Reading Guide

Reading speed & comprehension

  • Each type of reading has a different rate;
    an exciting novel is a quicker read than a text in biology.
  • Text books vary in how well they are written;
    as a consequence some are more difficult to read.
  • Each semester, time yourself reading a chapter
    in each of your text books. See how many pages an hour you can read. Once you have an accurate estimate of your reading rate, you can better plan your reading time and studying time.

Scan the chapter first.
Identify the sections to which the author devotes the most amount of space. If there are lots of diagrams for a particular concept, then that must also be an important concept. If you’re really pressed for time, skip the sections to which the least amount of space is devoted.

Read the first sentence of every paragraph
more carefully than the rest of the paragraph.

  • Take notes on headings and first sentence
    of each paragraph before reading the chapter itself.
    Then close your book and ask yourself what you now know about the subject that you didn’t know before you started.
  • Focus on nouns and main propositions in each sentence. Look for the noun-verb combinations, and focus your learning on these.
  • For example, consider the following text:

Classical conditioning is learning that takes place when we come to associate two stimuli in the environment. One of these stimuli triggers a reflexive response. The second stimulus is originally neutral with respect to that response, but after it has been paired with the first stimulus, it comes to trigger the response in its own right.

Rather than read every word, you might decode this text graphically:

Classical conditioning = learning = associating two stimuli
1st stimulus triggers a response
2nd stimulus = originally neutral, but paired with 1st –> triggers response.

Rather than reading and re-reading your text, take notes in this form, so that you’ve re-written the important parts of the text. Once you have written notes, you don’t have to worry about the text itself.

Pre-reading Strategies

What you bring to the printed page
will affect how you understand what you read,
and may be what is most important in understanding what you read


Examine the title of the selection you are about to read
List all the information that comes to mind about this title
Use these pieces of information to recall and understand the material
Use this knowledge to reframe or reorder what you know, or to note what you disagree with, for further research

Group discussions

Group discussions in and out of class will help you to discover what you bring to your reading, what your fellow students bring, as well as shared experiences
If you find they have new background information, ask for more information from them

Concept or mind mapping

This is a type of brainstorming where you place the title/subject as the main idea,
then develop a “mind map” around it. It can be effective either in a group or by yourself


Often chapters in texts provide organizing questions.
You can also write out a series of questions you expect to be answered when reading:


What is….? Where does … fit? What group does … belong to?

How would I describe…? What does … look like? What are its parts?

What is a good example of …?
What are similar examples that share attributes but differ in some way?

What experience have I had with ….? What can I imagine about …?

Visual Aids

Pictures and other visual material can activate your prior knowledge.
Use the Internet to search for pictures related to your title/topic to give you visual images of what you are about to read.

Advance Organizers

Relate new reading material to something you already know, to your background or experiences. Ask your teacher for assistance in developing these.

Reading Methods

Marking & Underlining

Read a section of your text (that you own!)
that you consider “manageable” but make no entries

Review the section:

Number important or sequential ideas in the margins

Underline or highlight:

  • main subjects
  • examples of these main ideas that help you understand them
  • unfamiliar vocabulary and/or definitions

Jot down paraphrases, questions, and summaries
in available space within the text

Develop a system to coordinate various sources
of information: workbooks, CDs, Web sites, classroom notes, etc.

Taking notes

First: read a section of your textbook chapter
Read just enough to keep an understanding of the material.
Do not take notes, but rather focus on understanding the material.

It is tempting to take notes as you are reading the first time, but this is not an efficient technique: you are likely to take down too much information and simply copy without understanding

Second: Review the material
Locate the main ideas, as well as important sub-points

  • Set the book aside
  • Paraphrase this information:
    Putting the textbook information in your own words forces you to become actively involved with the material

Third: write the paraphrased ideas as your notes

  • Do not copy information directly from the textbook
  • Add only enough detail to understand

Review, and compare your notes with the text,
and ask yourself if you truly understand

SQ3R reading method

SQ3R is a reading strategy formed from its letters:

Survey! Question! Read! Recite! Review!

SQ3R will help you build a framework to understand your reading assignment.

Before you read, Survey the chapter:

  • the title, headings, and subheadings
  • captions under pictures, charts, graphs or maps
  • review questions or teacher-made study guides
  • introductory and concluding paragraphs
  • summary

Question while you are surveying:

  • Turn the title, headings, and/or subheadings into questions
  • Read questions at the end of the chapters or after each subheading
  • Ask yourself,
    “What did my instructor say about this chapter or subject when it was assigned?”
  • Ask yourself,
    “What do I already know about this subject?”
    Note: If it is helpful to you, write out these questions for consideration.
    This variation is called SQW3R

When you begin to Read:

  • Look for answers to the questions you first raised
  • Answer questions at the beginning or end of chapters or study guides
  • Reread captions under pictures, graphs, etc.
  • Note all the underlined, italicized, bold printed words or phrases
  • Study graphic aids
  • Reduce your speed for difficult passages
  • Stop and reread parts which are not clear
  • Read only a section at a time and recite after each section

Recite after you’ve read a section:

  • Orally ask yourself questions about what you have just read, or summarize, in your own words, what you read
  • Take notes from the text but write the information in your own words
  • Underline or highlight important points you’ve just read
  • Reciting:
    The more senses you use the more likely you are to remember what you read Triple strength learning: Seeing, saying, hearing
    Quadruple strength learning: Seeing , saying , hearing, writing!!!

Review: an ongoing process

Day One

  • After you have read and recited the entire chapter, write questions in the margins for those points you have highlighted or underlined.
  • If you took notes while reciting, write questions for the notes you have taken in the left hand margins of your notebook.
  • Complete the form for a critical reading review

Day Two

  • Page through the text and/or your notebook to re-acquaint yourself with the important points.
  • Cover the right hand column of your text/note-book and orally ask yourself the questions in the left hand margins.
  • Orally recite or write the answers from memory.
  • Develop mnemonic devices for material which need to be memorized.
    Make flash cards for those questions which give you difficulty.

Days Three, Four and Five

  • Alternate between your flash cards and notes and test yourself (orally or in writing) on the questions you formulated.
  • Make additional flash cards if necessary.


  • Using the text and notebook, make a Table of Contents – list all the topics and sub-topics you need to know from the chapter.
  • From the Table of Contents, make a Study Sheet/ Spatial Map.
  • Recite the information orally and in your own words as you put the Study Sheet/Map together.
  • As you have consolidated all the information you need for this chapter, periodically review the Sheet/Map so that at test time you will not have to cram.

Critical reading

Characteristics of Critical Readers

  • They are honest with themselves
  • They resist manipulation
  • They overcome confusion
  • They ask questions
  • They base judgments on evidence
  • They look for connections between subjects
  • They are intellectually independent

Ask yourself the following questions as you read:

  • What is the topic of the book or reading?
  • What issues are addressed?
  • What conclusion does the author reach about the issue(s)?
  • What are the author’s reasons for his or her statements or belief?
    Is the author using facts, theory, or faith?

Facts can be proven
Theory is to be proved and should not be confused with fact
Opinions may or may not be based on sound reasoning
Faith is not subject to proof by its nature

  • Has the author used neutral words or emotional words?
    Critical readers look beyond the language to see if the reasons are clear
  • Be aware of why you do, or do not, accept arguments of the author

Reading difficult material

Reading difficult material can be a matter of concentration
or of simply organizing the challenge into steps:

  • Choose a moderate amount of material or a chapter to begin
  • Get a grasp of how the material is organized:
  • Scan the section for titles, headings, sub-headings, and topic sentences to get its general idea; pay attention to graphs, charts, and diagrams
  • If there is a summary at the end of a chapter, read it.
  • Check the beginning and the end for leading questions and exercises
  • Read first for what you do understand, and to determine difficulty.
  • Mark what you do not understand to review later

As you read, practice the look-away method:

Periodically look away from the text
and ask yourself a stimulus question relating to the text
Phrase the question positively!
Respond, or restate, in your own words

Make connections and associations,
but don’t use this exercise to memorize–but rather understand

  • Look up words
    Look up words whose meanings are important to your understanding of the material, but you cannot discern from the context.
  • Read to the end
    Do not get discouraged and stop reading.
    Ideas can become clearer the more you read. When you finish reading, review to see what you have learned, and reread those ideas that are not clear.
  • Organize your notes by connecting ideas
    you choose into an outline or concept map.
    Pay attention to relationships between ideas.

Do not confine yourself to words!
Use representations, graphics, pictures, colors, even movement to visualize and connect ideas. Use whatever techniques work to help you understand

At this point, if you do not understand your reading, do not panic!
Set it aside, and read it again the next day.
If necessary, repeat. This allows your brain to process the material, even while you sleep. This is referred to as distributed reading.

  • Re-read the section you have chosen with the framework
    (outline or concept map) you have constructed in mind
    Separate out what you do understand from what you do not.
  • If the reading is still a challenge,
    consult with either your teacher, academic counselors, or reading specialists.