Academic Success: Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is a key skill for any college student. Here are some quick and easy tips to help you better retain and comprehend your reading assignments.

  • Read in short periods of time. Periods over 45 minutes can cause mental fatigue and interfere with your studying.
  • Avoid marathon study sessions.
  • Read in a quiet location.
  • Avoid multi-tasking. Instead focus on reading exclusively while studying. Trying to read while you watch TV, text and/or listen to music will make comprehension difficult.
  • Use reading comprehension strategies such as the SQ3R to structure your reading.
  • Remember if you are having trouble with some of your reading material, you should seek help from your instructor or from the Student Success Center.


 SQ3R is a time tested method for improving reading comprehension. The acronym stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review. It is a structured sequence that students can use with any subject.

Look over the text. Think about the issues that the text or chapter will address. The purpose of this step is to identify the format of the text or chapter. It is helpful to identify:

  • Titles, headings, subheading, etc.
  • Italicized or bold faced words.
  • Any visual material
  • Captions
  • Terms you are unfamiliar with
You should always review the beginning and ending of the section you are surveying to get a basic overview.


Once you have surveyed the material, it is most helpful to pursue the material with a curious attitude. Ask yourself questions about the material that interest or intrigue you, such as "What can you learn from this material?" Use the 5W's (who, what, where, when, and why) and the question how, as prompts to develop your questions.
Additional useful methods include:

  • Turn headings into questions.
  • If the chapter or section has questions, rewrite the questions in your own words
  • Develop questions about the italicized or bold faced words.
  • Ask yourself why a section is important.
  • Consider what your professor might want you to know 

Read the text while keeping the results of your surveying and questioning in mind. Note any terms or vocabulary you are unfamiliar with. Often you can determine the meaning of a term from the context in which it is being used. Though, sometimes it is best to use a dictionary (or the glossary if the text has one).

Recite / Reflect
After you have read the section or chapter, stop and summarize the main points in your own words. Answer the questions you developed in the question section and answer any questions in the text. Make sure you understand what you read. If you have trouble, reread the section. If you still have trouble, do not be afraid to seek assistance from your instructor.

Note, how does the material connect with what you already know? What is the main point or points of the section you read? What are the supporting points? Create notes of your reading based on this step.

Periodically review the notes you developed from the reading. Also, try quizzing yourself on the material.