Reading Strategies for College Students: How To Read Textbooks and Academic Articles

Reading Strategies for College Students: How To Read Textbooks and Academic Articles
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Reading and digesting a large volume of books, articles, journals and other materials is a fact of life for college students. Reading loads can easily feel overwhelming especially for freshmen or those balancing coursework with part-time student jobs, sports or other activities. The reading strategies for college students explored in this article will help you improve your reading speed, produce useful notes and study for finals. Experiment using different reading methods until you find the method that best suits your learning style. Ultimately, your critical reading skills and the ability to work through complex material quickly will aid you in further studies and in the workplace.

Reading Strategies for College Students: Textbooks

Studying With a Notebook (Image Credit:

Textbooks are commonly used to introduce students to a new field of study, whether that be calculus, chemistry or European history. Unfortunately, many college textbooks can run to hundreds of pages in length and the material can be dry. Use these strategies to make your way through your textbooks quickly and with useful notes.

  • Check the syllabus or course outline first: Your textbook may have 30 chapters but your course may only require you to cover twenty chapters worth of material. While you can certainly read more if the subject matter interests you, focusing on the required material only is a good way of reducing the volume of material you need to cover. The syllabus also indicates, in most cases, the order by which you should read your textbooks.

  • Read the introduction and conclusion of the chapter: Textbook chapters include the most important concepts at the beginning and end of each chapter. Reading these pages before you delve into the rest of the text will give you an idea of the chapter’s main ideas, methods and arguments. This reading strategy also helps you break down a textbook into more manageable parts.

  • Make notes as you read: Most people learn better when they actively engage with readings. Taking notes on the textbook’s main points, concepts that are new to you and concepts mentioned in your course outline will improve your focus and provide you with study notes. If you are using an iPad to read books or some other ebook reader, check to see if the program you are using allows you to make highlights or notes. If you cannot make notes on the digital page, then use a paper notebook instead.

Reading Strategies for College Students: Articles

Upper year courses typically make use of academic articles from academic journals instead of textbooks. Depending on the field of study, articles can range from twenty pages in length to over a hundred pages. When you have dozens of articles to read rather than a single textbook, you will constantly have to adapt to different writing styles and approaches. These reading strategies for college students can be applied to academic articles and other short length readings.

  • Read all the section headings: Some academic journals encourage the use of section headings (e.g. Introduction, Literature Review, Research Methods, Findings, Conclusion) so that can readers can easily navigate through the article. If course is focused on research methods, you can focus your attention and note taking on that section. Alternately, some authors use section headings to lay out their argument; reading all the headings in those articles will give you a brief summary of the article’s points and structure.

  • Do not feel compelled to read every footnote or endnote: Footnotes and endnotes can be very useful in understanding the author’s sources and additional details about the article, but do not feel obligated to read each and every footnote. Explanatory footnotes that define terms or provide further clarity may be viewed as an exception to this guideline.

  • Pay attention to the article format: In addition to a standard, full length research article, academic journals sometimes publish book reviews, research notes, forums and other forms of writing. If the article is written as a response to another article, you may need to consult the original article to get the full context. Since book reviews tend to be short, often 500 to 1500 words, you can read the whole review.


To further improve your critical reading skills in college, review these resources:

Biology Reading Skills (Pima Community College),

How To Read A Textbook (Cuesta College),

Image Credit: Studying Ahead!

Reading Your Textbooks Effectively and Efficiently (Dartmouth College),