9 Simple Ways to Improve Your College Reading Abilities


The mere thought of what college-level reading entails can make some high school students squirm. In college, there will be more opportunities for academic writing. College textbooks are much denser compared to high school-level reading and that can be tricky to get used to.

Don't stress. Even if college-level reading sounds intense, you can master it and hone your reading skills with some practice. Check out the following 9 steps to improve your reading comprehension: 

1) Preview your reading material ahead of time 

Take a moment to survey the text to help you digest the material more concisely. This helps your brain recognize your reading purpose. You can check out the introduction, glossary and table of contents to help you get a gist of the key factors of the text. This will help you understand and digest the material better. 

2) Discover your best reading location

Choose the best reading environment to suit your needs. What type of lighting will be adequate? Do you have a tolerance for background noise? Consider distractions, atmosphere and location. If you can concentrate and focus, you will learn more and retain more information. 

Do you prefer to sit in a reclining chair with a lamp? Do you like to get snuggled up in bed and prop yourself up with pillows? Are you a desk person? Take your learning style into consideration too. Are you planning on taking notes or highlighting some text? Do you use a voice recorder to capture certain thoughts? Ensure you have everything you need including some water and snacks to minimize your disruptions. 

3) Mark key concepts and specific words 

Many students prefer to use a highlighter to note distinct information. You can capture definitions, phrases, vital terms and facts to help you memorize key points. Try to stick with only highlighting important information as it can be easy to get carried away. If you don't like to highlight text or are thinking of re-selling your textbook in the future, you could annotate or take notes in the margins in pencil or write them down on flashcards or in a notepad. 

4) Take notes along the way 

You can help to solidify the information you are reading by taking notes as you read. Consider the focus of every chapter you read and jot down the highlights. There are numerous strategies you can employ for taking notes including bullet points, mind mapping and making outlines. Well-written notes ideally will offer you a starting point when it comes to comprehending the text.

5) Paraphrase and summarize your reading as you go

Once you have finished reading something, use your own words to summarize what you have read. This will help you take efficient notes and identify key ideas. Once you create a summary you can be confident in what you have read. You can do this by using a variety of note-taking applications. If you don't remember or understand what you have recently read, it is time to re-read it and try again. 

If you notice you are zoning out or reading the same paragraph or sentence over and over, it is time to take a break. Get a glass of water and get up and stretch and take in some fresh air if possible. 

6) During your reading, reference any questions as they arise 

Your reading comprehension improves as you read and connect with the text by asking questions. As you carefully dissect each chapter or section, keep track of any questions that pop up along the way. Look for answers to your questions as you continue to read. 

7) Expand your vocabulary 

It is much easier to understand the text if you look up unfamiliar words as they arise. Simply utilize a computer or dictionary when you are reading to capture the essence of what the writer is trying to express. Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com are two reputable sites. 

8) Talk about what you have read 

A great way to see if you remember what you are reading is to speak with others in your class or join a discussion group. By identifying what you have read and comparing notes, you can see if you have a different perspective or if you are understanding the topic properly. If you need clarification, don't hesitate to ask. 

Don't forget to reach out to a classmate or a professor if you need to. It is positive to discuss a variety of viewpoints and possibly have a more in-depth understanding of the subject matter. 

9) Review the notes you've taken

Writing down notes is one thing, but re-reading them is equally as essential. Help your brain retain more information by regularly reading over your notes. If you get into the positive habit of reading your notes after each page or paragraph, it will help to prevent anxiety about exams and last-minute cramming sessions. 

Get into a pattern where you write down notes for a while and then review them when you are having a cup of water or tea or a break. Maybe you want to post your notes on the bathroom mirror or put them on your pillow to read before bed. Find a system that works for you to make the entire process more rewarding and less stressful.

Never be ashamed to ask for help when you need it

Don’t be afraid, embarrassed, or insecure about reaching out to your professor if you are feeling lost. Leave your ego at the door and be honest. Your teacher will be happy to help and can possibly discuss what you are reading or break down some of the concepts if you are having difficulty. They will be much more understanding if you share that you are struggling instead of simply writing you off as an uninterested or lazy student. 

Much of our language comprehension is conducted during our younger school years. If you were a late reader, are dyslexic, or have any learning difficulties, it is only natural that you may have some delays in this area. It is nothing to beat yourself up over. It doesn’t make you “stupid.” Simply book an appointment with your professor and go from there.