Category Archives: Reading

Making light of long readings

by Daniel Christianson

As the semester creeps closer to its end, many students, myself included, have waded into larger books and writings for final assignments. “Daniel,” you may say, “my reading is due tomorrow and I still have sports practice and work! How am I supposed to get it done on time?” The following reading strategies can help you read and comprehend longer assignments.

Learn to recognize key points

When working through a reading assignment, one way I keep my mind active is to ask the simple question: “How does the apply to the class?” Try this. And if what you’re currently reading doesn’t apply, then you can speed through it to get to the parts that do. When you read material that clearly connects, take your time to absorb the information. This also helps vary your reading speed which in turn keeps you engaged and active. Often, books will indicate their primary ideas in bolded, highlighted, or underlined sentences. Pay attention to these indicators and, if possible, highlight or bookmark them for future reference. Another way a writer will get their point across is by repeating their point several times in multiple ways. If it feels like what you’re reading is repetitive, you can probably read faster to get to the next key point. But you can also know that point was important!

Build a framework of the chapter

By reflecting on a larger section of writing, you make it easier for your future self to sum up what it said. This active analysis of past readings builds on the key points you identified in the last step. Building a framework simply involves listing the key points of a chapter. In practice, this can help when reviewing because you are able to easily see what a chapter was trying to get across in a glance. This technique has been helpful for me when I have large, historical readings that I need to be able to summarize. It helps me know the overall points without getting dragged down into every detail.

Avoid constant skimming

Skimming can often result in your not knowing the text as well as you should, and it can encourage you to put your assignments off for the last minute. Professors can give large reading assignments expecting you to skim, but this is an exception rather than a rule. One idea I work with when struggling with a particularly difficult reading assignment is that the professor wouldn’t have assigned the reading if they didn’t think it was important and thought it would help me grow.

Overall, reading is one of my favorite things to do, even when it piles up. But the more I engage with it, the more I get out of it. So maybe the next time you aren’t enjoying your reading, try to take it as an opportunity to grow. Just being able to articulate how you feel about the reading and what you are getting from it are great skills to develop for the future.

Daniel is a sophomore from California majoring in business with a concentration in accounting. He likes crocheting, running, and capybaras.

Strategies for reading short texts

by Daniel Christianson

With school in full swing, I know there are students like me who have three different reading assignments all due tomorrow. You don’t want to skim the reading, but you also feel overwhelmed with the amount that has piled up. Well you’re in luck! In this blog, I will share two reading strategies that help me engage with the reading and ultimately get more out of my assignments.

Read early, read often—reflect and retain

Often it can feel like you have to do all the reading in one sitting. This can actually be detrimental to your goal of learning the information. When you start the reading a little early and take your time with it, you have more time to reflect on what you got out of it. To do this, start reading early, and whenever you have a few spare minutes, you can read a few pages.

Whether on the bus, waiting for class to start, or winding down before bed, reading often—in small chunks—can help you apply the information to everyday life. We, as humans, remember what is relevant to us. If you spread your reading across a week, you are more likely find instances where it connects to you.

Awareness and activity

Do you ever have that feeling where you have been reading, but if someone asked you what you just read you wouldn’t be able to answer? Well that may be because you haven’t been actively reading.

Active reading is when you are engaging with the text through questions and you evaluate what you are reading. An example of this would be something as simple as writing in the margins. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just simple remarks like, “Why does the writer think this?” or “on next test.” Simple things like that can make a big difference in terms of your engagement with the writing and can help you later when you are doing homework involving the reading. I have found that writing a paper on a section of reading is a lot easier when you mark up your book with notes, questions, and highlights.

This can help you connect the text to your life and raise good questions to ask in class. This concentration on reading can’t be done without the occasional refocusing, however, so don’t feel bad about occasionally getting up, taking a break, and then refocusing on the work.

Hopefully these reading strategies help you get more out of your shorter assignments. For those of you with longer assignments, don’t you worry, I will be back in a couple of weeks to share some ideas on how to handle those readings.


Daniel is a sophomore from California majoring in business and pursuing an independent major in accounting. He likes crocheting, running, and capybaras.


The art of annotations

by Samantha Bronkar

Have to read an article for a class? You could just read it—but what if you could have a conversation about it instead?

Often, we can expand our own thoughts and ideas when we talk about them out loud. You can think of annotating an article as having a conversation with the author. If you are reading an article that appears dense or uninteresting, physically taking notes on the article (along the margins) helps you to actively engage with the article.

When you annotate, you can (and should):

  • Ask your own questions
  • Paraphrase or summarize what the author claims
  • Take note of your own thoughts
  • Underline or highlight key phrases, quotes, individuals, dates, and ideas*

*Tip: You may find it helpful to color-code your annotations. For example, you can use an orange pen to note questions you have, a blue pen to note the author’s claims, a green pen to note your own thoughts, and a red pen to underline key dates, figures, etc.

Rather than reading text and trying to absorb it as you progress, annotating gives space for pausing, reflecting, questioning, and connecting ideas or themes you notice. This space can help readers learn, understand, and remember.

The beauty of annotations is that they give you permission not to understand something the first time you read it. I repeat: it is okay to not completely understand something, especially the first time you read it. In fact, having questions is a sign that you are critically assessing what you are reading, and that’s great!

As you read, take notes in the margins about things that confuse, interest, and inspire you. That way, you can easily locate those ideas in class or when studying in order to discuss them in greater detail. It’s also a good tool if you need to revisit a source when writing a research paper: your annotations will help you remember and work with a source you haven’t read in a while.

Happy annotating!

Samantha Bronkar is a junior majoring in English and will be participating in the Prague abroad next fall. She will be dearly missed.

“I don’t get it”

by Shannon Naylor

“I don’t get it” is a sentence I used a lot as a student. Sometimes it was uttered in exhausted frustration after hours of striving to understand a challenging text. But more often than not, I said it reflexively when I encountered something new, and it became shorthand for “I don’t want to make an effort.” When I said “I don’t get it,” I refused to engage with the material, so I never had any hope of gaining understanding, and I risked doing poorly in those classes.

The trick I developed for getting past that roadblock-type thinking was to tack one little word to the end: “I don’t get it…yet.” Yet is a promise that there is hope, that there’s an opportunity for change. But the material wasn’t going to suddenly make sense all on its own. I had to change how I approached it.

So how do you make the change happen? Here’s one method: Ask questions.

  • When you encounter difficult material that you “don’t get,” start by writing questions.
  • Keep reading or listening to see if they get answered. If they do, jot down the answers.
  • Identify questions you can answer for yourself: words you can look up definitions or key concepts you can Google or find in an encyclopedia.
  • Find questions you can puzzle through or make a hypothesis about, based on what you do know and understand.
  • If it’s appropriate, ask a peer or your professor any questions left unanswered.

This is a simple way to engage with difficult material. You move past the generic, dismissive “I don’t get it” and start to identify the gaps in your knowledge and understanding. Once you know where the gaps are, it’s a lot easier to begin to fill them. This doesn’t mean that it the material suddenly becomes easy and you don’t have to actively work at learning it. It will probably remain a challenge, but I hope that this strategy will make the work seem less daunting.

Shannon is the CTL post-graduate intern.

Do not read all the text

by Katya Rivers

So you are in college, you are having the time of your life, and then Sunday comes around and you have a paper due Tuesday. You haven’t even gotten to the point of opening Word and writing your name and the date. And the worst part is that right next to you is a stack of books, journal articles, and essays that you haven’t even looked at. You estimate the pages of dense reading that await you—well over a thousand—on this gloomy Sunday afternoon. It’s okay. We’ve all been there. You aren’t doomed.

Sure it’s doable to read all of that information, but it’s not necessary! That’s right…you do not need to read all the text. You are saved. The important thing to realize in this situation is that there is a way to get through all of that reading material and write one heck of an essay. Let’s get started.

My Perfect Strategy—from a senior who finally figured it out.

  • Read the title—Help your mind prepare for what you are about to read and digest.
  • Read the introduction and/or summary and the conclusion—Gather the most important points.
  • Take notice of boldface headings and subheadings—This helps create a structure in your thought to organize the information you are receiving and absorbing. This will help you deal with the details to come.
  • Make sure to take full notice of graphics—Charts, maps, diagrams, pictures, etc. are there to make a point. DO NOT OVERLOOK THEM (take it from someone who’s done it too many times and suffered).
  • Notice reading “clues”—Italics, bold face, print, clearly stated objectives.
  • Question—Develop your own questions as you read. This is where your thoughts begin to connect to the text in front of you, and you begin to form your own opinion on the topic or issue. This is also where magic happens, and these questions may become the birth of your thesis.
  • Always annotate and make notes, highlights, symbols, etc. —This is for future reference when you are actually writing your paper. It will help you find and reference your information and quickly access major points you related to. This is also your way of contributing to the scholarly discussion you’re in college to join.

Remember good writing always starts with good reading. Have fun!

Katya Rivers is a senior majoring in religion.


Taking notes like a pro

by Meg Andersen

Learning how to take notes effectively is one of the best skills to master in college. Whether you prefer taking notes with pen and paper or using programs such as Evernote or MS OneNote, here are a few strategies to help you retain the right information when taking notes in class:

Be organized.

Have separate notebooks (physical or digital) for each class. Whether you organize your notes by chapter, topic, or date, be consistent about how you store your notes. You will be glad you did when it is time to study for the test! One advantage about using Evernote or MS OneNote is that you can search your notes for keywords. Being able to quickly find something in your notes can make studying much more efficient.

Do the reading.

This may sound obvious, but coming to class prepared makes taking notes much easier. It’s hard to recognize the most important points of a topic that you aren’t prepared to discuss. Being prepared might take more time, but you’ll feel less stressed and more confident about engaging in the class. And you’ll learn more.

Listen for cues.

If you’re listening to a lecture and feel lost as to what you should be jotting down, try listening for some basic cues. First, listen for the big ideas. What is the main topic of the lecture? Professors generally emphasize points by

  • repeating them,
  • giving specific examples, or
  • summarizing them at the end of their lecture.

If you are viewing a PowerPoint, it’s okay to politely ask if the PowerPoint will be available on Blackboard. If the presentation will be viewable later, spend more time listening and less time writing down everything on every slide. If the presentation will not be on Blackboard, don’t worry—just record the key points. They are probably headings or in a bolder typeface.

Separate ideas.

When taking notes, most students prefer the rough outline format. With any format, be sure to leave space between points so that you can add other ideas later on, if needed. Taking notes in a slightly more spread out format can also leave room for jotting down questions that you think of during the lecture which can be asked at an appropriate time.

These are just a few ideas that have been helpful in my experience! I recommend checking out Evernote or MS OneNote if you haven’t tried them, and do what works for you!

Meg Andersen is a business administration and global perspectives double major, and she plays on the tennis team.

Reading scholarly articles—demystified

by Clayton Harper

In order to be a good researcher, you must be a good reader, or at least a diligent and strategic one. Maybe this sounds obvious, but I’ve noticed that students struggle to use ideas from their research to strengthen the arguments in their writing and participate in demanding classroom discussions. Let me say a few things to address that.

Reading scholarly articles and academic sources is hard. Writers will often dress up simple ideas in complex language. Many will throw as much jargon at their readers as they can. Name-dropping can be frequent and disorienting. Some of this complexity is important to understand. Some of it is unnecessary.

In order to “get something” out of your sources, you must read as a writer. That means reading a scholarly article by identifying the elements you use yourself to write a paper. Generally, this means separating the content of an article into claims and evidence. Scholarly articles tend to be composed of claims, which are statements that argue a broad concept, trend, or  idea; and evidence, which includes specific examples that support or illustrate each claim. When you read, underline or note on a separate piece of paper (or a Word document, if you prefer working digitally) all the claims you find. Sometimes a paragraph contains only one claim. Sometimes there will be more. For the most part, though, an article has much more evidence than claims.

By focusing on the claims of an article, you will remember more of its content. When you read an article to understand its claims/evidence structure, the content will condense into a handful of main ideas. Now you understand what you have read, and it’s much easier to remember 5-10 general ideas than 25 pages of wordy stuff. If you can discipline yourself to do this, you may also remember important bits of evidence that are linked to each claim. And if you don’t, because you underlined or took notes as you read, you will know exactly where to look to refresh your memory.

Don’t be discouraged by the reading process. No one flies through this stuff nodding their head and walking away with complete comprehension. Good readers are workmanlike. They take sources one piece at a time and slowly assemble the larger picture from the bits they understand. Don’t get hung up on the desire to master a source. Do take the steps to extract something that is understandable and useful from what you read. That’s the point of research, isn’t it?

Clayton Harper is a creative writing major and writing tutor at Principia College. He never doodles during class and isn’t known to daydream about crazy adventures to write about later.