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Effective Reading Strategies
Author: ADMIN (ukstudent at gmail dot com)
Published: Wed, 12-Oct-2005
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Effective Reading Strategies. Article by Larry Kiser

Much of the information you have to learn at college is presented to you in written form. Therefore, a significant portion of your study time will involve reading books, handouts, journals, and articles for your courses. The quantity of the required reading material in your courses is likely to be large and the relevant points tend to be complex or presented from multiple perspectives. You may enhance your reading effectiveness by employing a reading formula, using active reading activities, increasing your reading speed, and becoming a critical reader.


PSQ5R is a technique used to learn from a document by firstly understanding it, and building a mental framework into which facts can then be fitted. PSQ5R stands for Purpose, Survey, Question, Read Selectively, Recite, "Rite", Reflect, and Review. Here's how it works:

Purpose: You have to know why you are reading a book to study effectively. Before you start reading textbooks, articles, etc., spend 5-10 minutes determining why you are reading the material and what you want to get out of it. Are you supposed to be looking for general concepts or specific information? How does this tie into the instructor's intentions? When you have accomplished your purpose, stop reading. This principle, of first establishing your purpose, whether to get the Focus or Theme, or main ideas, or main facts or figures, or evidence, arguments and examples, or relations, or methods, can prompt you to use a reading method that gets what you want in the minimum time.

Survey: Look quickly (i.e., skim) through the entire item you are reading and find out how it is organized (e.g. title, topic and chapter headings, lead and summary paragraphs, etc.). This allows you to understand the author's purpose, and what material is relevant to what you are studying. In doing this you should find the Focus of the piece, that is, the central theme or subject, what it is all about; and perhaps the Perspective, that is, the approach or manner in which the author treats the theme. This can be a valuable way to save time. This survey should be carried out in no more than a minute or two.

Question: Before you read the material, determine and compose what questions you need to have answered (e.g., What do I already know about this topic? What problems or topics are of concern to me?). These questions can be considered study goals. Rescan the document to see if any questions stand out. Turn the first heading into a question for which you will seek the answer when you read. Understanding the answers can help you to structure the information in your own mind. You will learn better if you are actively searching for answers to particular problems, and you will be better able to ration your time while reading.

Read Selectively: As you start reading the material do your reading with the purpose and your questions in mind. In general, look for the ideas, information, evidence, etc., that will meet your purpose. By reading the first sentence of each paragraph you may well get the answers. Sometimes the text will "list" the answers by saying "The first point .... Secondly...." and so on. And in some cases you may have to read each paragraph carefully just to understand the next one, and to find the Focus or main idea buried in it.

Recite: If you mentally recite what you have just learned, you are much more certain to remember it. Isolate out the core facts or the essential processes behind the subject, and then see how other information fits around them. Without looking at the book, recite the answers to the question, using your own words as much as possible. If you cannot do it reasonably well, look over that section again.

"Rite": You should reduce and record what you have learned from the reading by making a brief outline or point form. The answers should be in key words or phrases, not long sentences.

Reflect: At the end, you should spend a few minutes thinking about the material, and deciding whether or not your main questions have been answered by what you have read. Comprehension and retention are increased when you "elaborate" on new information by comparing and categorizing it, relating one part with another, connecting it to your prior knowledge and experience, and in general organizing and reorganizing it. Your comprehension and retention may be enhanced by elaborating on the outline addressed in "Rite"and/or reorganizing it into a standard outline, a hierarchy, a table, a flow diagram, a map, or even a "doodle."

Review: Review the material within 24 hours to ensure that you remember what you have learned. The review should not be a rereading of the article but rather a review of your "reduced" notes of the paper or chapter to see them as a whole. You can also review by discussing the material with someone else. You should attempt to see what you remember, and if you need to review your notes again. Then recite, using the questions or other cues as starters or stimuli for recall. This latter kind of recitation can be carried out in a few minutes, and should be done every week or two with important material. A particularly effective method of reviewing information is to have to teach it to someone else!


Reading is an inherently passive process. Therefore you should attempt to build active reading activities into each reading session. Get the big picture first, so the details will have a structure and categories to fit into. To focus your reading, find out what you do not remember. Active reading helps to keep your mind focused on the material and stops it from wandering. Steps in building active reading activities are as follows:

Figure out what is important. The most important thing to know is what you want to know after reading the text. Once you know this you can examine the text to see whether it is going to move you towards your goal. Consider material that is emphasized by size or other graphical techniques (e.g., boldface, italics) or position (e.g., beginning or end of a section). Sometimes the introduction or concluding paragraph will highlight the key points. Texts might even include objectives, study questions, terms, etc. Ask yourself about the level of detail needed for mastery, keeping in mind that you probably only need to know the main ideas and supporting points.

Read what's important. Get the big picture first! Do not try to learn detailed information yet. When you are reading it is often useful to highlight, underline and annotate the text as you go on. This emphasizes information in your mind, and helps you to review important points after you have finished studying the text. Where you only need the shallowest knowledge of the subject, you can skim the material. Here you read only chapter headings, introductions and summaries. If you need a moderate level of information on a subject, then you can scan the text. Here you read the chapter introductions and summaries in detail, and may speed-read the contents of the chapters, picking out and understanding key words and concepts. At this level of looking at the document it is worth paying attention to diagrams and graphs. Only when you need detailed knowledge of a subject is it worth studying the text. Here it is best to skim the material first to get an overview of the subject. Once you have done this you can read it in detail while seeing how the information presented relates to the overall structure of the subject.

Review from memory. Using a concept map, write down everything you can remember without looking back at the text. If you can not remember at least 80% of the key points you have covered, you read too much before reviewing. Do not think that the material that you forgot will magically reappear on the exam when you really need it -- it won't!

Repeat the above steps as many times as necessary, going for greater detail each time. Stop when you can recall the key points.


Based upon research there appears to be a direct relationship between reading speed and comprehension (i.e., as reading speed increases so does comprehension and as reading speed decreases comprehension does so correspondingly). In contrast, it appears that plodding word-by-word analysis (or word reading) inhibits comprehension. You should note, however, that simply reading more rapidly without actual improving basic reading habits usually results in lowered comprehension. Speeding one's rate of reading, especially through forced acceleration, may actually result in making the real reading problem more severe. Forced acceleration may destroy one's confidence in one's ability to read. To avoid forced acceleration it is appropriate to try and increase one's rate of reading as a part of a total improvement of the whole reading process.

Determine Your Reading Rates
Each type of reading has a different rate. For example, an exciting novel is a quicker read than a text in biology. Text books also vary in how well they are written, and as a consequence some are more difficult to read. Each semester, time yourself reading a chapter in each of your text books. See how many pages an hour you can read. Once you have an accurate estimate of your reading rate, you can better plan your reading time and studying time. The method below can provide a good approximation of your reading speed (Words Per Minute).

How to Calculate Your Words Per Minute (WPM)
1. Read selected material for a set amount of time (e.g., 10 minutes).
2. Multiply the number of pages by the number of words per page.
3. Multiply the number of lines by the number of words per line (if time ran out before you finished a page).
4. Add the products of steps l and 2.
5. Divide the total number of words by the reading time.

Four Condition to Consider for Increasing Your Reading Rate
In preparing to increase your rate of reading it is important to consider four basic conditions. First, consider whether your vision may affect your reading and have your eyes checked if appropriate. Second, eliminate the habit of pronouncing words as you read. If you sound out words in your throat or whisper them, you can read only slightly faster than you can read aloud. You should be able to read most materials at least two or three times faster silently than orally. If you are aware of sounding or "hearing" words as you read, try to concentrate on key words and meaningful ideas as you gently force yourself to read faster. Third, avoid regressing or rereading. Rereading words and phrases is a habit which will slow your reading speed down to a snail's pace. Usually, it is unnecessary to reread words, for the ideas you want are explained and elaborated more fully in later contexts. Fourth, develop a wider eye-span. This will help you read more than one word at a glance. Since written material is less meaningful if read word by word, this will help you learn to read by phrases or thought units.

Considerations When Adjusting Your Reading Rate
As you attempt to adjust your rate of reading it is important to consider the type of material you are reading. The effective reader adjusts his or her rate; the ineffective reader uses the same rate for all types of material. If you attempt to use the same reading rate indiscriminately for all types of material and for all reading purposes it is likely you will have poor results. You must learn to adjust your rate to your purpose in reading and to the difficulty of the material you are reading. Your reading rated may range from a maximum rate on easy, familiar, interesting material or in reading to gather information on a particular point, to minimal rate on material which is unfamiliar in content and language structure or which must be thoroughly digested. Your reading rate adjustment may be an overall adjustment to the material as a whole, or an internal adjustment within the article. The nature and difficulty of the material also requires an adjustment in rate to a speed that conforms with your ability to handle that type of material. Generally, difficult material will entail a slower rate; simpler material will permit a faster rate.

Overall adjustment establishes the average rate at which you read the total article. An overall rate adjustment should be based on your reading plan, your reading purpose, and the nature and difficulty of the material. The reading plan itself should specify the general rate to be used based on sizing up the material. It may be helpful for you to consider how your reading purpose can be used to anticipate your reading rate. If the purpose is to understand information, you should anticipate skimming or scanning at a rapid rate. If the purpose is to determine the value of material or to read for enjoyment, you should anticipate reading rapidly or slowly according to your feelings. If the purpose is to read analytically, you should anticipate reading at a moderate pace to permit interrelating ideas.

Internal reading rate adjustment involves varying your reading rate, as necessary, for each varied part of the material.

You are likely to decrease your reading speed when you encounter:

1. Unfamiliar terminology that is not contextually clear. You should try to understand it in context at that point; otherwise, read on and return to it later;
2. Difficult sentence and paragraph structure; slow down enough to enable you to untangle them and get accurate context for the passage;
3. Unfamiliar or abstract concepts. Look for applications or examples of you own as well as studying those of the writer. Take enough time to get them clearly in mind;
4. Detailed, technical material. This includes complicated directions, statements of difficult principles, materials on which you have scant background;
5. Material on which you want detailed retention.

In general, you are likely to increase your speed when you encounter the following:

1. Simple material with few ideas which are new to you; move rapidly over the familiar ones; spend most of your time on the unfamiliar ideas;
2. Unnecessary examples and illustrations. Since these are included to clarify ideas, move over them rapidly when they are not needed;
3. Detailed explanation and idea elaboration which you do not need;
4. Broad, generalized ideas and ideas which are restatements of previous ones. These can be readily grasped, even with scan techniques.

Activities Designed to Increase Reading Speed
On average college students read between 250 and 350 words per minute on fiction and non-technical materials. Many people can improve their speed of reading while maintaining equal or even higher comprehension. Learning to read rapidly and well presupposes that you have the necessary vocabulary and comprehension skills to understand college-level materials. As our eyes move across the page they make a series of jerky movements. Whenever they come to rest on a word that is called a fixation. Most people fixate once on each word across a line of print. One approach you can try to increase your reading speed is to take in more words with each fixation, rather than make our eyes move faster. To accomplish that:

1. Set reading rate goals for yourself. A 10% increase in your reading rate over the previous record is a good rule of thumb.
2. Try to avoid focusing on every word, but rather look at groups of 2 to 3 words.
3. Work on vocabulary improvement. Familiarize yourself with new words so you don't get stuck on them when you read them again.
4. If you find yourself moving your lips when reading, force yourself to read faster by following (1) above so that you can no longer move your lips.
5. Read more in general.
6. Determine your purpose before reading. If you only need main ideas, then allow yourself to skim the material. Don't feel you must read very word.
7. Spend a few minutes a day reading at a faster than comfortable rate (about 2 to 3 times faster than your normal speed) by skimming and scanning. Find an interesting newspaper column or magazine article. Rapidly read the article, sampling just the first sentence or two of each paragraph and a few key words. Jot down all the facts you can remember. Then reread the article slowly, giving yourself a point for every item you can recall. Use your hand or an index card to guide your eyes down the page. Then time yourself reading a few pages at your normal speed. You'll find that often your normal reading speed will increase after your skimming practice.
8. If you have poor concentration when reading, practice reading for only 5 - 10 minutes at a time and gradually increase this time.


Characteristics of Critical Thinkers
They are honest with themselves
They resist manipulation
They overcome confusion
They ask questions
They base judgments on evidence
They look for connections between subjects
They are intellectually independent

When You are Reading:
1. Ask yourself the following questions: What is the issue?" What conclusion does the author reach about the issue?" What are the author's reasons for believing as he does?"
2. Be alert to bad reasoning (i.e. pity, fear, misuse of statistics etc.) that can fool you. Has the author used facts or opinions? Facts can be proven. Opinions cannot be proven and may or may not be based on sound reasoning.
3. Has the author used neutral words or emotional words? Critical readers look beyond the language to see if the reasons are clear.


Reading Textbooks or Journal Articles
As You Begin:

Choose a section preferably not longer than 25 or 30 pages - perhaps one chapter, or a section of a chapter - that you can handle at one sitting.

Note who the author is, and the date of publication.
Read preface and table of contents.
Look at the diagrams and pictures. What is the author's purpose in writing this book? What are the focus and perspective of the entire book?

While Reading:

Skim read the first and last chapters. Read the title, the introduction, and the conclusion (5 minutes). Frequently these are introductory and summary chapters, and may give you all the information you need.
Read the first and last chapters again and skim the intervening chapters. Read the title, the introduction again, all subheadings, and the conclusion, again. (5-10 minutes). This takes you into the book in greater depth, and allows you to decide which, if any, of the intervening chapters you should read.
Read intervening chapters as demanded by your purpose. Read the title, the introduction one more time, subheadings, the Topic Sentence of each paragraph -usually the first or second sentence, (you may read the last sentence as well, if you have time), any italicized or boldfaced words, lists (you can skim these), and the conclusion (10 minutes).
Make a Mind-Map of all you can remember in the chapter. Do not stop until at least half an hour is up, even if you feel that you can't possibly remember any more--more will surface if you give yourself the time. DO NOT REFER TO THE TEXT WHILE YOU ARE DOING THIS.
If you come to a dead end, try alternative memory techniques to the ones you have been using: associating ideas, either from within the section itself or from other related material; visualizing pages, pictures, graphs etc.; recalling personal associations that may have come to mind; staring out the window and blanking out your thoughts; and so on. It will show you exactly how much you have learned of what you have read. Give yourself a lot of time to do this, and you will probably be surprised at how much you actually can recall, and at how you can use all sorts of different strategies for remembering.
You should make a note about things you have forgotten and write questions, so you can look them up. Go into the glossary, index, and appendixes as needed.

After You Have Completed Your Reading:

When you are finished, you should try to figure out how all the material you have remembered fits together as it is organized in your own thinking. Write down your opinions of it, questions about it, disagreements with it, and so on.
Check through the text and fill in any important information that you missed. Use a different color of ink or some other way to mark this material that you forgot, so you can study it later. At this point, you may wish to read through the entire chapter as you normally would, to make sure you did not miss anything. Then do another Map, from memory, to check whether you have learned the new material.
To improve comprehension, recite the chapter after closing the book. See how many specific details you can recall. The more you interact with your text, the more you'll recall. Recollection and comprehension require a vigorous approach.

Reading Difficult Material

As You Begin:

Read the title and the first paragraph.
Read the first sentence of every paragraph more carefully than the rest of the paragraph.
Read any summary at the end of a chapter.
Consider how the material is organized.
Now decide if you have enough background to begin reading.
Read other sources if you need more background.

While Reading:

Look for titles, headings, and subheadings.
Look for main ideas.
Pick out topic sentences.
Utilize graphs, charts, and diagrams.
Take notes while you read (see concept mapping to organize these ideas). Take notes on headings and first sentence of each paragraph before reading the chapter itself.. Then, close your book and ask yourself what you now know about the subject that you didn't know before you started.
Look up words whose meanings are important to your understanding of the material, but you cannot discern from the context.
Monitor your comprehension by stopping periodically and asking yourself, "What have I learned?" Connect this to what you already know. Focus on nouns and main propositions in each sentence. Look for the noun-verb combinations, and focus your learning on these.
Read to the end. Do not get discouraged and stop reading. Ideas can become clearer the more you read.

After You Have Completed Your Reading

Go back and reread if your are not comprehending an idea.
Restate difficult ideas in your own words.
When you finish reading, review to see what you have learned, and reread those ideas that are not clear.

Reading Essays You Must Analyze
As You Begin:

Read the essay over once, quickly, looking for the main idea, for what the essay is about in general, and for what the author seems to be saying. Don't get bogged down in details. (If you come to an unfamiliar word, circle it but go on reading).
Check the meaning of unfamiliar words. If they seem to be key words scribble a brief definition at the bottom of the page or at the end of the essay.

While Reading:

Reread the essay more slowly and carefully, this time making a conscious attempt to begin to isolate the author's thesis (i.e., single most important generalization the author is attempting to prove). Follow the author's line of thought and try to get some sense of structure. The thesis determines the structure, so the structure, once you begin to sense it, can lead you to the thesis. What is the main point the author is making: Where is it? Remember, examples or "for instances" are not main points.
Another way of identifying the thesis is to ask yourself, "What is the unifying principle of this essay"? or "What idea does everything in this essay talk about"? or "Under what single main statement could all the subdivisions fit"?
When you think you have grasped the main point, the whole essay goes to prove, underline it and write thesis in the margin. If you find you have several possible theses, don't panic; they all fit together somehow. One or more will probably turn out to be supporting the thesis rather than part of it.
Now reread for structure. You are looking for the main divisions of the essay. There will probably be an introduction. Draw a line clear across the page after the introduction and write introduction into the margin.
Now tackle the body of the essay by asking "What are the main points the author is making in leading up to his/her thesis, or in justifying it? You will find in a longer essay that you are now dealing with groups of paragraphs, all having to do with the same subdivision of the main subject. Draw lines between the main groups and give the groups labels.
Occasionally, you will find a "for example" type of paragraph, a "that reminds me" type of paragraph, or the transitional paragraph that do not seem to accomplish much. When you come across paragraphs like these, label them in the margin.
Within each structural subdivision find out what points the author is making by identifying the topic sentence of each important paragraph. Underline the sentence. Sometimes the topic sentence is at the beginning of the paragraph and sometimes at the end. Sometimes the topic is not stated but is only implied.
You now have the skeleton of the author's argument and should be able to follow his/her reasoning. If you are still having trouble, try scribbling a word or two in the margins and summing up the paragraphs as if you were annotating a textbook. You can also underline key transitional or structural words or phases like "but", "however", "moreover", "on the other hand", "nevertheless".

After You Have Completed Your Reading:

Write out , at the beginning or end of the essay, a thesis statement for the essay. Remember, the thesis was the author's guiding purpose? What audience did he/she have in mind? What assumptions did he/she make (i.e., what did he/she take for granted his/her audience already knew, or already believed, or both? Is his/her audience hostile or friendly?)?

If you know you are to be examined on the rhetorical techniques the author uses deliberately hunt for them after you have thoroughly understood the essay.

Skimming and Scanning Scientific Material

While usually dense with facts per page, science textbooks are usually well-organized, with main points and sub-topics clearly delineated. To successfully master science text, you must understand thoroughly the major ideas and concepts presented. Without such a conceptual framework, you will find yourself faced with the impossible task of trying to cram hundreds of isolated facts into your memory. Skimming and scanning are particularly valuable techniques for studying scientific textbooks.


Skimming involves searching for the main ideas by reading the first and last paragraphs, noting other organizational cues, such as summaries, used by the author.

A preliminary skimming for the main ideas by using the author's organization cues (e.g., topic headings, italics, summaries, etc.) is a vital step to more intensive reading and maximum retention. It will provide a logical framework in which to fit the details.


Scanning involves running your eyes down the page looking for specific facts or key words and phrases.

Scanning aids in locating new terms, which are introduced in the chapter. Preliminary scanning alerts you to new terms and concepts and their sequence. Unless you understand the new terms, it is impossible to follow the author's reasoning without dictionary or glossary.

When you locate a new term, try to find its definition. If you are not able to figure out the meaning, then look it up in the glossary or dictionary. (Note: usually new terms are defined as they are introduced in science texts).

If your text does not have a glossary, it is a good idea to keep a glossary of your own in the front page of the book. Record the terms and their definition or the page number where the definition is located. This is an excellent aid to refer to when you are reviewing for an examination, as it provides a convenient outline of the course).

Scanning is useful in locating statements, definitions, formulas, etc. which you must remember completely and precisely.

Scan the charts and figures, for they usually summarize in graphic form the major ideas and facts of the chapter.

Copyright for this article belongs to Larry Kiser

This document was re-printed with the kind permission of Larry Kiser. Original Source of the article is located here: http://admin.sfcc.edu/~drc/Independence%20Cafe/Effective%20Reading%20Strategies.htm

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