Reading is how you can tap into the river of knowledge–all that came before, and what is being added to that river now. Reading and understanding what you have read is essential for success in college and in the workplace. College textbooks and academic reading assignments tend to be dense and complicated. How you approach readings assigned in different classes will vary, but one thing is certain: you will be expected to do a lot of reading outside of class.

It is possible to finish reading an entire chapter and then realize you have no clue what you just read. Many students get sleepy or bored while reading textbooks and never finish the reading. Still more students avoid reading altogether. Others try to read everything all at once and plow through a forty-page chapter from beginning to end. Unfortunately, students who try to read without strategies or reflection often struggle to grasp and absorb the material, and thus may have difficulty participating in class discussions or showing what they have learned on exams.

Don’t worry! There are many strategies that will make reading manageable and optimize the information you retain from your readings.

Break Up Readings into Manageable Chunks

Professors will expect you to read. A lot. Approach your reading strategically. As with most activities in college, your ability to schedule is imperative. To get an estimate of how long a reading will take you, multiply the number of pages by five minutes. So, if your instructor has assigned 30 pages, you should be prepared to spend two and a half hours reading. Divide this into three- to ten-page chunks. In a 25-minute study segment you should be able to complete roughly five textbook pages. You’ll most likely have readings to do for different classes. Set times in your busy schedule for when you’ll be doing this work.

Get to Know Your Textbook

If your course has a textbook (or reading materials), whether it’s hard copy or online, you and your textbook will be spending a great deal of time together over the semester. So before you start reading, take a few minutes and orient yourself to each book. Not all textbooks are the same, and writing styles will vary depending on the subject. Some textbook writing styles will be accessible and easy to read. Others will be more complicated. Still others will require you to make inferences and read critically, posing questions (writing them down), and observing what the reading offers as answers.

As you read, ask yourself, “What can I expect from this book?” When the authors wrote your textbook, they wanted to organize it in the way that would best help you learn. Think about how and why they organized it the way they did.

Strategies For Textbook Reading

Now that you’ve taken a bird’s-eye view of the textbook, it’s time to do your reading assignment. Again, set a goal, such as an amount of time or number of pages, and approach your reading strategically. You should have at hand a pen, maybe a highlighter, sticky notes, and paper. Take it chapter by chapter, and for each chapter, follow these four steps.

Beyond Textbook Reading

Some of your professors will not use a textbook but will instead assign individual readings such as articles, lab reports, case studies, and historical documents. The same principles of previewing the material, reading actively, and annotating the text apply to these assignments as well.

For non-textbook materials, it is also important to begin the previewing process by exploring the context of the reading. Who is the author? If their name isn’t familiar to you, look it up online and learn a bit about them. When and where was the reading published? If it’s an historical document, or was published in a country you don’t know much about, a few minutes of online research can help you better understand when and where the author is coming from. What was the author’s purpose for writing?

For example, if you’re asked to read a lawyer’s closing argument from a Supreme Court case, look up the case! What was the issue at hand? What outcome was the author trying to achieve? Similarly, if you’re reading a speech given at a historical event, such as Frederick Douglass’s 1848 speech at the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, do a little background reading about the event. This will help you better understand the assigned reading and see that it is not an isolated piece of text but rather is part of an ongoing conversation—a conversation that you have joined by becoming a college student.

Read to Improve Your Writing Technique

Finally, to improve your writing, read! Search for the writer’s technique as you read. Carry something to read all the time. Read when waiting in line, riding the subway, or before falling asleep at night. Notice how writers set up arguments, present their ideas, evoke emotion, and transition from one idea or section to the next. Strive constantly to build your vocabulary by keeping word lists from your reading materials.

Uncertain what to read? Start with the following:

  • Your City Tech ID allows you a free subscription to the New York Times. Activate it!
  • The “Op-Ed” section (opinion editorials) of major newspapers available online (e.g.,,, Wall Street Journal, newspapers from another country)
  • Magazines with articles that go in-depth on current topics
  • Fiction, non-fiction, or biographies of people who interest you
  • Technical books beyond what you are assigned to read in your courses
  • Ask a librarian for recommendations on the topic you are studying
  • Consult your professors for their reading recommendations. They might surprise you!

Further Resources on Reading to Learn

There are many strategies and resources that will help you take notes and become a better reader. To learn more about them, click the “Resources for Students” tab on the READ OpenLab website.

Also, check out the City Tech Writer Sampler, a curated collection of exemplary student writing from nearly every academic department, to see what City Tech students have written in their classes over the years. You can also read the most recent edition of the City Tech Writer on the OpenLab.

Addressing Reading Challenges

Common and frequently undiagnosed learning disabilities include language-based learning differences (LBLD). Language-based learning differences refer to a wide range of challenges with the written or spoken word. These challenges can make reading difficult, but with the right diagnosis, accommodations and strategies help a person with LBLD succeed. If you think you might have any kind of learning difficulty, or if you had an IEP in high school, please visit The Center for Student Accessibility in L-237.



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The Companion for the First Year at City Tech Copyright © by Office of First Year Programs is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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