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Reading is fundamental to university study and managing a large volume of reading can be difficult when you’re not used to it. Understanding effective reading skills can help you manage and get the most out of your reading.

Keeping up with the reading

Keeping up with everything you need to read can be a bit overwhelming, so you need to be strategic.

To stay on track with your reading, you should:

  • schedule regular reading time for each subject into your weekly plan
  • prioritise ‘required’ or ‘prescribed’ reading over ‘recommended’ reading
  • choose your assessment tasks early, so that you can focus your reading around these. 

Reading actively

Reading actively involves a number of strategies that help you with speed, comprehension and critique.

To be an active reader, you should:

  • think about the text in terms of its relevance to a particular question, weekly topic or assignment. Ask: ‘What do I want to know?’, ‘What do I need to know?’ and ‘What do I already know?'
  • make detailed notes and highlight important parts of the text to help fill in the gaps in your existing knowledge
  • think about the strength or weakness of the arguments, evidence and methods through which the author reached certain conclusions
  • annotate your reading with meaningful notes
  • summarise the article in two or three sentences after you have read it.

Improving your reading speed and comprehension

The texts you have to read at university are usually complex. Research shows us that reading complex texts can take a lot of time – three pages an hour is not uncommon. However, there are several strategies you can use to help you with speed and understanding.


Before you start reading, it’s a good idea to ask yourself a few questions to help you focus.

  • What is my purpose for reading this text?
  • What type of text is it? Can I use the structure to help orient me to the text?
  • How does this connect with what I have already read on the subject? Are there any common 'big ideas' or arguments that writers usually address?
  • How does the text speak to the Learning Outcomes for my subject? 


Before reading an academic text in depth, skimming the text will often help you understand what the text is about or identify key bits of information. This strategy helps you identify the relevance and can lead to a greater depth of understanding

Skimming is fast, focused reading to find the main points or ideas.

To skim a text, you should:

  • read the abstract, executive summary or chapter summary first
  • read quickly through the introduction then skip to the conclusion to get a sense of the overall content
  • focus on the first sentence in each paragraph, which usually contains the main point of each paragraph
  • if relevant, go back and read the whole chapter or article from the beginning. You should find it easier to understand after skimming the text.


Scanning is looking for specific information, such as keywords, dates, statistics or authors' names.

To scan a text, you should:

  • sweep your eyes over the text with a focus on finding the specific words or information, while ignoring the rest of the text for now
  • when you find what you are looking for, read a bit around this area so you can understand the context of the information.

Identifying key terms

Highlight important key terms and new items of useful vocabulary. Keep a dictionary handy to identify key terms as you read.  

Reading for detail

Reading for detail is when you focus on the written material, looking to gather specific information or evidence. It will provide you with a more in-depth understanding of the information, facts, positions and views on a topic.

To read for detail, you should:

  • identify the text’s main arguments. These will often be outlined in the introduction
  • think about how well you understand the claims the writer is making. Are you able to paraphrase these?
  • think about any new perspectives the text offers on your topic
  • identify what is useful to you.

Reading critically

Reading critically is key to extending your skills of analysis. Mastering this skill can help earn you higher grades. This kind of reading requires you to actively engage with the text by questioning and evaluating the quality and relevance of the information for your task. 

After reading the text for detail, ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • What is the author’s purpose?
  • Who is the author writing for? How does this affect what they say?
  • How is the text structured? Why is it structured in this way?
  • Are there any assumptions made by the writer?
  • Are the main arguments fully developed and supported by valid evidence?
  • Is there any bias in the way in which the material is presented?

Pathfinder link

Still have questions? Do you want to talk to an expert? Peer Learning Advisors or Academic Skills and Language Advisors are available.