Studying at university will involve large amounts of reading, possibly more than students have ever done in their lives before. This will include reading journal articles, web based materials, academic textbooks, industry reports and a whole range of other text types. It is important to note that you need to become an efficient and well 'time managed' reader to keep up with the amount of reading expected of you.
On this page are some useful tips to help you become a more efficient reader at university.
Academic texts are not meant to be read like a novel, they are generally meant to be scoured and plundered for their ideas and arguments.
The aim therefore is to learn and deepen engagement from the texts you are encountering and in the process; get ideas, deeper understanding, inspiration and illumination.
Good reading techniques to employ
Efficient reading means you predict, question and integrate.
Before reading - predict
- know the purpose of reading / (what information do you want to obtain?)
- check publication details / (Is it a reliable source? / Is the information current?)
- read the abstract or executive summary / (Is this information going to be relevant /helpful?)
Next SKIM the text
- Read the introduction and the conclusion first (they should summarise the text for you).
- Next, read the whole text, noting sections, tables, graphics, references for usefulness and relevance. Take notes where appropriate.
- Note any useful headings. Also scan each paragraph for the topic sentence and the concluding sentence. These can help you scan for relevance of each paragraph.
While reading - question
Whilst reading, ask yourself questions about the usefulness, relevance and importance of the text. For example:
- Is this text useful for me at this moment in time?
- Am I learning from the article and can I see the relevance of it?
- Am I understanding what I'm reading?
- Is it helpful for my assignments and the understanding of my lectures?
If you can say yes to most of the questions above, begin to skim and scan the text, highlight and take notes.
Taking notes from your reading
The purpose of taking notes is:
- to record important points
- to make sense of the text
- to remember.
When taking notes:
- include page references to notes
- note main ideas and stages
- use graphics to make links – tables, arrows, mind maps, etc.
- relate new ideas to what you already know
- engage, question and dispute
- try to put things into your own words and do not simply copy out large sections of text from the original sources.
After reading - integrate
Review your notes to:
- check meaning and importance
- highlight important points and try to see connections to other things you may have read on the same topic
- add new ideas and connections that occur to you in the process.
You may also come across some abbreviations in your readings - refer to the listing of commonly used abbreviations and contractions.
Become a critical reader
It is important to emphasise that at university you must be a critical reader. This means it is your job (as a university student- in an academic environment) to:
- compare and contrast, and
- further investigate the ideas and concepts which you encounter in your academic reading.
It is not your job to simply 'agree' with everything you read, nor to believe that this is the 'absolute truth' and the only way of seeing things.
It is your job to use the readings in an active way of questioning them, finding fault, looking for other arguments to support or disagree with what you have read. Do not just passively agree with your university reading. It needs engagement, questioning and developing a 'detective like' mind to discover 'your version' of what these texts may be implying.
This concept may be new to you, but it is very important that you engage critical thinking skills at university; and this starts with your reading!
Read more about critical reading here.
External online resources
Reading at University 3 steps infographic - IML (download it here)
UniLearning, UOW - Reading efficiently (opens an external site)
Language and Learning Online, Monash - Reading effectively (opens an external site)
Language and Learning Online, Monash - Taking notes (opens an external site)
UniLearning, UOW - Note-taking (opens an external site)