How to Be an Active Reader

Reading long book chapters, articles, and papers is often a boring and arduous task, and it can be difficult to pay attention to the whole thing. Some people break these readings up into smaller pieces so that they do not get burnt out halfway through. For others though, there may not be enough time to do this, or they may not have the motivation to go back and do multiple sections. Either way, active reading is a great method for retaining information and paying attention to the material. Here are five tips on how to be an active reader:

  1. Skim it first. The first step to active reading is getting a basic idea of what you’re learning about. Quickly read through the material first, without paying too close attention to smaller concepts or details, just focus on the main idea. This way, you’ll already feel as though you understand the topic to some degree when you go back afterward to read it thoroughly.
  2. Look for key words. Phrases like “most importantly”, “on the other hand”, and “first”, “second”, “third”, tend to precede important points. These are details you will want to know, so if you see any of those phrases, or ones like them, make sure to pay close attention to the rest of the sentence, as it likely holds a main idea for the paper.
  3. Mark it up! Use highlighters, pens, sticky notes, or any material you would like to make notes on your paper. For example, you can highlight important terms, underline key concepts, and use sticky notes to quickly summarize paragraphs. This makes it easier to find important details in the text if you need them later.
  4. Summarize in your own words, After you have finished reading the article, chapter, or text thoroughly, look away from it and try to summarize it in your own words. Either say out loud or write down the main points, any important vocabulary that you remember, and your own key takeaways from it. This will allow you to figure out what you’ve learned, how much you’ve retained, and if you need to keep practicing your study techniques to improve them a bit.
  5. Connect to something you already know! Some concepts are difficult to understand, but regardless of whether you fully understand it or not, there is probably a real-life example that you come across in your daily routine. For example, maybe your favorite video game deals with a similar subject (think Minecraft for math, or Candy Crush for spotting patterns and sequences). Or maybe your favourite TV show has references to the book you’re reading for class that you never would have understood before. The things we learn in school often have a ton of real-world connections – you just have to look for them!

With these five tips, you can be a more engaged and active reader. This will not only help you to better understand what you are reading, but will actually save you time in the long run when you no longer have to go back and read the same passage over and over again to remember it.