Reading: You're Doing It Wrong

There's reading and there's reading effectively, so you excel in your classes and, you know, life. This is how.

When it comes to succeeding as a student, nothing tops the importance of reading. Whether at the undergraduate or graduate level, whether in class or on your own, you need to know how to read effectively. And reading effectively is way more than just, well, reading!

But, luckily, anyone can improve their reading ability and comprehension—and it’s an goal worth having. Even if you would rate yourself as above average in your reading comprehension, why not get even better? And if you struggle a bit to keep up, it’s never too late to take the initiative in enhancing your skills.

What the SQ3R?!

Ever since the 1940s, reading experts have recommended a five-step process known as the SQ3R system, which stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recall/Recite, and Review. Students who follow these steps have been shown to understand textbooks or other written material more fully, and they also retained more information during testing or other applications.

  1. Survey. The first step in this approach is to look over material such as introductions, summaries, and headings as well as to scan the material at hand.
  2. Question. Next, pose questions to yourself about the material you have reviewed. Write them down for later consideration.
  3. Read. Now it’s time to read the material at hand, keeping the questions you have developed in mind and trying to answer them as you go forward. Also make the effort to restate ideas and to mark important words and phrases.
  4. Recall/Recite. After you have finished a chapter or substantial section of material, stop and recall the information you have read. Make sure you understand it.
  5. Review. Finally, try to cement details in your memory by going over portions your have underlined or notes in margins, and considering the questions you posed at the outset.

Even more reading comprehension tips

The SQ3R approach only a start. Along with the time-tested tips above, consider strategies such as these:

  • Read widely. The more you read, the better. “Nothing beats reading a lot, especially nonfiction,” says Jason Ma, author of Young Leaders 3.0: Stories, Insights, and Tips for Next-Generation Achievers. “Good fiction with fine writing is valuable too.”
  • Learn to skim. Sometimes it’s important to read every word and each sentence of the material at hand. But often you can skim over less important material, leaving more time to concentrate on the most important info.
  • Read aloud. Another strategy, especially when it comes to retaining written material, is reading out loud. “Read aloud to yourself sometimes,” Ma says. “You may find your two ears listening to your mouth helpful.”
  • Check out online tips. Online tools and apps can be helpful in areas such increasing reading speed, enhancing comprehension, and more. Just one example: the “Increase Your Reading Speed and Comprehension” section at
  • Connect with a tutor. Getting a tutor is an approach that works for many students. Most schools offer free tutoring services, although you may find it worthwhile to line up an independently paid tutor. You can find local tutors online or through recommendations from your counselors or perhaps friends.

With or without outside help, a concerted effort to improve your reading skills will generally pay off. And for the ambitious college student, it’s hard to think of a better use of your time.

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