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  • As you read focus on the main idea and any supporting information, take notes and try making an outline of the material by organizing the main ideas and then the supporting detail.
  • Do not move ahead in the chapter until you can answer your question. Ask yourself, "Am I getting it?". If not, go back and find the place where you last understood the material, and reread.
  • Ensure you can answer the "who, what, where, when & how" questions at the end of your reading.
  • In your own words or draw a diagram/mindmap - construct a brief summary of the main ideas. 
1. Purpose

Often we sit down to read with the notion that we have to "study" and hopefully retain "something". As you begin, take a moment to identify the purpose of the reading. Why are you reading that textbook and what do you hope to achieve in this reading session? Your purpose for reading is often determined by the type of testing in the class and the type of homework or papers that you have to complete. 

Common reasons to read are to:

  1. Prepare for the next class lecture ahead of time. 
  2. Improve understanding of the lecture that you just had,  and make detailed notes.
  3. Memorize details, such as definitions, history or chronology etc.
  4. Understand scientific principles, laws and theorems etc eg. Mendel's Law of Genetics 
2. Background

Your reading comprehension is strongly affected by your background knowledge in terms of what you already know about the subject. If you have high knowledge of the subject, then it may be easier for you to read and comprehend the material. However, if your knowledge of the subject is low, then you will have to build up your knowledge base. Often you will be expected to do this on your own. Time becomes a factor, as you may have to re-read your text a few times to build up enough knowledge so that you can organize and comprehend the information. 

Things to do:

  1. Skim the chapter headings, pictures, charts, graphs, and diagrams - preview the material 
  2. Read the summary, and think about what you know about this subject.
  3. Discussing new information with other students in a study group will also enhance your knowledge base and help you think about the information in new ways.
3. Interest

Quite often we choose not to read, because it seems uninteresting. However, in many classes, if you do not read your academics will be compromised. If you find yourself avoiding the text from lack of interest, you need to take some action. Here's some suggestions:

  1. Share the reading with study partners. Divide the chapter up, each student is responsible for reading and teaching the concepts from their section to the other members of the group. 
  2. Process the text. Write notes or lists in the margins. Create a mental picture or write an outline or try a nonlinear approach such as a mind map.
  3. Timed and focused reading. Break the reading into small units. Concentrate & read for twenty minutes, then take a small break, then twenty minutes more of focused reading.
  4. Reward yourself - after reading/studying material that feels uninteresting to you. It will reinforce the reading.
  5. Engage your lecturer/tutor. Ask for advice on reading/comprehending the text. They may say something to spark your interest.
  6. Create questions before you read, pretend they are real test questions, and you must know the answers to pass the class.
4. Difficulty

The difficulty of the reading material can encourage or discourage a student from studying the text. Sometimes the format of the text is more difficult than the actual course material. You have little control over the choice of the text, but you do have options if the reading is difficult.

  1. Read another text that is on the same subject, but is written on a similar level. You can check out textbooks at Wits Libraries.
  2. Go back and think about your purpose, background, and interest. One of these factors may be making the reading difficult.
  3. Get a tutor for the class, so that the difficult parts can be explained to help you understand the information. 



When reading articles, recommended books or textbooks you can use one of the following reading techniques depending on the purpose of your reading.


  • S - Survey: Look at headings, bold words, contents pages and summaries to get an overall view.
  • Q - Question: What questions do you have about the reading - who, what, where, when, how?
  • R - Read: Read the text actively, making notes or underlining important words.
  • R - Recite/Recall: Close the book and test what you have learnt by trying to recall.
  • R - Review: Revise the work again a few days later. Use old exam questions to identify gaps.

IPSO: This technique is used for more critical reading or studying tasks:

  • I - Issue: First establish what the issue or debate is of the topic.
  • P - Position: Establish what the author's position is on the issue.
  • S - Support: What support is given for this position.
  • O - Outcome: What conclusions are drawn.