Strategies to Use before You Read

Reading strategies to use with every type of reading

Throughout your education, you will be faced with a variety of different kinds of reading assignments, such as textbooks, academic articles, novels, short stories, newspapers, and popular magazine articles.  Each different type of reading requires a unique set of strategies so that you can learn from the reading and incorporate the information into your knowledge base.  There are, however, a set of basic strategies that you should use for all your reading.  After familiarizing yourself with these basic strategies, then you can turn to the links below for greater detail on the specific kinds of reading.

Start by setting goals every time you read

Your goal should be to comprehend the important ideas and significant material in the reading.  Your goal is not simply to read the assigned readings. Force yourself to set off with the goal of comprehension and you will find it easier to use the strategies for effective reading. 

Things to think about when setting your goals

What is the purpose of the assignment?  Understanding the purpose for an assignment is key to planning your reading strategy.  Your goals and strategy will differ based on how the reading material fits into the class and how you will use the information from the reading.

  • How will you use the material in class? Is it to study for an exam?  Contribute to discussion?  Prepare for lecture?  Write a paper? 
  • What is the relationship between the reading and other course material?
    • Did the Professor talk about the reading before hand and explain why he or she assigned it?
    • Does the reading cover some of the same material as the lectures but in greater detail?
    • Does the reading cover material that the Professor only mentioned briefly or not at all?
    • Is the reading assigned as a counter point to viewpoints presented in the lecture or in other readings?
    • How will you use the material in future classes?

How will I know when I have learned the material from the reading and am ready to use it effectively when called on to do so?  This will depend on the purpose for the assignment and how you will use the material.  For most uses, quizzing yourself is the best way to prove that you learned something.  An important reading strategy is to develop questions from what you already know, the clues provided by the structure of the text, and, of course, any questions provided by the instructor. Your goal can be that you will be able to answer the questions that you developed. If you will use material in a presentation, develop your goal with the constraints of the presentation in mind. You can, for example, only include a small number of details in a 3-5 minute presentation in a class.

Use your prior knowledge as a base for learning new material.

Prior Knowledge about yourself as a student
By now, you should have a clear understanding of your strengths as a student. Some reading material will naturally fit your own strengths, while others might not. If you are faced with reading material that does not match your strengths, then use strategies to refocus the material in a way that you can more effectively learn from it.

Ask yourself the follow questions.

  • What do I know about this type of reading and my own study skills that can help me learn from the reading?
  • What type of learner am I in this subject? How does my learning style match this type of reading?
  • What kinds of texts do I find easiest to process and learn from? Do I find charts and diagrams helpful or do you ignore them when reading and learn best from the text itself?
  • What is my past experience with this kind of reading? Do I find it easy or difficult to understand? What strategies have I tried in the past with this kind of reading? What has worked best?
  • Do I have preferences for specific kinds of studying at different times of the day?

This assessment of your prior knowledge will help you determine your reading strategies. For example, if you learn better from pictures and diagrams but are faced with a text heavy reading assignments, create your own pictures and diagrams to help understand the material. If you read more effectively at certain times of the day, then use this to create the optimal conditions for learning the material. If you are unclear about what style of learning suits you best, go to the Learning Styles and Study Environment page to learn how to assess your learning style.

Prior knowledge about the subject.

It is easier to learn something new if you can connect it to something you already know. If you do not immediately recognize your prior knowledge, stop to ask yourself questions.

  • What do I already know related to the subject of this reading?
  • What do I already know about this class that will help me understand the material?
  • Have I read something else on the same subject that makes a counter-argument?

Understand the structure of the text. The structure of the text can help you understand the author's purpose and argument before you begin to read, which will help you organize your thoughts as you read. Some kinds of texts such as textbooks provide an easy to use structure. Other texts such as academic articles and novels might not have an obvious structure but understanding the typical structure of these kinds of texts can help you formulate your strategies.