Improve your reading skills

Reading is so important to learning! Do you think you are a great reader? A poor reader? No reader can remember everything they read; in fact, there are many different ways to read. To be a better reader you need to know why you are reading and what reading strategies to use.

Identify your purpose for reading

Before you read, ask yourself 'Why am I reading this?' Your answer should determine the way you read, that is, what reading strategies you use. For example, think about the way you would read to get some idea what a chapter might be about, compared to how you would read to understand a complex and detailed concept.

Be selective

You need to make decisions about how much time you have to read and what is essential to read. Sometimes (but not often) you need to know a whole chapter or section in detail. At other times you need to look for specific information about the topic you are studying and only a couple of pages or paragraphs are useful. Once you locate the parts of a text that are going to be most useful, you may not need to read the rest. To be selective:

  • Know what you are looking for.
  • Identify key words for searching in a text.
  • Use the key words to browse the table of contents and index for relevant pages.

Be an active reader

You likely know something about the subject you are reading about, and linking new material with what you know helps you read more actively. No matter how much you already know, you also need to think of questions about the topic because you will remember more if you read with questions in your mind. Before you start reading:

  • Ask 'What do I already know about this topic?'
  • Ask yourself questions about the topic. Change the title, headings and subheadings into questions or ask 'What do I want to find out from this reading?'
  • Ask 'What do I think this will be about?'
  • Look for other questions about the reading, which may be in the book in or at the back of the chapter.

Break reading into manageable segments

If you have a lot of reading to do, break the reading up into manageable segments, like chapters or a certain number of pages. This is less overwhelming and helps you to focus.

Use reading strategies

Efficient readers use reading strategies to save time and cover a lot of ground. Depending on your purpose for reading, you should choose one or more of the main strategies:

  1. Gaining an overview gives you an idea of what the text is about and alerts you to where the information you need is. Gain an overview by reading only the parts of the text that 'jump out at you', like parts with changed print and graphics. Changed print, like bold, italics, underlined or CAPITAL LETTERS tells you that something is important. Graphics include diagrams, maps, graphs, cartoons or photos and can give you a lot of information relatively quickly.
  2. Skimming involves running your eye very quickly over largechunks of text. It is different from gaining an overview, because when skimming you deal with the standard print. You are trying to pick up some of the main ideas without paying attention to detail. It is a fast process. A single chapter should take only a few minutes. You would choose to skim read if there is very little changed print to gain an overview of a text. Skimming adds further information to an overview.
  3. Scanning is sweeping your eyes (like radar) over part of a text to find specific pieces of information. You know how to do this; for example, if you are at the train station you scan the timetable to find the next train—you don't start at the beginning and read all the information!
  4. Intensive reading is detailed, focused, 'study' reading of important pages or chapters. To read intensively:
    • Start at the beginning. Underline any vocabulary you do not know, but do not stop the flow of your reading.
    • If the text is relatively easy, underline, highlight or make brief notes.
    • If the text is difficult, read through once or several times (depending on the level of difficulty) and then take notes.
    • Be alert to the main ideas. Each paragraph should have a main idea, usually contained in the first sentence.
    • When you have finished go back to the new vocabulary. Look it up in an ordinary or subject-specific dictionary. Keep a new word book or card system.

Working with texts - Tips from PASS leaders

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