3 tips to improve your reading comprehension

December 22, 2021

Student making notes in margins of textbookDo you ever feel like you spend a lot of time with your text books, but aren't sure what you're taking away? 

Former L&S Mentor Patrícia de Nobrega Gomes, PhD student and GSI, mentored L&S undergrads through this challenge often. Patrícia offers her strategies for getting more out of your study time.

Get a roadmap

Doing some prep work can help you identify the point of a reading before you begin, which can save you time and effort in the long run.

To try this strategy, Patrícia recommends these steps: 

  1. First, read the introduction and conclusion. 
  2. Then, read the section headers to get a better sense of the reading's outline and the steps the author is going to take. 
  3. Look up buzz words that come up in this initial scan so you have working definitions of them before you get into the meat of the reading. 
  4. Now, start reading from the beginning. Along the way, look for helpful summarizing or clarifying sentences. Phrases like “In other words,” “To put another way,” or “In summary” are indicators of these statements. 
  5. If you are struggling with a paragraph or something in the reading, skip it temporarily and search for a summarizing statement to help you. Authors of academic texts are often repetitive and will rephrase concepts somewhere else in the reading. 

Remember, you won't necessarily walk away with an expert understanding after a single read-through. It can take several times to fully grasp a concept, especially if it's a complex text or idea.

Take notes in margins or in a notebook

Summarize or rephrase concepts into your own words. This makes sure you understand them at a deeper level and in ways that resonate with you. Patrícia suggests:

  1. No copying the wording as it is in the article! Using your own words will help you remember the material in a way copying the author's text won't. 
  2. Take note of keywords. In your notes, define these in your own way. Try incorporating them into your summaries (we'll talk about summaries next!). This way, if these terms show up on an exam later, you're more likely to remember their meaning. 

Write a summary after you're done

Similar to the tip on taking notes, writing your own summary of the text as a whole will help you reflect on key takeaways and messages. These summaries are not only great for reading comprehension, they make great reference resources if you need to review texts for future assignments or exams. 

Try to keep these short. Patrícia suggests 1-2 sentences for an article and 3-5 for a book. 

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