15 Tips for Understanding College Reading

Academic reading is hard.

We all know it, and we all have struggled at some point with the intense rhetoric. Some of us push through until we understand. Most of us throw our books down, give up, and resign ourselves to the idea that we’ll never graduate.

Luckily for those of us that have a hard time, the fine folk over at Texas State University posted some helpful hints on how to get through the reading and come away with better comprehension. See it below, modified by the Honors Grad team:


  1. Spend a few minutes looking over the headings, titles, and any outlines that might be present in the article. Really focus on the words and what they mean.
  2. If there is a chapter summary, or an abstract, read it–twice. Try to apply it to what you already know on the topic.
  3. Determine what the point of the reading will be: what questions does it answer, what position does it support, etc.
  4. Assess how well you understand at this point. If you’re still lost, go over it again.
  5. If that doesn’t help, the Internet can help provide more information on the topic, or the specific article/book.


  1. Use a marker to keep your place, such as following with your finger, index card, etc.
  2. Break up the reading into sections. Read a section and review the main points from memory before moving on.
  3. Read again, this time hi-lighting and writing notes in the margins.
  4. Rewrite chapter or section headings using key words that will help you remember the main points.
  5. If you still don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask teachers, tutors, or classmates for their thoughts.


  1. To increase retention, plan to spend a few minutes at the beginning of each study session briefly reviewing the headers and notes from the previous sections/chapters/articles.
  2. Using flash cards, flow charts, or other materials can be very helpful–but if you’re mind isn’t active while copying the information onto those study helps, it could be a waste of valuable study time.
  3. The best way to prove you know something is to be able to teach it to others. Get into a study group, educate your roommates, or tell your cat! Just say it out loud.
  4. Continue building on your notes. Add important contributions from class discussions or teacher explanations, and keep them together.
  5. As the exam gets closer, review your notes in more detail and continue asking questions about topics that are confusing.

This sounds like a lot, but as you practice, it gets easier and is less tedious.

Do yourself a favor and try to actually learn, not just retain enough for a test or in case the teacher asks you in class. Learning the information will most likely help you in a number of future classes, and maybe even in the real world! Don’t get discouraged!

Photo Credit: Shell Daruwala



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