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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.
- SQ4R Note-taking Template
How to Use Active Reading Techniques
- Video Transcript - 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.
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
- SURVEY: Flip through the chapter quickly to get a sense of what is covered. Look at headings and keys terms, and read the final paragraph.
- Word Template
- PDF Template
- READ: Read the chapter, looking for the answer to the questions you posed.
- REFLECT: Think about what you have read, and relate it to other information you have learned.
- RECITE: Without looking at the text, restate your question and formulate an answer in your own words.
- REVIEW: At the end of the chapter look over your notes and familiarize yourself with key points.
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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:
- title and cover blurb
- table of contents and index
- abstract, summary or introduction of the book, article or each chapter
- pictures and diagrams.
Skim through the text to look for the main ideas in what you are reading:
- read the introduction
- read the headings and first sentences in each paragraph or section
- identify key words and ideas – the bits that stand out
- pay attention to words in bold or italics, names and numbers
- read the final paragraphs and conclusion.
Scanning is when you search through the information to find specific information. For example:
- to find the answer to a question
- look for a quote or reference
- find names, places, titles, facts or figures
- find ideas.
When you scan:
- be clear about what you’re looking for. It’s helpful to have a question in mind that you want to answer
- think about what key words are used.
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:
- survey (or skim)
- recite (or recall)
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:
- read the title and cover blurb
- look at the table of contents
- read the abstract
- look at headings and sub-headings
- note any bold or italicised print
- look at pictures, diagrams or boxed text
- read the final paragraphs, conclusion and/or summary.
As you are reading ask yourself questions:
- turn the first heading of a chapter into a question before you read to give you a purpose for your reading. For example, if the title was “Reading better with SQ3R” your question could be “What is SQ3R?”
- ask what, why, how, who and where questions
- ask what you already know about the topic and what you want to know or remember.
Check our information on critical thinking to help you think of other questions you could ask while you’re reading.
- you may need to read the text a few times to make sure you understand it and can remember what it’s about
- the first sentence of a paragraph usually says the main idea.
While you read:
- note the most important parts but don’t highlight or make notes yet. Make sure you understand what you’re reading and can identify the most important parts
- read the text again and highlight keywords and ideas
- stop occasionally and make notes of what you have read in your own words
- re-read any parts that are still not clear
- try to link what you are reading to what you already know.
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:
- recall or recite what you have just read without looking at the text or your notes
- think about the questions you started with – can you answer them?
- try telling someone what you have learnt, or pretend you have to teach the topic. Think about how you would explain it to someone who knows nothing about it.
Next you should review the work you've learned:
- summarise information in your own words. You could use a mind map to do this
- look at your notes and quiz yourself
- make connections between your notes and notes on other information.
Do this within 24 hours. This will help to fix the information in your long-term memory.
Study Skills Tip Sheets: Reading
- Effective Reading Strategies (pdf)
- Study Strategy: Creating Mind Maps (pdf)
- CPR - A Reading Strategy
- Reading Resources Collection of Topics This is an excellent resource from the Niagara University with topics in reading such as "How to Create Interest in What You Read" and "21 Tips for Effective Textbook Reading"
- Computer Software: Read&Write (free for USask students) 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 documents into MP3 sound files (which you can listen to while doing other tasks), check grammar when writing, and has a dictionary with both text terms and pictures.
- Technology - OneNote for Taking Notes Microsoft OneNote is a popular note taking program used for taking and organizing notes. OneNote can be used as *your* note taking system for taking notes in your readings, while attending (virtual) lectures, and in creating study notes. As a USask student, you can install and freely use Microsoft Office Programs such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and OneNote. View the "USask Microsoft Advantage" webpage to learn more about downloading OneDrive as part of the Microsoft Office365 collection of programs.
- Overview of OneNote (short video) Watch this brief introduction of how to use OneNote created by the Learning Centres, Kwantlen Polytechnic University (CA).
- Virtual Webpage Book-Marking & Annotation tool: hypothes.is 'hypothesis.is' is a free extension provided for the Chrome web browser that allows you to tag, annotate, highlight, and make summary notes within webpages. In addition, 'hypothes.is' allows you to share and annotate webpages as a group.
- The SQR4 Method for Reading Textbooks Video (3:11) Have a look at this video and text on how to *actively* engage in reading by surveying the text, asking questions, reading the text, responding to questions, recording notes and reviewing (University of Ontario Institute of Technology).
- PQ3R Handout Do you read passively through textbooks, reading all content from start to finish and possibly highlighting some sentences? Engage in your learning and change to a more active style of reading using the PQ3R method. (York University)
- PQ3R Reading Worksheet Do you need some guidance on how to read effectively? Follow this worksheet developed by York University to guide your reading and make serious gains on your skills.
- How to Remember What You Read Very practical set of strategies to help you organize and remember information that you've read (University of Manitoba).
- Active vs. Passive Textbook Readers Complete this survey to assess your reading strategies. Are you a mature, efficient textbook reader or a passive, immature, inefficient textbook reader?
- Interpreting Texts Critically: Asking Questions Great website that challenges you, as the reader, to question what you read and think critically about what the author wants you to believe. You decide what you believe about the author's points (Suny Empire State College).
- Promoting Critical Reading Skills Worksheet This worksheet poses a set of valuable questions to answer when reading narratives such as papers (e.g., philosophy) and chapters of textbooks for social sciences and humanities.
- Critical Reading of Texts This is a comprehensive site on critical reading that dives into different ways of reading and interpreting textual passages (Dan Kurland).
- Balance comprehension with efficiency This two-page handout developed by the University of Melbourne does a great job of describing strategies for surveying texts to get an idea of what the author(s) are talking about.
- Improve your College Reading Skills Quick 10 to-the-point steps on how to improve your College reading skills.
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Techniques to manage and get the most out of the reading required for your course.
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:
- Title and abstract: an abstract is a short summary of a whole academic text and if available it is usually an ideal place to start.
- Chapter or section headings: how is the text broken up? How are the main sections organised?
- Introduction: this should provide you with a summary of the aims and objectives of the text.
- Conclusion: this is where you will find out what the main take-away messages are from the text.
- Figures or pictures:
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 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.
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
- tracing a loose "s" or "z" shape through the lines of text
- drawing a horizontal pen/ruler/card down the page line by line
- drawing your fingers or pen down one margin of the text
- drawing a pen or your fingers down the centre of the text
Read for one minute and mark where you get to. Next
- add an extra third of the text and mark your new finishing place
- read again from start and reach your new goal
- repeat 3 more times
Go faster than comprehension speed. You can read a new text each time.
Read for one minute and mark where you get to. Next;
- read the same amount of text in 50 seconds
- repeat, reducing the time to 40, then 30, then 20 seconds
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
- mark out a new section of the same length, read this in 3 minutes, then write another bullet point
- mark another new section of the same length and add on a quarter more text. Read this in 3 minutes and write out bullet point. Complete twice more
Think using the pacing techniques. Try and retain comprehension and attention while putting pressure on your reading speed.
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.
- What is the overall argument of the paper?
- What are the main examples given?
- How might this be applied in practice?
- Why was the research undertaken?
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:
- What don't I need to read?
- Which parts are most important?
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.
- Watch our focused reading workshop
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.
- involves reading word by word
- involves understanding every word and form
- develops higher-level language processing
- promotes language accuracy
- is reading for general understanding
- is vital for the development of automaticity in low-level language processing
- promotes language fluency
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:
- Read a section of text (a chapter, page or section) to the very end, without worrying too much about understanding the details.
- Can you summarise the meaning of the text? What are the main events, characters, facts and information?
- Re-read the text – can you build on your understanding from the first read?
- Once you understand the main narrative, continue to the next chapter or section – avoid the need to understand everything!
- Keep a notebook to hand to jot down any important or recurrent words to look up later.
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
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
Manchester University – Reading
Reading University – Academic reading
Mondofacto – How to read at university
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:
- have clear reading goals;
- choose the right texts;
- use the right reading style;
- use note taking techniques.
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:
- an essay or seminar subject;
- a report brief;
- a selected subject area;
- a series of questions about a specific topic.
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.
- Check the date of publication. Is the information up-to-date?
- Read the publisher's blurb at the back or inside sleeve for an overview of the content.
- Check the contents page for relevant chapters.
- Look up references for your topic in the index.
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:
- the introduction or preface of a text;
- the first or last paragraphs of chapters;
- the concluding or summarising chapter of a text;
- the book index.
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:
- pre-view a selection of text prior to detailed reading;
- refresh your understanding of a selection of text following detailed reading.
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:
- underlining and highlighting to pick out what seem to you the most central or important words and phrases. Do this in your own copy of texts or on photocopies - never on borrowed texts;
- keywords to record the main headings as you read. Use one or two keywords for each main point. Keywords can be used when you don't want to mark the text;
- questions to encourage you to take an active approach to your reading. Record your questions as you read. They can also be used as prompts for follow up work;
- summaries to check you have understood what you have read. Pause after a section of text and put what you have read in your own words. Skim over the text to check the accuracy of your summary, filling in any significant gaps.
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
- Don't worry about how quickly you are reading but instead, concentrate on reading the line in only three fixations.
- As this becomes more natural, practise without drawing lines.
- Later, reduce the number of fixations to two per line.
- Once this increased word span becomes a comfortable habit, an increase in your reading speed will occur.
- Have a clear focus for your reading. Set your reading goals.
- Survey the text before you spend the time and effort involved in detailed reading.
- Scan and skim to select the text for detailed reading.
- Scan and skim after detailed reading to reinforce your understanding.
- Use a form of note taking whilst reading in detail, to keep you concentrating, aid understanding and provide you with a record of your reading.
- Using clear reading goals and a variety of reading skills is more important than increasing your reading speed.
- To improve your reading speed, don't increase the speed of the eye across the page, but increase the number of words the eye recognises in a single fixation.
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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:
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.)
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.
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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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 .
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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.
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.
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.
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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