How to Read for Comprehension

You’re studying for a big test or sifting through material while researching a paper but find yourself wasting time because you keep forgetting what you’ve read. Here are some ways you can maximize your studying:

  • Find a quiet place to study: A great deal of your ability to absorb what you read is likely rooted in your ability to concentrate. The truth is that many people think they can multi-task by listening to music and watching television, but most really can’t. If you can’t study at home, try studying at the library.
  • Scan the material before reading: You can get a quick sense of the structure of the material and absorb a little of its content by reading the headings and bullet points.
  • Highlight: If there’s a great deal of information that’s important to learn and you need it to stand out, break out a highlighter. Creating a system with different colored highlighters can make your reviewing more efficient and effective.
  • Take notes: If you don’t want to write directly in your textbooks, use sticky notes, tabbing them to the pages you’re studying. Even if your study materials are primarily online, note taking is a good practice. It will help you retain the information because you’re actively involved.
  • Develop vivid mental images: According to, strong, pleasant mental images are easier to recall. Rely on color, shape and other sensory devices to help lock images into your memory.
  • Focus on key words: Memorizing the definite and indefinite articles, prepositions and conjunctions likely won’t add to your understanding of the materials. It’s usually the nouns and verbs that hold the keys to a sentence.
  • Break your reading into manageable chunks: Things are a little easier to remember if you organize your reading by sections, chapters, or units, rather than reading for a certain number of pages or for a certain duration of time.
  • Take periodic breaks: Even if you’re involved in intensive studying, constant reading can cause strain and reduce your ability to retain information. Set up a break schedule that allows you to get out of the chair but isn’t so frequent that you aren’t actually studying.