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reader (Albany Images)For many students the task of working through lengthy course reading lists of text books can be a daunting one, contributing to a significant proportion of their workload. But it doesn't have to be like this! In the first place, reading lists typically consist of two kinds of books: those that are of primary significance for the course and those that are relatively unimportant. Establishing which are the key books is therefore clearly vital. In the second place, it is important to be aware that there isn't just one way of reading a book, i.e. plodding through it, one word at a time. Alternative methods are available which can be significantly faster and more effective and which can make the reading task much more stimulating.

In your approach to reading tasks consider the following:

  • It is important to be engaged in purposeful, active reading. In other words, it helps your concentration if you have something you want to get from the book and if, for example, you are making notes as you go along.
  • People can usually increase the speed at which their eyes scan the words on the page and with no detriment to comprehension. Indeed, comprehension can be improved at higher speeds because the brain is more actively engaged.
  • Another powerful way of aiding comprehension is to adopt a systematic method of traversing the written material at ever increasing levels of depth. For example, initially you might just read the chapter titles and the headings and sub-headings - this can give you a flavour of what the book is about. Next you might skim through the book, reading the introduction, conclusion, first and last paragraphs of each chapter and glancing at diagrams and illustrations. Only then would you begin your in-depth reading.


As a student you can spend a considerable amount of time reading text books and other written materials. This being the case, it is vital that you should examine your present methods of reading and see whether alternative methods might work better for you. Speed-reading strategies are based on the concept that the brain is capable of working at high speed and that plodding 'one-word-at-a-time' methods can seriously degrade its operations.

Further Information

For further information on reading see:

How to Read a Difficult Book (Virginia Tech)
SQ3R - a Reading and Study Skill System (Virginia Tech)
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Page last modified: 28 July 2012
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