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Active Reading Strategies Can Improve Reading Comprehension and Retention

How do you most enjoy reading? Maybe you would prefer to be stretched out on a sunny beach or curled up on the couch with a book. However, when it comes to reading that takes serious focus, you need a different approach

Before tackling any textbook or dense academic material, it’s important to know where to start, how to grab the main points, and delve more deeply into the text. Rather than just diving in, first consider using strategies to develop a critical reading process. Critical reading involves actively engaging with the reading material.

Simon Lei, lead author of “Strategies for Improving Reading Comprehension among College Students,” notes that, “Students can get overwhelmed easily with text-based material.” However, “There are many strategies, both in class and at home, to improve reading comprehension.”

One formalized approach for active reading is called the Know, Will/Want, Learned (KWL) method. KWL is a great tactic for individual or group study. With this method, before you begin reading, make a list of what you already know about the topic. This exercise lets you see what background information is available to you now. Next, look at the table of contents, charts, graphs and diagrams of the reading material to get an overview of the material; write down what you will or want to learn from the text. Last, while you read the text, list out what new information you are learning, either section by section or after you’ve completed the entire assigned reading.

Similar to the KWL method, the SQ3R technique also involves pre-reading and asking questions before jumping straight into the text. SQ3R stands for survey, question, read, recite and review.

  • Surveying the text involves quickly skimming through the headings to understand the main points.
  • Ask questions as you survey the material to create an active reading approach to learn more from the material.
  • Once you begin reading, search for answers to the questions you had asked when surveying the topic.
  • After reading the material, close the book and try to recite the answers to the questions. If you don’t quite have the information memorized, open the book and the text again.
  • Finally, review the content to determine whether you memorized the main point and made connections with the overall subject matter.

Although we would probably all prefer to read under a beach umbrella, passive reading is not the best approach for dense academic material. These strategies to become a more active reader can help improve your understanding of the text and aid information retention. Consider giving one of these examples a try and see if it works for you!

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