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Successful University Study

Tips and tools to streamline the study process.

How to read more effectively at university

University study requires a lot of reading of sometimes unfamiliar and challenging material. Fortunately, there are lots of strategies you can use to maximise your reading time and get the information to "stick". Information on this page introduces a variety of approaches you can use for reading fiction, journal articles, and textbooks.

Types of reading strategies

SQ3R - survey, question, read, recite, review

The SQ3R strategy (adapted from Robinson, 1978) shows you how to be an effective "active reader".

Before you read, survey the text: the title, headings, sub-headings, the introduction, conclusion, summary; captions, charts, graphs, maps.

  • From your survey you should have an idea about what content will be new, and what is already known to you.
  • Which parts of the text are more important?
  • From your survey work out how the ideas presented in the text fit together.  Which ideas fit with your purpose for reading?

Turn the headings, sub-headings into questions you think the section should answer.

  • So, ‘The stages of childbirth’ would become ‘What are the stages of childbirth? ’or ‘What happens in each of the stages of childbirth?’

Read the sections with your questions in mind. Look for answers. Make up new questions if necessary.

  • Some texts will require more effort than others to comprehend.  You may even need to consult other sources to make meaning.  That is okay.  University is meant to be challenging.
  • Monitor, monitor, monitor… How well am I understanding this text?
  • If you get bogged down, it may help to go to the next section.  Often your questions will be answered later in the text.  You can then go back to the tricky parts.
  • Don’t judge your progress by the number of pages read!!!  Ask yourself the following questions.
  • Am I understanding what I am reading?
  • What questions have I not been able to answer?  Why?
  • Do I have any problems with this?  Where can I go for help?
  • How does this reading fit with other readings/lectures?  How is my understanding developing and changing?
  • What new questions do I have?

After each section, stop and think back to your questions.

  • Can you answer them from memory? If not, look back at the text.
  • Summarise each section as you go in your own words.
  • Some people find using multiple senses helps with learning – seeing, speaking, hearing, writing, drawing...

Once you have finished the whole chapter/article, go back over all the questions formed from all the headings. Can you still answer them? If not, go back and refresh your memory.

  • It comes as a surprise to many students that all the ideas presented in a course are related to each other.  By reviewing often, this relationship between ideas should become clear.  You should be able to see how the ideas all fit together.
  • You might like to think of each course as a jigsaw puzzle.  As you progress, you collect puzzle pieces during lectures, tutorials and readings.  By regularly reviewing the pieces, you are able to put the puzzle pieces together to view the bigger picture.


Skimming can be an effective way to review a text or get an overview. It involves moving your eyes rapidly over a text and picking up on typographical cues such as indents, bolded text, quotes, and headings. You will not get the complete picture when using this method, however it is a good way to determine whether a text warrants further reading or not. Here are the main aspects of the skimming process:

  1. Read the table of contents or chapter overview to learn the main divisions of ideas.
  2. Glance through the main headings in each chapter just to see a word or two. Read the headings of charts and tables.
  3. Read the entire introductory paragraph and then the first and last sentence only of each following paragraph. For each paragraph, read only the first few words of each sentence or to locate the main idea.
  4. Stop and quickly read the sentences containing keywords indicated in boldface or italics.
  5. When you think you have found something significant, stop to read the entire sentence to make sure. Then go on the same way. Resist the temptation to stop to read details you don't need.
  6. Read chapter summaries when provided.

(Butte College, n.d., para. 7)

Scanning is an effective way of identifying particular points or facts within a text. Scanning should ideally be done after skimming the text for an overview, so you can understand the overall context of the document. The process involves rapid eye movement over a text, looking for cues such as keywords and headings, so you can focus on a particular point. Don't forget to look at tables of contents and indexes during this process. Some points to remember when scanning:

  1. Know what you're looking for. Decide on a few key words or phrases as search terms.
  2. Look for only one keyword at a time.
  3. Let your eyes float rapidly down the page until you find the word or phrase you want.
  4. When your eye catches one of your keywords, read the surrounding material carefully.

(Butte College, n.d., para. 12)


Butte College, (n.d.). Tip sheet: Skimming and scanning.

Robinson, F. P. (1978). Effective study (6th ed.).  Harper & Row.