Active Reading Strategies

Active reading differs significantly from skimming or reading for pleasure. You can think of active reading as a sort of conversation between you and the text. When you sit down to determine what your different classes expect you to read and you create a reading schedule to ensure you complete all the reading, think about when you should read the material strategically, not just how to get it all done. You should read textbook chapters and other reading assignments before you go into a class about that information. Don’t wait to see how the class goes before you read the material, or you may not understand the information in the lecture. Reading before class helps you put ideas together between your reading and the information you hear and discuss in class.


Two young students reading a book in library by Jacob Lund Photography from Noun Project (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The active reading process has three phases: before, during, and after reading. Select the headings below to learn about each phase, why it matters, and techniques to use. When using these techniques, your goal is to be an active reader who:

  • sets a purpose for reading;
  • asks questions;
  • makes connections between what you are reading and what you know and have experienced;
  • monitors understanding (thinking about thinking).

Keep in mind that using these techniques does add minutes to your overall reading time. Some students can find that frustrating and wonder why they should bother with using these techniques. Using these techniques will increase how much you remember, understand, and apply later. In many cases, applying these techniques is so effective that you won’t have to reread the text to understand.

Depending on how you learned to read and your current reading habits, active reading may look very different than how you’ve read before. That’s okay! A trait of successful college students is identifying and practicing new techniques for the new and different types of texts they find in college.

The SQ3R Reading Strategy

You may have heard of the SQ3R method for active reading in your early education. This valuable technique is perfect for college reading. The acronym stands for survey, question, read, recite, review, and you can use the steps on virtually any assigned passage. Designed by Francis Pleasant Robinson in his 1961 book Effective Study, the active reading strategy gives readers a systematic way to work through any reading material.


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