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Students in college can expect to read hundreds of pages of assigned reading per week. One of the myths that students bring to college is that reading something one time is enough. Another myth is that reading is all you have to do. The truth is that reading is a passive activity and if that’s all you do, you’ll be reading the same chapter over and over, trying to understand and remember the information. The key to remembering information is active reading, which includes writing, talking, and thinking critically about the content.

Active reading strategies “trick” your brain into understanding and remembering more of the reading assignment than if you just read every word in every section one time. Active reading takes effort and time; however, it will save time in the long run that you would otherwise spend reading and studying chapters multiple times because you don’t remember the information.

Let’s say you are assigned a chapter in a textbook in preparation for taking a quiz or writing an essay and you don’t know anything about the topic, and further, you’re not really all that interested. When you simply read through a chapter, chances are you won’t remember much. Using these strategies ensures that you read the material more than once, skip over what you already know, and as a result, not only do you get through the material faster, but also retain more information.

  1. Pre-read: Write down questions from the professor’s lecture or study notes. Look through the chapter and pay particular attention to section headings and subtitles, photos, charts, call-out textboxes, and captions that pertain to those questions. Read the chapter introduction, conclusion, and summary. Take notes on the questions at the end of sections or the end of the chapter. Make a list of what you already know about the chapter information and another list of what you don’t know.
  2. Organize: When you read the chapter sections, begin a visual organization strategy. Some of the tools students use are outlines, mind maps, charts, diagrams, or other visual tools to organize information. When reading, don’t highlight; instead, write comments and questions (put page numbers so you can refer back as needed) on your visual organizer. Write down unfamiliar words look them up online. Begin making notes of the answers to the questions from the pre-reading session. After each section in the chapter, write a short summary.
  3. Question: Write your own quiz/exam questions for each section of the chapter. Make sure you can answer all the questions from the pre-reading session. When you can answer all your questions, the chapter questions, and those from lecture and study notes, in your own words, without looking at the chapter, then you fully understand the material. Revise you lists of what you know and what you don’t know to see what you need to study more in depth. Chances are, your list of what you don’t know is very much shorter than it was when you started out.
  4. Study: People remember more if they teach others. Study with a classmate. In an online class, you can do this through text message, phone calls, email, or the text chat area of your course. Take turns asking questions and providing answers. Once you have an answer to your questions, ask for further details and information. Also add what you know to what they write. The great thing about online communication is that, while you can be online together at the same time, that’s not necessary and it’s easy to fit studying together into individual schedules.

One more important strategy is to give your brain a break periodically. Whatever the task, a textbook chapter, article, novel, or other assigned reading, break the task into manageable time blocks and take a break between sessions. This prevents information overload, increases the ability to concentrate, and decreases the potential for falling prey to distractions. Then when you return to read the next section, do a quick review of the previous section you just finished, which reinforces the information from the initial reading. Repetition increases retention. Remember that the more active you are in the reading process, the more you will remember when it comes time to complete assignments, such as writing essays or taking tests.