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Faculty of Humanities Study Skills Website

Active Reading

To make the most of time you spend studying, you need to read actively.

We've all sat at a desk at some point "reading" the same page over and over again, with very little of it going in. You could spend 8 hours a day like this in the library, and it might seem to you — and to every one else — that you are working really hard. But if your reading is passive — if you're not engaging intellectually with the material — your time will not have been well spent.

Active reading simply means keeping focussed on the material. It will mean your time spent reading is more efficient, and that you're more likely to remember what you've read afterwards. Active reading will also help you to form your own opinions as you go along.

Simple tips include:

  • Get an overview 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
  • Define a particular question or goal for your reading
  • Give yourself a set time-frame, i.e. "I will read this for an hour, and have clarified X"
  • Highlight or underline the key points (use post-its if you don't own the text)
  • Make notes in the margin, e.g. questions or points you'd add (use post-its if you don't own the text)
  • Stop for a short break if you're hungry/bored/in need of some fresh air
  • Make separate notes: see Note-taking.
  • Practice the "look-away method": periodically look away from the text and ask yourself a question relating to the text
  • Question the text: see Critical Thinking.
  • Summarise what you have read, in your own words: see Study Reading.