8 Strategies for Reading Difficult Material

We have all had to read painfully challenging material. Whether you are reading a short article on avant-garde scientific methods or a tome on medieval literature, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Fortunately there are strategies that make it easier to comprehend complicated reading material.


Before reading the material, it is necessary to learn some general information on the subject at hand. This can be done by looking for headings and subtitles or diagrams, graphs, or charts inside the passage. This information will not be a comprehensive guide to the material, but it will provide background information and help you warm up to the dense material.


For shorter reading assignments, try reading the material once and then sleep on it. The second re-read will yield new discoveries that were skipped on the first pass.


While reading, it is important to monitor your level of comprehension. Periodically stop and ask yourself, “what have I learned?” Pause after reading each paragraph and identify the main idea before moving on to the next. Highlight, underline, and make notes in the margins as you read. This will keep you focused and will help if you need to revisit key concepts in the future.

Use Other Senses

Comprehension can be improved by using senses other than visual while reading. One way is to read aloud or listen to recordings of the text to engage your auditory senses.

Get Active

Work with a classmate and take turns summarizing chapters of text. Make it fun by teaching each other the more difficult concepts and relating the material to personal experiences.


If reading from a textbook, answer the review questions at the end of each chapter. If questions are not available create your own by converting the chapter or section headings into questions.

Look Up

Write down all unfamiliar words and record their definitions. If reading from a textbook, consult the glossary for technical definitions. Use a dictionary to look up non-technical words. Bookmark the glossary pages for quick access in the future.

Extra Help

Seek out additional resources to help understand the reading material. These resources could include introductory textbooks, study guides, or online blogs. Solicit the help of tutors, classmates, or professors if you are really struggling to understand the material.

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