Have you ever put off assigned reading until the last minute because you know it is going to be difficult to understand? Have you ever finished reading for a class and realized that you have no idea what you just read?

You are not alone! Everyone has faced this struggle at some point in their academic careers. Success comes from learning how to overcome the comprehension challenges so that you can thoughtfully interact with the reading. Below are five strategies to achieve better understanding (and better grades).


Look through your assigned reading for section headings and sub-headings. Copy those titles into a document for taking notes on the reading. Setting up this content organizer on which to take notes before you begin reading will help you arrange your thoughts.

Pre-read the assignment

Before you read the assignment word for word, spend a few minutes to read the introduction, topic sentences of paragraphs, and the conclusion. This pre-reading exercise will help you better know where the author is going, which will allow you to connect ideas throughout the chapter. It will also help you identify what the author thinks is important.

Girl reading a book in the LibraryDefine the vocabulary

Do not rely solely on context clues to define words with which you are unfamiliar. Take the time to look up the definition. You may find that a word means something very different than you thought, and the right meaning makes much more sense!

Trace the argument

When taking notes, focus on the main ideas that contribute to the author’s point. Separate out the details that are less important to focus on those items that propel the argument forward. This is what should be written down on your outline, not insignificant details.

Explain the reading to a friend

Practice putting into words what the author said. Distill the main points so that you can present them to someone who has not read the assignment but could understand your explanation. This exercise requires you to define vocabulary, explain the contents, and summarize the conclusion. This practice will help you be ready to discuss the reading in class or be able to explain the reading in writing.

Content-rich reading should be a path to knowledge and not a roadblock to understanding. Though at first glance you may find an assigned reading daunting, following these steps will make it much less intimidating. Happy reading!

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