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Active Reading Strategies: How to Understand & Remember as You Read

  • Use pre-reading questions
    • What is the topic?
    • What do you already know about it?
    • Why should I care about the topic?
  • Put terms on index cards.
  • Highlight the main idea or thesis (usually in the introduction or opening paragraphs). Use a separate highlighting color to indicate other main points and a third color for lesser points or examples. Fourth color can be used for key terms.
  • Make outlines, tables,flow charts or diagrams to see things visually.
  • After each paragraph, determine “what it means” or what is the main idea AND “what it does” such as “introduces an opposing view” or “provides evidence to support argument.”
photo of textbook highlighted with yellow, orange, pink and green to denote important information.
  • Summarize sections and chapters in your own words, even if the book does it for you.
  • Keep a standing list of questions- some you may be in a position to answer yourself after you conclude a section or chapter, others can be saved for class discussion. Has the added bonus of demonstrating that you have prepared for class.
  • Try to form assent or protest arguments when opinions are expressed.
  • Attempt to define key words that are undefined.
  • Take the sections headings and make them questions. Section heading “The Gas Laws of Boyle, Charles and Avogadro” might become “What are the gas laws of Boyle, Charles and Avogadro?”
  • Write your own exam question based on the reading or answer end-of-chapter questions that were not assigned.
  • Teach what you have learned to someone else. Student Success Center study groups are always a good place to do this.


diagram 1: open with a specific example, arrow right, generalize to a larger problem, arrow right, diagnosis of problem, arrow right, tentative solution, arrow right, objection, arrow right, reply and final presentation.

diagram 2: example of a bubble map that visually renders reading's argumentative structure