Department of Lifelong Learning: Study Skills Series

Reading Skills


Pile of BooksReading is a skill that we take for granted. We assume that if we are capable of reading, then reading tasks should be easy to complete. At university, reading is not a passive activity. When reading at university, you will find that you must utilise other skills while reading, for example you may need to have an understanding of note taking skills. This help sheet introduces you to ways that you can maximise a skill you already possess, in a way that makes the best use of your study time.

You may find that it is useful to read the 'Note taking skills' handout in conjunction with this handout. Many of the tips in the 'note taking' handout relate to reading skills. The handout is available from the Student Support Officer. The following sheet comprises a number of reading 'tips and tricks' for tackling the reading tasks you will encounter at university.

Getting started - the book list

Book Tips

Look carefully through the contents of the book and identify which chapters will be most relevant.

The books' introduction should also give you an idea of how the book is laid out and which chapters cover which topics.

Before reading a whole chapter read the introductory paragraph and the concluding paragraphs - this will give you a good idea of subjects covered and the arguments used by the author.

When your first start your course, you will be given a book list by your tutor. The book list should be reflective of the course syllabus and should provide a starting point for further investigation and reading. One of the most daunting things about a book list is that it may seem to be very long. However, it is rare that a student would need to read every book on a book list from beginning to the very end. Be selective when choosing books from the list. Try to match up books with each week's topic. In preparation for the topic, you might like to read a relevant chapter or you might skim over the main headings of an entire textbook, stopping to read points that particularly interest you.

At the end of each week when you review your handwritten notes, you might supplement this activity with further relevant reading from the book list. And remember, the book list is only a starting point. When you begin to look at assignment or specialist topics, ask your tutor to recommend more challenging books, or contact your subject librarian.

Effective reading versus speed reading

Book with glassesIf you've ever flicked over to the TV sales channels on cable, you might have seen advertisements for 'speed reading' courses. The concept of 'speed reading' was once very popular as a study tool. The idea that you could read ten times faster than other students was marketed as 'competitive advantage'. While it may be tempting to purchase one of these courses and to have a great reading speed, it is more important that you can read selectively and that you can read reflectively. Reading effectively means that you can skim through a book with purpose, picking out those chapters and sections that are relevant to your task. Speed reading is only effective if you MUST read an entire book. This is rarely a necessity.

Reading reflectively means that you understand how to relate what you are reading to other materials you have read and that you take the time to question and criticise. When you are speed reading, you are mostly concerned with job completion and total recall. It is more important that you are able to think about what you have read and that you are able to relate it to your assignment topic or another author's argument. If you simply speed read, you won't have the time to be reflective. Take time for your reading and think about what is important to maximise your effectiveness.

Tips for efficient and effective reading

(Samantha Dhann 2001)