Look at a syllabus for any college-level course, and you will find a reading assignment. Some courses require a minimal amount of reading, while other courses ask that you read twenty to fifty pages each night in preparation for a lecture. Regardless of the amount of pages or the size of the textbook, sound reading strategies are necessary in order to get the greatest benefit from any reading assignment.
Many incoming first-year students claim to have survived high school by finding summaries or shortcuts to avoid the need to read the entirety of reading assignments. Others expect that it isn’t necessary to preread, as the material will be presented in class the next day. The reality is that in college classes, you are responsible for all material on the syllabus whether or not it is actively discussed in class, and this includes reading assignments. Having solid reading strategies will help you to better understand and apply your reading assignments to other information presented in class.
Before beginning a reading assignment, you should know a few important pieces of information. Figure out the length of the reading and how it is broken up (chapters, section headings, end of section questions, etc.) Skim the assignment; do you see vocabulary words in bold type? Graphs and charts with captions? Shaded boxes or tables with additional information? Finally, ask yourself why you’re reading the assignment – and ‘because I have to’ isn’t a legitimate answer to this question. Does the reading provide background for lecture, or will you be responsible for discussing the material with other members for the class? Will the material be actively referenced during the lecture, or will it provide explanation for a homework assignment later that week? Answering that question determines how you will approach the reading.
Take the reading assignment and break it up into clusters. Clustering a reading assignment (breaking it into sections, concepts or even by numbers of pages) gives you the chance to approach the reading in small portions, and summarizing each cluster allows for a mini-review as you move through the assignment. Clustering also allows you to spread a reading assignment out over several sessions rather than force yourself to read the entire assignment at once. For students who have difficulty focusing on larger assignments, clustering is a necessary skill to learn in order to facilitate knowledge retention as well as encourage time management skills.
It may be necessary to read the assignment more than once, especially if you are responsible for taking notes or marking essential material from the reading. In these cases, previewing is extremely important and can provide clues as to material that should be highlighted or reorganized. When reading an assignment, keep a list of questions about the passage or use a pencil to mark questions in the margins. Some people use sticky notes to keep track of questions or key points in the reading; regardless of the chosen technique, consider keeping a “dialogue” with your reading assignment and noting questions. This allows you to have a more interactive reading experience, thereby helping you to remember what you have read.