How to Read for a Course

About the Author: Syd Pruitt is a senior undergraduate honors student studying Psychology, English, and Education. She is currently in the process of applying to PhD programs around the country to further her study of Psychology and the impact that teaching and learning has on people throughout life.

Reading academic texts assigned in class is often perceived as one of the more laborious tasks in college. However, it is also a crucial part of the learning process and can contribute greatly to a student’s understanding of the material. There is an art and a science to getting value from reading. Once students learn some basic strategies, they will be able to more effectively complete reading assignments and be more successful. In this piece I provide helpful tips to share with students that can help them learn, written directly for the student.

Understand why you’re doing this

Use the syllabus to understand why your professor is having you read, whether it be to provide you with more in depth information than can be provided in class time, to offer different perspectives, or to give you a physical resource for study materials. You’ll be much more likely to be able to focus and care if you know the reason why (Kerr & Frese, 2017). Keeping a reading journal of open ended questions such as “Which two things were the most interesting for you to read about in this chapter and why?” or “List two questions that you have as a result of reading this chapter” to keep a journal of your thoughts either during or after reading a chapter. By writing and answering questions that the reading will answer, you will be able to think complexly about the material, and the journal will be a good study tool later in the term (Bartolomeo-Maida, 2016).

 Use technology to clarify confusing sections

 If you run into a specifically confusing part, consider reading out loud and having text-to-speech put it into a google doc, which you can highlight and edit to your heart’s content. Try rewriting a sentence using different words, add examples, and draw connections with the text. Seeing it through the lens of a different format can be very helpful (Kerr & Frese, 2017).

Read aloud: Think aloud

If you are stumped by a section, read it out loud and then immediately after, start discussing your thoughts out loud to yourself or another person on the subject in any way you see fit. Just being able to hear yourself think through a subject can be more straightforward than abstract thought, and having a partner that can counter your ideas is always helpful (Pergams, et. al., 2018).

Form Reading Discussion Groups

By talking about a section of the reading with others, you are able to gain a more diverse perspective on the text based on others’ understanding of the content, and are also able to talk through areas that you didn’t understand with someone who may know more. There are also opportunities to teach particular sections that you have a better understanding of (Oliver, 2022).

Tackling Long Readings

When dealing with longer readings, make sure that you flip through and look at the headings and subheadings, both to plan your reading session, and also to track the flow of ideas. In order to not get burnt out, try splitting up the reading into shorter sections, taking care to stop after a significant section to not cut off an idea in its tracks. Do something else in between, but try to avoid going on your phone or scrolling through the internet, as that can interrupt your reading flow. Continue reading in smaller sections until you are able to read the whole thing, and then you can go back through and delve into the more complex ideas (King, 2022).

Reducing distractions

Multitasking is one of the most harmful things you can do while studying, as it divides your attention, leaving less room for understanding the reading (David et al. 2015). Make sure that you reduce distractions by turning your phone off, putting it away, or even having it in a different place from you.

Practicing these key skills can help students make reading more palatable, increase the likelihood that readings will be completed, and most importantly, increase learning and retention.


Bartolomeo-Maida, M. (2016). The use of learning journals to foster textbook reading in the community college psychology class. College Student Journal, 50(3), 440+.

David, P., Kim, J. H., Brickman, J. S., Ran, W., & Curtis, C. M. (2015). Mobile phone distraction while studying. New media & society, 17(10), 1661-1679.

Kerr, M.M. & Frese, K. M. (2017). Reading to Learn or Learning to Read? Engaging College Students in Course Readings. College Teaching, 65(1), 28–31.

King, K. (2022). Reading Strategies.

Oliver, D. (2022). Pedagogical Approaches for Improving Reading Compliance and Discussion in Higher Education Classrooms. College Student Journal, 56(2), 151+.

W Pergams, O.,R., Jake-Matthews, C., & Mohanty, L. M. (2018). A Combined Read-Aloud Think-Aloud Strategy Improves Student Learning Experiences in College-Level Biology Courses. Journal of College Science Teaching, 47(5), 10-15.

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