How To Be An Active Reader

One misconception commonly held by students is that reading is a passive activity. Unfortunately, passing your eyes over words on a page does not automatically store the material in your brain. You have to work for it – coax the information into your memory by asking questions and taking notes. These strategies fall into one general method called active reading. In short, it means that you do something while you read to help yourself remember. The more you involve your senses while you read, the more active you are and the more information you will retain.


There are many ways to read actively. The simplest way is to highlight or underline important information as you read. Highlighting should only be reserved for parts of the text that should be reviewed in the future and not information that is already known. You want to be able to refer to the text later and highlighting is your best tool for this.

Write As You Read

Another common method of active reading is to take notes while reading, ideally in a notebook designated for reading notes only. Some students shy away from this strategy, thinking it is too time intensive; however, time is saved in the end because the material only has to be read once if read correctly the first time. If you write while the material is fresh in your mind, you have a helpful written record to review for tests and writing assignments. Be sure to write down page numbers with your notes to help you quickly locate key bits of information.

Don’t Get Bogged Down!

If you find yourself getting bogged down on text that is difficult to comprehend, write down the nature of the problem and move on. You can come back to it later if you have time. This strategy is particularly crucial to employ when taking timed tests such as the SAT or ACT where losing just one minute can be costly.

Keep Track of Details

Many successful students employ a hybrid of techniques that include highlighting, note-taking in a separate binder, and summarizing after pauses in the text. To ensure your success, you must develop a system that lets you quickly locate certain types of details. Writing key words in the margin of the page is one strategy. If studying from a library book, use Post-It notes to record details.

In summary, to read more effectively, identify what you want to learn from the material and use  active reading strategies to help you. It takes practice to develop your reading skills. The more you use these strategies, the more successful you will become.

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