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Learn from the Text

Resist the typical habits of online reading

  • Why this works: Reading challenging texts online requires different mental and physical habits than those that work for typical web-based reading. If you build the habit of focused digital reading, you’ll learn more. 
  • How to do it: Resist the urge to skim over text without thinking, react to any interest that pops to mind by opening another tab and starting a search, or jump back and forth from reading to email, Facebook, or some other work on your device. Instead, reduce digital distractions, set a timer for focused work, and follow these suggestions on reading.

Understand what “skimming” means in college

  • Why this works: Professors assign more reading than you can possibly read if you read as you might read a book for pleasure (first word to last word, and everything in between). To do well, you must skim. But first, you must understand what skimming means in college.
  • How to do it: Forget thinking of skimming as passing your eyes quickly over the text to get the main idea quickly. That works for an article in an online newspaper but not for college reading. Instead, think of skimming as setting a reading goal and then reading selectively to meet that goal. 

Figure out the goal of the reading

  • Why this works: If you know what the goal of the reading is, you're more likely to meet the goal. 
  • How to do it: Figure out the goal of the reading you’ve been assigned. To determine the goal, look through the course materials (syllabus, the reading itself). Is it to contribute in discussion? To familiarize yourself with concepts that will be covered in lecture? Once you know the goal, write it at the top of a sheet. Your goal can be as basic as “Write the five main points” or as specific as “Define bases, alkalis, and acids and explain why they matter.” 

Hunt for what matters

  • Why this works: When you concentrate for a short chunk on extracting only what you need, you’ll learn more, faster.
  • How to do it: Decide on a short period of time (e.g., 25–50 minutes) or segment of reading (e.g., intro, section headings, conclusion) in which you will pursue your reading goal. Instead of reading from front to back, read the way you would an article online: identify the parts that probably help you answer your question and hunt through them. Take notes, but also do your best to build the knowledge in your mind rather than just copying things down.

Test yourself

  • Why this works: Writing down whatever you can get your brain to cough up will strengthen the memory trace and show you what you have left to hunt for.
  • How to do it: Hide the reading from yourself. From memory, write a few words to answer the reading questions you wrote at the beginning. Determine what you need to hunt for next, and do so. Afterward, repeat the testing.