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You’ll do a lot of reading throughout your undergraduate degree. Whether it be a textbook, academic papers, or online articles, there are specific things you can do to help you digest and understand the information you are reading more effectively.

Read for a purpose

The first thing you’ll want to do is know why you are reading the text and for what purpose. It isn’t just enough to know you’re reading it for a class, you’ll want to know the reasons why your professor assigned that specific text. For example, if you are in a journalism class and required to read an article about perspective, the reason you are reading that article is to establish an understanding of perspective and how it is used by journalists.

A good technique is to gain some base knowledge on the subject before reading so that you aren’t caught off guard when technical jargon is used. If you haven’t already covered the subject in class, consider looking on Wikipedia or skimming articles online about the subject. This will help give you the foundational knowledge you need in order to understand the complex text. 

Highlight, annotate, and underline

When you are reading, highlight important passages and quotes; annotate sections or sentences that are of significant importance; and underline keywords and words you don’t understand. Keep a dictionary close to you to look up confusing words and ask your professor to clarify any passages that you don’t understand. This will be particularly helpful when having to go back and study for a test.

Even if you are reading a digital text, there are many online and offline applications that allow you to annotate articles as you read and will even save them for later if you end up using the article as a source for a research paper.

Read difficult sections again

When you come across a difficult section or argument that you don’t understand, keep reading until the author has completely made their point. Then, go back to that difficult section and reread it. Slow down if you have to so that you are able to completely digest the information given.

If you still are unable to understand what it says after a few times reading it, first try looking up online to see if anyone offers any clarification. Then, if you still are unsure, consider earmarking the page, highlighting the section in some way, and then come back to it later. Sometimes all you need is a break to let your brain to process.

Read aloud

Reading aloud is a great way to force yourself to slow down and consider every word on the page. When you read aloud, make sure you clearly articulate every word you say and loud enough so that you can hear yourself. It sounds silly, but it works.

Take a break and go back to it later

As stated earlier, your brain can tend to get overworked and will need time to rest and process every so often. This is particularly important if you are having to read a lot in a small amount of time, have other things on your mind, or are having a hard time keeping your eyes open. Just make sure you give yourself enough time to take a break so that you can actually go back to the reading before the reading is due.  

Find a conducive space

Lastly, find a conducive space to read. Ideally, you’ll want to be in a quiet and comfortable place, but for many this is impossible. At the very least, do things that will keep your mind on the task at hand. If you have to be in a busy or loud area when you read, put in some noise canceling headphones and listen to music, preferably instrumental music without any lyrics that isn’t too distracting, like classical or movie soundtracks.