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Reading Purposefully | Study Skill

In this article:

Reading as a Study Skill

You could argue that whether you read for fun or to study, you always read to learn. Reading for the sake of reading can be quite relaxed; after all, “it won’t be on the test.” On the other hand, the stakes are much higher when you read to study because you must learn the information much more deeply.

You must be able to remember much, if not all, of the information. You must relate it to old information, compare it to other materials, discuss the information intelligently, and so on.

When the situation calls for reading as a study skill, reading purposefully before, during, and after you read becomes even more important.

Before You Start Reading

Skimming any reading materials before you start reading helps you learn something about what you are about to read; as a result, you will be better prepared to decode the text. However, there is much more you can do than just skimming the text.

Catching a First Glimpse of the Content

Get as much general information about the material as possible. You are doing this not to “understand” the passage but simply to have an idea what you are about to read.

Analyzing information in the material before you start reading takes anywhere from a few seconds to less than a minute, but you can glean a great deal of valuable insight into the passage.

Skim the passage for a moment.

  • Read the title. It often gives you your first, general glimpse of the topic.
  • Quickly skim all or random paragraphs. Important information is often at the beginning and the end of paragraphs, so quickly skim a couple of sentences there. If it makes no sense, keep skimming; you only want to get an idea about the content.
  • Browse the material for graphs, tables, illustrations, infographics, and so on. These are quick to glean information from.
Gaining Insight on the Material Itself
  • Identify the author. If you have read something by the author before, you may know that this person writes about a specific topic.
  • Check the publication date.
  • See what type of publication it is (i.e., a blog, magazine, book chapter, short story, technical report, instructions, and so on); and so on.
  • Try to determine the purpose of the material.
    • If it is just a story meant to entertain, you will focus on the elements of the story.
    • If the purpose is to present a problem and a solution, you will focus on understanding the problem and evaluating the solution.
    • If the purpose is to teach you about a specific concept or thing, you will focus on what you need to learn about it.
Why is It Important?

After skimming the passage, you have an overall idea what the passage is about. Your brain is ready to receive the information you are about to read.

  • When you know what ideas to expect, you focus on those ideas. If you noticed new information or information you did not quite understand while skimming, you will likely pay close attention to it when you read the material.
  • If you had questions while skimming, you will likely pay attention to information that answers them when you read.
  • If you saw visual aids and tables while browsing the document, you know that information is important. You will likely zone in on that information in the text.

While You Are Reading

You should also read purposefully while you read. Focus your attention not only on what the writer wants you to learn but also on how and why the writer wrote the material.

Read Actively
  • Take note of confusing or complex information. You may need to reread certain portions of the material later.
  • Notice the main points the writer wants you to learn. To summarize the information, you will need to be able to distinguish between main ideas as well as important details and secondary details.
  • Figure out what the writer’s purpose was for writing that information.
    • If the purpose is to tell a story, pay attention to what the story means. Notice the writer’s style, themes the writer explores through the story, or anything you can get beyond simply understanding the plot.
    • If the purpose is to persuade you, pay attention to and evaluate the writer’s logical arguments.
    • If the purpose is to teach you information, pay attention to what you need to learn.
    • And so on...
  • Notice the writer’s point of view and biases. Those can help you evaluate the information.
  • Take note of information you would like to investigate further. Sometimes the information you need to understand a material well is outside the text.
  • “Talk to the material.” You do not have to accept everything you read. You can ask questions, be suspicious about the information, wonder why something is the way the writer says it is.
Why Is It Important?

The more actively you engage with the text, the more you will get out of it. The ideas will make sense to you faster than if you just read from beginning to end hoping that something will “stick.”

After You Have Finished Reading

Reading is a process. Especially for longer, more complex materials, you cannot expect to read and fully understand everything at one sitting. There is work to do after you have finished reading the material for the first time.

Process the Information Further
  • Summarize what you have just learned. You can simply try to recall as much information as you can while the material is still fresh in your mind. You can even write a quick summary. Regardless how you do it, if you cannot summarize in your own words what you have just read, you have not really learned it well enough.
  • Go over your notes to remember what you wanted to do after reading.
    • Reread portions that need reinforcing or better comprehension.
    • Do additional research related to the material that you thought would be helpful.
    • Do everything you earmarked “for later.”
  • Reflect on the material. Write down notes about reading-related thoughts, ideas, questions of your own, and so on. Here are some suggestions:
    • What were the main points you learned?
    • What was unclear?
    • What do I need to know to understand the content better?
    • How does the information relate to other materials I have read?
    • How does the information compare or contrast to other writers or ideas?
    • How effective or ineffective is the writer’s reasoning?
    • What has the writer failed to mention or explain?
    • (For stories) What themes has the writer explored? How?
    • (For stories) What is the moral of the story?
    • (For students) How does this relate to my course?
  • Discuss the material. Discussing the material will help you and a study buddy retain the information or come up with questions you may need to clarify. If you do not have a study buddy, find one or talk to anyone who would be kind enough to hear you talk about something you have read.
  • Review your notes after a couple of days and reread the material if needed. You will be surprised how much you will have forgotten after a day or two. It is a good idea to review your notes and reread the material while it is still relatively fresh in your mind. If you wait too long, you may need to practically “start from scratch.”
Why is It Important?

Our brains evolved to forget unimportant information and to retain information that is repeated. The more you engage with the material you need to learn (by summarizing, talking about, asking questions about the information), the more information you will retain. When you continue processing the information you have just learned, you will also spot weak areas you need to reinforce.

If you cannot summarize what you have just read, you have not really learned it well enough.

Remember to Adapt Your Reading Strategy

You do not read all types of materials the same way (Pacton). When you read a novel, you focus on the characters, themes, the plot, the meaning of symbols and allegories in the story, and so on. ("Allegory.") When you read a textbook chapter explaining the steps in a process, you focus on learning the steps. You take notes on each step, underline important explanations, pay close attention to the sequence of steps, and so on (Franco).

Congratulations on completing the whole unit!

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Use the buttons below “Works Cited” to choose another skill or lesson.


Works Cited

"Allegory." Encyclopædia Britannica. Ed. Mansur G. Abdullah, Michael C. Anderson, Michael J. Anderson, Adam Augustyn, Marilyn L. Barton, et al. N.p., 19 Feb. 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/16078/allegory

Franco, Marc. “Advanced Reading Course.” Snap Language. N.p. https://snaplanguage.io/esl/b-level/reading/

----. “Extensive Reading for English-Language Learners.” Snap Language. N.p. https://snaplanguage.io/esl/b-level/reading-skill/b-rdg-001-extensive-reading

----. "True purpose of reading and writing." YouTube. N.p. 20 June 2016. Web. 20 Mar. 2016. https://youtu.be/9u8vwDUABO4

Pacton, Adam. "reading purposefully microlecture." YouTube. N.p., 18 Dec. 2012. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. https://youtu.be/kU9hO_NiOTw

Nakanishi, T. A Meta-Analysis of Extensive Reading Research. TESOL Q, 49: 6-37. 2015. https://doi.org/10.1002/tesq.157

Mardiana, Eka, Nur Hidayat. “The Effect of Extensive Reading on Students’ Reading Achievement of Senior High School.” Kontribusia : Research Dissemination for Community Development. 2019. http://dx.doi.org/10.30587/kontribusia.v2i2.1004