Reading Techniques

Reading Techniques

Improving Reading Comprehension

Prereading activities improve your focus and concentration:

  • Spend time recalling everything you know about a topic before reading the new information.
  • Before reading a book, examine the table of contents, preface, and some pages.  Then make one or more of the following lists:
    •  Questions you expect the book to answer
    •  Knowledge you expect to acquire
    •  What you hope to gain from this knowledge

Activities during reading will improve your concentration and memory; these are all very powerful; choose the one which best suits your purposes:

  • After reading each paragraph go back and highlight the key idea and terms.  After you are done reading your assignment write (type) out these key ideas into an outline.  Take the outlines to class to refer to and expand upon during lectures.
  • After reading each paragraph summarize it into one sentence - use your own words to write this summary.  Form these summaries into an outline or some other form which shows relationship of ideas.
  • After reading each page briefly summarize the major ideas in your own words.  Write these summaries down.  This approach is very powerful.

(Walter Pauk, adapted by Susan Hice)

Muscle Reading

5 minutes (Seeing the Big Picture)

  • Look for the familiar
  • Look at pictures and graphs
  • Read introductions and summaries
  • Read Chapter Headings


  • How will I be tested on this material?
  • How useful will it be to me later?
  • How much time can I afford to spend on this?

QUESTION for 5 minutes (Getting Organized mentally)

  • Ask detailed questions based on your preview
  • Turn headings into questions

READ for 40 minutes (Interact with the Text)

  • Be Active
  • Underline
  • Highlight
  • Mark in the Margin
  • 10% or less of the page should be marked
  • Answer questions asked (take notes)

RECITE for 5 minutes (Be specific)

  • Talk to yourself
  • What did you just read?

REVIEW for 5 minutes (within the next 24 hours)

REVIEW for 5 minutes (prior to the next reading session)

Using the PQRST Method to Study


  • Determine what the whole reading assignment is about by skimming through the pages.
  • Get the BIG PICTURE
    • Look at the chapter headings and subheadings
    • Notice graphs, pictures, diagrams
    • Read the introduction and summary
    • Notice the organizational structure of the text


  • Determine exactly what you will be looking for while reading
    • Check for the author's questions at the end of the
    • Turn headings and subheading into question
    • Be specific -- look for details


  • Read Actively -- use your mind
    • What is your reaction to the text?
    • How do ideas relate to each other?
  • Read Actively -- use your body
    • Highlight, Mark, Take Notes


  • After reading a section see how much you can recall and then
    state it in your own words
  • Avoid being vague by just thinking, "Oh…mmm…I know that."
  • Be specific -- explain it to yourself verbally


  • Check your knowledge after you have completed your reading
  • Review the information not only for facts, but by reflectively
    thinking about it.
  • Test your memory -- avoid looking back at what you have
    highlighted or at the notes you have taken.

Actual laboratory experiments have shown that the person who has a given amount of time to study a topic, whether that amount of time be fifteen minutes or five hours, generally makes better scores on tests on that material if he spends at least half of his total study time in reflective thinking (that is, thinking over what he has read.)  This means that if you have an hour to study a chapter, you generally will do better to spend thirty minutes, or a little less, in your PREVIEW and READ steps and at least thirty minutes in your QUESTION and STATE steps.

How to Study by Thomas F. Staton, p.24


Compiled by Eileen Lewis


Take an overall survey of your text.  Having information about the framework of the chapter(s) will help you discover main ideas, definitions, etc.  Look at:

  1. Chapter title - this contains the chapter’s main idea.
  2. Chapter objectives - specific statement of what information you should get from studying the chapter.
  3.  Chapter summary or review - if you look at this first, you will know which                                           concepts to concentrate on as you read.
  4.  Major headings and subheadings - the skeleton of the chapter provides you with an outline for the material to be covered.
  5. Visuals - these add spice to your reading, creating interest and often restate basic information in visual form.  Pay attention to any material that has been offset in a box or separate section (graphs, pictures, examples, etc.).
  6.  Special treatment of words and terms  - offset, highlighted, and boldfaced.

Once you have completed the survey, you are ready to begin the note-taking process of the SQ4R System.


By asking a question before and during your reading, you are forced to pay attention and search for answers, therefore concentrating more during you reading session, aiding in memory and recall.

  1. Reword the first heading into a question.
    Ex:   Textbook Heading - Learning the Requirements of Mastery
    Question - What are the requirements of mastery?
  2. Write this question in your notebook


Begin reading the first section of the chapter.  As you finish reading the first paragraph, decide if your question has been answered.  If not, you will probably want to add a question to your notes covering the information in that first paragraph.  Continue reading the section and revise your initial question, making it more or less specific.

Ex: Initial question: 

What are the requirements of mastery?

Revised questions:

What is mastery?
What is “the long term”?
What is “recall”?

Continue reading the remainder of the section and chapter in this manner: asking questions, revising questions, and finding answers to your questions.

Notice that these questions actually will begin to resemble exam questions.  This is an advantage of the SQ4R System since it aids in predicting possible exam questions from the textbook.


Once you have finished reading a section, answer the question you have written out loud.  If you cannot remember the answer, glance back at the text, reread the information, and recite the answer.  Translate the author’s words into your own whenever possible.  Reciting out loud involves additional senses and therefore aids in moving information from short-term memory to long-term memory.


After reciting a satisfactory answer to a question, check for accuracy and record it in your notes.  When you have finished the entire section of the chapter, move on to the next and continue until the chapter is complete.  When you have finished this process, you should have at least one question and one answer for each section of your textbook chapter.  These will become helpful as you study for an exam.


Before ending your study session, take a few minutes to do an immediate review.  This involves looking over your notes again and covering the “answers” column in your notes and answering the questions you have written out loud.  Use this method for an on-going review.

Textbook Reading Techniques

Have you already bought yourself a highlighter to assist you with reading your textbooks?  It didn’t come with instructions, did it? How do you know what to highlight? Highlighters may not be the best tool for you to use. Students generally make one of two common mistakes: highlighting too little or highlighting too much. Here are some hints for textbook reading:

What you should do before beginning to read your textbook:

  • Know what your attention span is.  (How many minutes can you read before your mind wanders?  The average is 20-30 minutes.)
  • Know how many pages you can read in an attention span.  (For instance, 10 pages in a 30-minute attention span.)
  • Count the number of pages in your reading assignment, and figure out how many attention spans it will take you to read the information.  You will insert mini-breaks and real breaks between attention spans. (See Breaks & Attention Spans Sheet)
  • Survey the chapter before you begin reading the assignment.  This means that you should review the title of the chapter, the bolded subheadings, and the conclusion or summary (if the chapter has one).

Note: If you survey the chapter ahead of time, your brain will have a primitive outline of the information contained in the chapter.  This will allow you to be better prepared to extract the most important information out of the chapter.  This is especially true if there is a chapter summary at the end, because you will know what the author has identified as the most important concepts and details to know.

  • Have a paper and pen available when you are reading.  Ask summary questions.  These questions are about the concepts, themes, ideas, and definitions that you are reading about.  You will answer the questions as you read.
  • When it is time to study or review the information from your text, which you should do on a weekly basis, you won’t need to refer to the book because you will have a study sheet already developed.  While this technique might more labor intensive, it is not as time consuming as re-reading information you have highlighted.
  • A good way to set up a study sheet is like the TIPS Note-taking Method

TIPS Note-taking Method

TIPS is an acronym for Topics, main Ideas, supporting Points, and Summaries.  This note-taking method provides an organized review sheet for study and is similar to the Cornell Note-taking System for lecture notes.  Converting the main ideas into questions provides a quick pretest and writing summaries prepares you for essay/short answer exams.

Topic – the heading for your notes and placed at the top of the page
Main Idea – are converted into questions and placed in the left margin
Supporting Points – are jotted down in the right margin and become the answers to your questions
Summaries – are placed at the bottom of the note page.  Writing your summaries in a different colored ink helps with the retrieval process during review.

Main Ideas/Details in Reading

Locating the Main Idea

Usually each paragraph has a main idea or topic sentence located somewhere within it.

  • Main idea at the beginning of the paragraph
    The remainder of the paragraph contains examples, supporting information or further explanation.
  • Main idea at the middle of the paragraph
    Sentences preceding the main idea provide background information.
    Sentences following it explain the main idea further.
  • Main idea at the end of the paragraph
    The entire paragraph often provides examples, similarities and differences with the final sentence summing up the idea.
  •  Main idea implied
    Implied main ideas often appear in textbooks dealing with history or social sciences, as well as descriptive or narrative passages found in short stories or novels.  A main idea or topic sentence does not appear but is inferred.

Recognizing Critical Details

Not all details are of equal importance. Critical details are those which directly confirm, explain, or illustrate the main idea.

Types of details:

  • Facts which explain and define.
  • Reasons which explain why.
  • Examples which illustrate the main idea.
  • Description which often include events, activities, or scenes, providing a visual picture or an image.

Differentiating Critical Ideas from Minor Details

Facts, reasons, examples, and descriptions are also used in minor details. Critical details directly support or illustrate the main idea. Minor details illustrate or support a critical detail, acting as a subpoint to the critical idea.

Compiled by Eileen Lewis

Kinesthetic Reading

Read when Alert and Awake

  • Watch your energy level. Don’t read during physical “down” times; know your body
  •  Take breaks regularly – about every 40 minutes

Survey your reading

  • Preview the chapter – why are you reading and how does it connect with what you already know?
  • How is the chapter formatted – look at graphs, illustrations, diagrams, pictures, etc.
  • Look for familiar concepts, definitions, summary statements or facts.
  • Get the big picture, the overall concepts rather than details.

Outline Main Points

  • Traditional outlining or mapping using section titles and paragraph headings
  • Identify main ideas in each paragraph

Interact with the Text

  • Make questions out of headings
  • Develop questions for class –use note cards

Read Actively and Quickly

  • Use your fingers to go over the page
  • Highlight, underline, take notes only after previewing information

Summarize in Writing and Out loud

  • What are the main points?
  • How does this fit in with what was previously learned?
  • Explain the material to yourself in a mirror or to someone else.

Review and Use Note Cards

  • Go back over difficult material and refresh your memory
  • Review using note cards during “hidden” times in the day

Use all your Senses

  • Visualize (make graphs, charts, & pictures)
  • Vocalize (recite information outloud, read and summarize difficult material outloud)
  • Texturize (make a model or physically get involved with the material)

Study Strategies for Kinesthetic Learners

  • Study in a group in which members take turns explaining topics to each other.
  • Think of practical uses of the course material.
  • Pace and recite while you learn.
  • Act out material or design games.
  • Use flashcards with other people.
  • Teach the material to someone else.
  • Practice writing out exams and possible test questions.