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Strategies to Use Before You Read

Start by setting goals every time you read.

Your goal should be to comprehend the important ideas and significant material in the reading. Begin with a goal for your reading session.

Things to think about when setting your goals:

What is the purpose of the assignment?

Understanding the purpose for an assignment is key to planning your reading strategy. Your goals and strategy will differ based on how the reading material fits into the class and how you will use the information from the reading.

How will you use the material in class?

Is it to study for an exam? Contribute to discussion? Prepare for lecture? Write a paper?

What is the relationship between the reading and other course material?

Did the instructor talk about the reading beforehand and explain why it was assigned?

Does the reading cover some of the same material as the lectures but in greater detail?

Does the reading cover material that the instructor only mentioned briefly or not at all?

Is the reading assigned as a counterpoint to viewpoints presented in the lecture or in other readings?

How will you use the material in future classes?

How will I know when I have learned the material from the reading and am ready to use it effectively when called on to do so?

For most uses, quizzing yourself is the best way to prove that you learned something. Develop questions from what you already know, the clues provided by the structure of the text, and, of course, any questions provided by the instructor. Your goal can be that you will be able to answer the questions that you developed.


Use your prior knowledge as a base for learning new material.

Identify prior knowledge about yourself as a student.

Some reading material will naturally fit your own strengths, while others might not. If you are faced with reading material that does not match your strengths, then refocus the material in a way that you can more effectively learn from it.

Ask yourself the follow questions:

  • What do I know about this type of reading and my own study skills that can help me learn from the reading?
  • What type of learner am I in this subject? How does my learning style match this type of reading?
  • What kinds of texts do I find easiest to process and learn from? Do I find charts and diagrams helpful or do I ignore them when reading and learn best from the text itself?
  • What is my past experience with this kind of reading? Do I find it easy or difficult to understand? What strategies have I tried in the past with this kind of reading? What has worked best?
  • Do I have preferences for specific kinds of studying at different times of the day?

This assessment of your prior knowledge will help you determine your reading strategies. For example, if you learn better from pictures and diagrams but are faced with a text-heavy reading assignment, create your own pictures and diagrams to help understand the material. If you read more effectively at certain times of the day, then use this to create the optimal conditions for learning the material. If you are unclear about what style of learning suits you best, go to the How Do You Learn page to learn how to assess your learning style.

Identify prior knowledge about the subject.

It is easier to learn something new if you can connect it to something you already know. If you do not immediately recognize your prior knowledge, stop to ask yourself some questions.

  • What do I already know related to the subject of this reading?
  • What do I already know about this class that will help me understand the material?
  • Have I read something else on the same subject that makes a counter-argument?

Understand the structure of the text.

The structure of the text can help you understand the author's purpose and argument before you begin to read; understanding this structure will help you organize your thoughts as you read. Some kinds of texts (e.g., textbooks) provide an easy-to-use structure. Other texts, such as academic articles and novels, might not have an obvious structure, but understanding the typical structure of these kinds of texts can help you formulate your strategies.