Reading skills

When you’re studying it’s important to be able to read effectively and efficiently. This page includes some reading strategies you could try.

Reading efficiently and effectively means reading what is relevant, without wasting time and being able to understand, use and remember what you have read.

Tip – Before you start, break your reading down into manageable chunks, such as a chapter or topic. This will help you set achievable goals.

 

Survey, skim and scan

Survey, skim and scan will help you figure out what an article or book is about, and find main ideas or specific information. This can help you decide if you need to read in more detail.

Survey

Surveying will give you an overview of the topic. Look at the:

  • title and cover blurb
  • table of contents and index
  • abstract, summary or introduction of the book, article or each chapter
  • pictures and diagrams.

Diagram showing the title, cover blurb, contents and chapter headings

Skim

Skim through the text to look for the main ideas in what you are reading:

  • read the introduction
  • read the headings and first sentences in each paragraph or section
  • identify key words and ideas – the bits that stand out
  • pay attention to words in bold or italics, names and numbers
  • read the final paragraphs and conclusion.

Diagram showing how to skim read

Scan

Scanning is when you search through the information to find specific information. For example:

  • to find the answer to a question
  • look for a quote or reference
  • find names, places, titles, facts or figures
  • find ideas.

When you scan:

  • be clear about what you’re looking for. It’s helpful to have a question in mind that you want to answer
  • think about what key words are used.

 

The SQ3R strategy

The SQ3R strategy is like the Survey, skim and scan strategy, but goes deeper. It will help you understand and remember what you’re reading and studying and find the information you need to write an assignment.

SQ3R stands for:

  • survey (or skim)
  • question
  • read
  • recite (or recall)
  • review.

Each step is useful on its own, so don’t feel you have to do every step for everything you read.

Survey (or skim)

Surveying will help you get an overview of what you are reading and let you decide if it is a useful source to read further. To survey:

  • read the title and cover blurb
  • look at the table of contents
  • read the introduction
  • read the abstract
  • look at headings and sub-headings
  • note any bold or italicised print
  • look at pictures, diagrams or boxed text
  • read the final paragraphs, conclusion and/or summary.

Question

As you are reading ask yourself questions:

  • turn the first heading of a chapter into a question before you read to give you a purpose for your reading. For example, if the title was “Reading better with SQ3R” your question could be “What is SQ3R?”
  • ask what, why, how, who and where questions
  • ask what you already know about the topic and what you want to know or remember.

Check our information on critical thinking to help you think of other questions you could ask while you’re reading.

Read

Tips:

  • you may need to read the text a few times to make sure you understand it and can remember what it’s about
  • the first sentence of a paragraph usually says the main idea.

While you read:

  • identify key words and ideas – the bits that stand out
  • note the most important parts but don’t highlight or make notes yet. Make sure you understand what you’re reading and can identify the most important parts
  • read the text again and highlight keywords and ideas
  • stop occasionally and make notes of what you have read in your own words
  • re-read any parts that are still not clear
  • try to link what you are reading to what you already know.

If there are any words you don't understand look them up or check with your course leader. If you need to remember them, write them down, together with the definitions.

Recall or recite

After reading check what you have learnt:

  • recall or recite what you have just read without looking at the text or your notes
  • think about the questions you started with – can you answer them?
  • try telling someone what you have learnt, or pretend you have to teach the topic. Think about how you would explain it to someone who knows nothing about it.

Review

Next you should review the work you've learned:

  • summarise information in your own words. You could use a mind map to do this
  • look at your notes and quiz yourself
  • make connections between your notes and notes on other information.

Do this within 24 hours. This will help to fix the information in your long-term memory.