look them up or check with your course leader. If you need to remember them, write them down, together with the definitions.

Recall or recite

After reading check what you have learnt:

Next you should review the work you've learned:

Do this within 24 hours. This will help to fix the information in your long-term memory.

Study Skills Tip Sheets: Reading

Reading strategies.

Girl reading a book

Resource List

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Reading techniques

Techniques to manage and get the most out of the reading required for your course.

Student browsing library

Volume of reading

Like it or loathe it, you will find that you are asked to read an enormous amount of material during your time at University.

Some modules will include substantial reading lists that feature a number of books, articles and papers, many of which will be long and complex.

You'll also have the often challenging task of working out for yourself which parts of this material are most relevant to the particular task or subject area that you are currently working on and which are not.

In order to get the most out of any text or set of texts, you need to be ready to adopt a range of different reading strategies depending upon the task at hand and the amount of time you have available to complete it.

There is no magic formula to becoming a faster and more selective reader, but there are a number of techniques that you can practise that will, over time, help you to increase both your reading speed and the quality of your reading.

Do I need to read everything?

Sometimes the answer will be yes. Some reading is mandatory for classes or coursework. If this is the case, you will probably need to read it all with focus and attention. You might want to consider  taking notes on it  too.

However, much of the reading that you do as part of your coursework will not require reading every text from cover to cover. Instead, academic reading is usually a strategic process of scanning, skimming and selecting the priority texts and parts of texts for deeper engagement.

301 Recommends: Reading and Note Taking Digital Workshop

Take this interactive digital workshop to find out more about developing your reading and note-taking techniques.

Scan reading an academic text

What do you do first when you encounter a new text? Read the title? Read the abstract? Read the full text?

Reading a whole text from start to finish may not always be the most effective or efficient way to make use of your independent reading time. 

Scan reading is often a good first step to allow you to gain an overview of the reading material. You can do this initially by focusing on the following:

For a systematic approach to selective reading that will help you to locate the most important information quickly and easily, have a look at the short Study Skills Hacks video here.

Speed reading

Speed reading is an approach to reading that can help you to get through a text more quickly and fluently.

However, speed reading is not something that can be learnt overnight. It takes time, effort and practice to increase your reading speed.

The following techniques are ways to practice and experiment with speeding up your reading. Try them out over time and they should begin to have a positive impact on your overall ability to get through the reading on your course.

Our speed-reading workshop explores ways to read   text quickly to help with this process of selection. 

Pacing techniques

Use a pen, your finger or a ruler to help you pace yourself through a page of text. The pacer will help your eyes to move more smoothly and efficiently across the page.

Pacing techniques include

Read further

Read for one minute and mark where you get to. Next

Go faster than comprehension speed. You can read a new text each time.

Read faster

Read for one minute and mark where you get to. Next;

You can read a new text each time.

Reading with attention

Read text with comprehension for 3 mins and mark where you get to. Write down one bullet point about what you've read. Next

Think using the pacing techniques. Try and retain comprehension and attention while putting pressure on your reading speed.

Focused reading

Setting questions gets you into hunt mode. The process of answering the questions will help you to stay focused and retain important information.

As a rule of thumb, aim for no more than three to five questions, covering both the bigger picture and the detail. Questions should be conceptual rather than fact based.

For example:

Preview and review

There are a number of ways you can narrow the focus of your reading to make sure that you get everything you need out of a text.

The preview and review technique is one of the most effective ways to read strategically and with purpose.

Follow these steps to create your own reading plan: 1. Read the overview material. For example, the introduction, abstract, index, contents, summary and conclusion.

2. Preview every page for about ten seconds, thinking about identifying objectives and the following questions:

3. Make a note of important pages or sections to return to.

4. Read the sections relevant to your objectives and  make notes .

5. Have you fulfilled your objectives? If yes, then stop. If not, take a break and do something different (preferably overnight) before repeating the steps.

Second-language reading

It can be both rewarding and frustrating to read in a second language, especially when the flow of your reading is interrupted by the need to pause, re-read a section, look up a word in a dictionary and so on.

With a lot of reading to get done in a second language, some of your reading will need to aim for general understanding rather than detailed word-for-word comprehension.

Second-language reading can be broken down into two distinct and complementary approaches.

Intensive reading

Extensive reading

When to read intensively or extensively

While some of your reading will need to be intensive (ie reading every word with a dictionary close at hand), most of your reading will be extensive, with the goal of reading for general understanding.

The following is a process to encourage extensive reading:

With practice, this technique will become easier and provide a more rewarding way to approach texts in a second language.

Set yourself targets, for example to read a chapter in twenty minutes. Remember to keep the targets challenging but realistic.

Try reading out loud – this will help with the fluency of both your reading and speaking.

Use your second language as much as possible outside the classroom, for example by joining a  student society .

Don't overdo it. Reading in a second language is demanding and you will not be able to maintain full concentration for long periods of time – build in plenty of breaks.

Links and resources

Internal links.

Disability and Dyslexia Support Service –  Reading

IT Services –  Texthelp Read and Write

English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC) - Language Resources  

Reading and note taking interactive digital workshop

Study skills hacks: Reading for memory (video)

Book a workshop

Book a 1:1 tutorial

Academic Skills Certificate

External links

Manchester University –  Reading  

Reading University –  Academic reading  

Mondofacto –  How to read at university  

Related information

Mind mapping

Note taking

Image from asset bank: Students discussing

Summer Research Skills Programme, 12 June - 14 July

Are you working on a dissertation or research project this summer? The Summer Research Skills Programme offers workshops that will help you through every step of the process. 

Delivered by 301 Academic Skills Centre, The University Library and the Careers Service, you'll have opportunities to plan your projects, develop your research skills and explore dissemination techniques. 

Booking of online and face-to-face workshops is advised to avoid disappointment. (current students only)

We're a world top-100 university renowned for the excellence, impact and distinctiveness of our research-led learning and teaching.

Improving your reading skills

Improving your reading skills will reduce unnecessary reading time and enable you to read in a more focused and selective manner. You will also be able to increase your levels of understanding and concentration. This guide shows you how to read with greater efficiency and effectiveness by using a range of different reading skills.

Other useful guide:

Reading for study

You already use a range of reading styles in everyday situations. The normal reading style that you might use for reading a novel is to read in detail, focusing on every word in sequence from start to finish. If it is a magazine you are reading, you might flick through the pages to see which articles are of interest. When you look in a telephone directory for a particular name, you purposefully ignore all other entries and focus your attention on spotting the name you want. These everyday reading skill can be applied to your studies.

To improve your reading skills you need to:

Reading goals

Clear reading goals can significantly increase your reading efficiency. Not everything in print will be of use to you. Use reading goals to select and prioritise information according to the task in hand.

Reading goals can be:

Use your reading goals to help you identify the information that is relevant to your current task.

Choosing a text

You will need to assess the text to see if it contains information that is relevant to your reading goals.

If the text does not seem relevant, discard it.

Once you have selected a text you can use the following techniques of scanning and skimming to help you identify areas for detailed reading.

Scanning is the technique you might use when reading a telephone directory. You pass your vision speedily over a section of text in order to find particular words or phrases that are relevant to your current task. You can scan:

Skimming is the process of speedy reading for general meaning. Let your eyes skip over sentences or phrases which contain detail. Concentrate on identifying the central or main points. Use this technique to:

Detailed reading and note taking

Once you have selected useful information, you can begin to read in detail. Note taking techniques provide a useful aid to reading. Use:

These techniques encourage an active engagement with the text as well as providing you with a useful record of your reading. Avoid passively reading large amounts of text, it does not make effective use of your time. Always use a note taking technique to increase your levels of concentration and understanding.

Increasing your reading speed

It is more important to improve your reading skills than your reading speed. Being focused and selective in your reading habits will reduce the time you spend reading. If, in addition to using a range of reading skills you want to increase your reading speed, then the following technique will be of use.

The average reading speed is about 240-300 words per minute. For the average reader, the eye fixes on each word individually.

It is easy for your eye to recognise 4 or 5 words in a single fixation without a loss of understanding.

The key to increasing your reading speed is not to increase the speed at which your eyes move across the page, but to increase the word span for a single fixation. A simple way of developing the habit of taking in more than one word per fixation is to take a page of text and divide it length ways into three with two lines drawn down the page. Using a pen or pencil as a pointer, read each line of text by allowing your eye to fall only in the middle of each of the three sections, as indicated by your pointer.

Developing your reading speed

Reading study skills

Academic Services

Tips for reading textbooks.

Reading without a purpose leads to lesser comprehension and long-term memory. Many students who read this way find it difficult to participate in class discussions and do as well on their exams as they would like. If you read in ten-page chunks broken up over segments of time, you will recall more and have to do less re-reading later when you review.

Another key feature to reading textbooks is to review — reviewing 24 hours after reading and then just a few minutes each week will dramatically cut down on the cramming you might do for an exam. The tips below will help you to be an active (rather than passive) and effective reader/student:

Before Reading

Preview to get the big picture. Read over: chapter objectives and headings, visual charts or pictures, and bolded vocabulary words — all of these components give you important clues about what the authors intended for you to understand about the chapter.

Read questions and summaries at the start and end of the chapter to get an idea of the main points and questions to keep in mind.

Previewing helps decipher what you truly need to focus on, figure out what will make good study questions/areas, and a sense of where you need to spend more time versus less time in later study.

Ask Yourself: What do you already know about this topic? What will be the hardest to understand about the topic? What do I need to get out of this chapter and for what purpose am I reading it? (i.e. homework, study, paper, research, class discussion, etc.)

During Reading

Active reading.

Plan to read about 10 pages at a time (while typically about a one-hour block — give yourself a few hours to get an idea of your pace).

Read at least one full paragraph or short section before you highlight or take notes to get perspective of what’s important for each part.

Try to visualize mental pictures of the material. Sometimes it even helps to draw out diagrams or pictures to visualize information.

Read aloud if you encounter complex information or you get distracted.

Circle/highlight key terms/definitions.

Pay close attention to visual representations such as charts, pictures and diagrams — they clarify important points in the text.

Identify the main idea(s) of each paragraph or section, state out loud or jot down.

Reading for significant facts

Illustrative facts : often have “for example” preceding the point

Definitions : typically are statements that are short and authoritative

Descriptions : more narrative in form; might recount or relate pieces of information

Explanations : either pull together differing opinions/concepts or set up the scene by describing relevant information about an idea

After Initial Reading

In the margins or on a separate sheet, write 1-2 study/potential test questions for each paragraph or section.

After reading 10 pages, try to to go back and answer those questions to check for what you already comprehend and what you need to come back to (put a star where you need to study more).

Write down questions for your instructor or points you might want to make in class.

Relate primary ideas: create outline of major ideas, list relevant details under each and why they are related to each other, list how each major idea relates to the others.

The whole process of reading a chapter and taking notes will vary for each individual; you should plan about 3-5 hours per chapter until you get a system down.

Continued Review/Later Study

Try to explain it out loud or to someone — teaching material using your own words not only deepens comprehension but also clarifies what you really understand and what you need to learn more.

Write a summary of what you read in language that is meaningful to you.

Take a few minutes to organize your notes or flashcards.

Review for 10-15 minutes 24 hours after reading by looking at notes or highlighted sections and answering identified study questions. Then spend 10-15 minutes each week reviewing notes/highlights/study questions for each chapter — this practice gets the information into long-term memory where it can best be learned and recalled for exams.

Comprehension Tips

Highlighting or Note-taking : only a phrase or two that if you came back to weeks later would be all you’d have to read to get the gist of the paragraph/section; not just a couple words or whole sentences unless it’s dates or definitions. Only 20% or less of the content should be highlighted.

Sometimes transferring important text by handwriting or typing can get the information more deeply lodged in long-term memory to be retrieved at a later date.

Multiply the number of pages you have to read by 5 minutes — this is approximately how long you can anticipate reading. If it looks like a long block of time, think about breaking it up into 50-60 minute segments with breaks in between.

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Study Advice

Help yourself to a better degree!

Study Advice is based within the Library on the Whiteknights campus. We work with students to develop the academic skills they need for university level study. We support students, across all disciplines from undergraduate to PhD level, to achieve the academic success they deserve .

Videos and guides

Find expert advice on developing your academic skills such as:

See our guides and video guides

See our blended learning guide and our top ten tips for online learning

We will be running webinars throughout the academic year to support you with all aspects of your study. From revising for your exams to preparing for your dissertations, these friendly webinars are designed for you to get some tips from the experts and put your studies on track for success.

See our current Study Advice Webinars here

We can help you to:

Individual advice sessions

With our expert guidance, you can develop your skills for study success and help yourself to a better degree!

We can help you with essay writing, exam revision, time management, referencing, presentations, dissertations, reports and more. Book a 30 minute appointment with us to:

Book a 121 appointment

Quick query?

Drop-ins are 10 minute sessions for which you do not need to book. They run every Mon-Fri 13:00 -14:00 term time on the Ground floor of the Library. Drop-in queries might be:

If you think you need longer than 10 minutes with a Study Adviser, please book a 1-2-1. Alternatively you can email us with your query and we will respond as soon as possible. Please note that we cannot guarantee to respond the same day, especially during vacations.

Peer advice and guidance - ASK advisers

Sometimes you have a query that might best be answered by someone within your department - but you don't want to bother your tutor with it. ASK Advisers are postgraduate research students in a department who are trained and mentored by the Study Advice team. Click here to see a list of current ASK advisers

The Study Advice Team

We are a small team of experts in learning development with many years of professional experience working directly with University students and staff.

Exams Office


Reading Students' Union Advice Service

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Booked one-to-one sessions are available Mon - Fri

Book a one-to-one session

Drop-ins for quick queries are available term time Mon - Fri 13:00 - 14:00 in the Library, Ground Floor.

Contact us at:

Find us at:

  • We are on the Ground Floor of the Library (to the right of the stairs).

We remain open during vacation (except during University closure days) for booked appointments.


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  1. What Is Meant by Study Skills?

    According to Penn State University, study skills refer to abilities that can be learned to improve study habits. Learning these skills helps improve the ability to learn, take tests and excel academically.

  2. What Are Reading Skills?

    Reading skills include skills acquired through reading, such as comprehension, fluency and independence. Overall, these skills give students the ability to turn words on a page into a clear meaning.

  3. How Is the Term “study Skills” Defined?

    Study skills are defined as strategies and methods to efficiently manage learning. Study skills consist of time management strategies, note taking and active listening abilities, and summarization and analysis skills.

  4. Study skills tips

    Preparation · Don't be afraid of making mistakes. People often get things wrong. · Do group activities. · Make notes during every class. · Use a dictionary. · Think

  5. Reading

    You'll learn some great study tips at the same time! Before reading. Do the preparation task first. Then read the text and do the exercises. Preparation

  6. Reading with Purpose

    Tips · Highlight. As you read, highlight important information, so that you can find it again later. · Write in the margins. Annotate your text

  7. Reading Skills

    When you're studying it's important to be able to read effectively and efficiently. This page includes some reading strategies you could try.

  8. Study Skills Tip Sheets: Reading

    Read&Write is a program that supports learning in many amazing ways. Read&Write is able to read text out loud, turn text from webpages and

  9. Reading techniques

    Top tips. Set yourself targets, for example to read a chapter in twenty minutes. Remember to keep the targets challenging but realistic. Try reading out loud

  10. Improving your reading skills

    Improving your reading skills will reduce unnecessary reading time and enable you to read in a more focused and selective manner.

  11. Tips for Reading Textbooks

    Active reading · Plan to read about 10 pages at a time (while typically about a one-hour block — give yourself a few hours to get an idea of your pace). · Read at

  12. Study Skills

    When studying, it is likely that you will need to read a lot of information – and you will wish to use this time effectively as possible by developing your

  13. Study Skills

    Difficult texts to read for your distance learning course? Need to improve your academic English reading skills? Don't worry – we've got the

  14. Study Advice

    Help yourself to a better degree! Study Advice is based within the Library on the Whiteknights campus. We work with students to develop the academic skills