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Best Reading Strategies for Students

September 2023



Article by Herman Barnes

Article by Herman Barnes

Northeastern's Human Services program graduate, Herman Barnes contributes to our blog pro bono. He sees his mission in helping students prepare for academic careers by providing them with experience and skill-based background required for successful studying and research.

Reading is a fundamental skill for students to master to succeed academically. However, many students struggle with reading comprehension and retention. Effective reading strategies can help students become more proficient readers who can understand, retain and apply text information. When delving into a sea of academic texts, students can enhance their comprehension and retention by applying strategic reading techniques, and for tailored guidance on curating these skills, turning to a professional custom essay writing service can prove to be an invaluable resource. Here are some of the best reading strategies for students:

Preview the Text

Before diving into the reading:

  1. Take a few minutes to preview the text.
  2. Read the title, subheadings, and any bold or highlighted words.
  3. Look at any graphics or pictures.
  4. Skim the first and last paragraphs. This will give you context about what the reading is about and help activate your prior knowledge on the topic.

Set a Purpose

Establish your reading purpose before you start. Are you reading for pleasure? To find specific information? To understand the main concepts? Having a purpose will make your reading more focused and productive. Setting a purpose is particularly important for academic reading assignments.

Chunk the Text

Don’t try to read long chapters or articles all in one sitting. Break the text down into manageable chunks or sections. Reading short chunks keeps your mind focused and allows you to check for understanding after each section. Breaks also help with comprehension and retention.

Ask Questions

As you read each chunk of the text, stop periodically to ask yourself questions. What is the main point of this section? What details or evidence support this point? Asking and answering questions actively engages your mind and improves focus. It also helps monitor comprehension.

Take Notes

Effective note-taking is a cornerstone reading strategy for students. Take notes on the key points, facts, definitions, examples, and other information related to your reading purpose. Recording information cements learning and develops critical thinking skills.

Look Up Unfamiliar Words

Don’t just gloss over words you don’t know. Look up definitions for unfamiliar vocabulary to improve comprehension. If you encounter a lot of unknown words, consider keeping a running vocab list to study. Expanding your vocabulary enhances your reading ability.


After completing each text section, pause to summarize the key points in your own words. Summarizing requires recalling and condensing information coherently, which reinforces learning. It also helps gauge comprehension. Consider writing short summaries if needed.

Draw Connections

Good readers connect the text to their prior knowledge and experiences. Connect to personal experiences, other texts, current issues, world events, etc. Connections make reading more meaningful and interesting.


Some texts, like fiction or historical narratives, lend themselves to visualization. As you read, paint mental pictures of the setting, characters, and plot. Visualizing brings the text to life and boosts engagement.

Adjust Your Speed

The reading rate should vary according to purpose and difficulty level. If the text is dense, technical, or unfamiliar, slow down to focus on accuracy. If it’s a light material, you can pick up the pace. Adjust speed accordingly to maintain optimal comprehension.

Read Actively

Don’t just passively read; actively engage with the material! Ask questions, take notes, make predictions, connect ideas, visualize, look up words, etc. Active reading boosts focus, analysis, and retention. Passive reading leads to weaker comprehension.

Review and Reflect

After completing the reading, take a few minutes to review your notes, recall key information, and reflect on what you learned. Identifying the central points and reflecting on how they fit with your prior knowledge and reading purpose solidifies the learning.

Practice These Strategies

Like any skill, excellent reading takes practice. Many of these strategies will not feel natural at first. With regular practice and use, however, they will become ingrained habits that pay dividends in the form of improved reading skills. Be patient, stick with it, and you will soon find reading becomes much easier and more productive.

Reading proficiently is critical to unlocking academic and lifelong success. Help equip students to become skilled, strategic readers by incorporating these best practices into instruction and practice. Strong reading abilities will provide a gateway to higher achievement and greater opportunities. Make reading strategies a priority and set your students up for future triumph.

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