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Reading Comprehension Tips and Speed Reading Strategies

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Some Quick Tips To Improve Your Reading Comprehension

  • Read early in the day: This will allow you to concentrate and retain more information than studying later at night when you may be tired. When tired, your concentration and comprehension will decrease. 

  • Read for short bursts: Try to read for 35 to 40 minutes at a time and then take a short break. If you have this as your reading goal it can serve as a motivator in trying to really focus on the material at hand. Try to make these “bursts” quality reading time.

  •  Find a quiet location: Try to avoid your residence hall room on campus as well as the lounge. There are too many distractions there that are not conducive for quality reading.

  • Monitor your comprehension: Ask yourself every once in a while, “What have I learned?” If you are having trouble answering this, then re-read the material, ask a classmate, or ask the professor for some clarification.

  • Annotate!  Be sure to underline, circle or make general notes in the margins.  Create your own guide to distinguish between important terms or information you need to need to further clarify.  

  • Try skimming the chapter first: Take a look at the title page, preface, subtitles, the introduction and the chapter summary before reading the entire chapter.

Remember: College Textbooks are designed to help you by providing

Bold Words
List of Main Points
Repetition of information/facts

What Type Of Reader Are You?

Are you a passive reader who likes to use a highlighter?

Result: Reading passively delays learning because you are continually re-reading the material highlighted and you may have the tendency to become lazy and highlight most of your reading. Ask yourself this question, “did I retain most of the material I highlighted?”

Are You Reading The Material For Hours At A Time Just To Get It Done?

Result: You become a lazy reader (you develop a lower retention of the material read as well) and you do not really focus your attention on the critical points; i.e., you “zone out.” 

Improve your reading by being a more "active reader":

Method One: SQ3R Method (Cornell Method)

Survey: Look over the chapter and get an idea of what it will cover. This will cognitively ease your way into the reading assignment.

Question: Think about, “what is this chapter about?” and “what examples support the author’s point in the chapter?”

Read: Go over the material carefully and if you have any questions with vocabulary or concepts write them down and review them after you finish that particular section. Continue assessing your reading to see if you are understanding the material.

Review: This is an extremely important point. Try to do this a couple of times each week. By reviewing, you will begin to see the larger picture of the main concepts introduced. Think of this as an athlete or a musician who continues to practice and becomes better and better during his/her performances. The more you review the material (i.e., “practice”) the better your understanding will be of that topic because you are “exercising” your brain.

Recite: Practice by saying aloud the material you are reviewing. This helps immensely because you are utilizing both hemispheres of your brain.

Method Two: Design Your Own Question Notes

  1. Split the page so you have questions in one column and answers in the other column.
  2. From the chapter headings, make study questions that you feel could be on the test (also look for and develop “cause/effect” questions from them).
  3. Look for words in bold print. These are usually definitions; make sure you can give an example for the term. This will help because professors will sometimes give you an example of the term and not ask you specifically for the definition. This will aid you in learning the material instead of just memorizing it. Remember: You are playing the role of the instructor.

Practice: Please go over the reading sample on the next page and write out what you think are the important points of the material. A sample of what your questions/notes should look like appears right after the sample.

Remember: Writing questions and notes may be time consuming at first, but keep in mind that you are not rewriting the chapter. Rather, you are picking out the important points and, as a result, you now have your review sheets prepared for the exam!

THE END RESULT … A more active learner and better retention of the material since you are writing the information out!

Reading Sample

Research on the learning of factual material has been done in two general ways. In many studies psychologists have examined verbal learning, or how students learn verbal material in laboratory settings. For example, students might be asked to learn lists of words or nonsense syllables. Other studies have investigated learning facts from books, lectures, class presentations, movies, and other more typical forms of classroom instruction. These studies may take place in psychological laboratories or they may be done in classrooms.

Verbal Learning

Three types of verbal learning tasks typically seen in the classroom have been identified and studied extensively: the paired-associate task, the serial learning task, and the free recall learning task.

  1. Paired-Associate Learning: This type of task involves learning to respond with one member of a pair when given the other member of the pair. Usually there is a list of pairs to be memorized. In typical experiments the pairs are arbitrary. Educational examples of paired-associate tasks include learning state capitals, names and dates of Civil War battles, addition and multiplication tables, atomic weights of elements, and word spellings.
  2. Serial Learning: This involves learning a list of terms in a particular order. Memorization of the notes on the musical staff, the Pledge of Allegiance, the elements in atomic weight order, and poetry and songs are serial learning tasks. Serial learning tasks occur less often in classroom instruction than paired-associate tasks.
  3. Free-Recall Learning: These types of tasks also involve memorizing a list, but not in a special order. Recalling the names of the fifty states, types of reinforcement, and the organ systems in the body are examples of free-recall tasks.

This text was taken from: Slavin, R. (1988). Educational Psychology: Theory Into Practice (Second Edition). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Question Notes Sample:





  1. What is verbal learning?
  1.  How students learn lists of words under
    a controlled condition.
  1. What are three types of verbal learning?

  1. Paired-Associate
  2. Serial Learning
  3. Free Recall
  1. What is Paired Associate Learning?

    Give examples:
  1. Respond with one member of a pair when given the other member of the pair.

    : Knowing the states/capitals; multiplication tables

  1. What is Serial Learning?

    Give examples:
  1. Learning a list of names in a particular order.

    : Notes on a musical staff: Every, Good, Boy, Deserves, Fudge

  1. What is Free-Recall Learning?
    Give examples:
  1. Memorizing a list but not in any order

    Examples: Organ system in the body; the fifty states


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