You have decided this semester is going to be the semester when you actually read what your professor assigns you! Noble goal, until you attempt to tackle your first reading assignment and either fall asleep or remember no usable information once you are finished reading. Your good intentions were wasted.

Not to worry; the skill set of mindfulness will enable you to become the college reader you wish you were. How often do you think your mind wanders while you are supposed to be focused on a specific task? Probably more than you realize.

When it comes to reading the key is focus. Shocking, I know. And while the concept of staying focused is not necessarily a revelation, the idea that you are not focused nearly as much as you think you are can be a crucial realization when it comes to improving reading comprehension and overall focus.

Reading with Mindfulness

Where is your head right now? Could you give me a one-sentence summary of the five sentences you just read? If you can, congratulations! Looks like you were focused; only on five sentences mind you, but it was a simple test. If not, were you thinking about something else?

If you are not properly focused, your mind will wander. And then that chapter you so studiously read is meaningless. You just wasted your time.

So, how do you avoid mind wandering? Easy: practice. We have learned that improving brain function when it comes to mindfulness is very possible but it is also generally a learned behavior. You have to teach your brain to pay attention. We also refer to this as active reading or close reading.


First, identify your purpose for reading. What are you going to do with this new information and what does your end product need to contain? This information will help narrow your focus in step #2.

Taking Notes

Note-taking, in its simplest form, is broken into two pieces, annotations and summaries.

  1. Annotating: this word means marking, and that is exactly what you will be doing. You need to mark up the text. If you have been given an assignment focus on the verb of the assignment. Ex. analyze, evaluate, argue, etc.
    • If you are reading a factual text you will probably want to focus on identifying key concepts and new vocabulary.
    • If you are reading a literary text your focus should be on what is progressing the story, the symbols, characters…the goal is to leave breadcrumbs for your brain to pick up on later. Use words and phrases to help describe your thoughts as you read. It can also be helpful to develop your own system of symbol shortcuts. Mastering your shorthand will cut down on annotating time.
  2. Summaries: at the end of any section or chapter of text, write out the information in your own words. If you can summarize and paraphrase, you probably have a handle on the information.


This is where you can hypothesize and form conclusions based on what you read. This is very helpful when you are asked to come up with original thoughts or a paper topic. This can be done at the end of any section or chapter of text and the work as a whole.

I have good news for you textbook readers! The writers of textbooks are generally already trying to get you to pay attention by placing built-in questions and thinking prompts at the end of pages or concepts. All you really need to do is use the resources they have provided. The prompts are reminding your brain of what you are reading-progress checks to see if your mind is wandering or focused. You should use them, and make sure you write down your answers. The same goes for the questions. If you can’t answer the questions, you probably did not understand the reading. Even if you can answer all the textbooks questions, you should still check out #3 on this list.

It is hard to respond to something you didn’t understand. Once you train your brain, these techniques will become less cumbersome and more automatic. If you can become more mindful, you are well on your way to become the college reader you wish you could be. Now, how about you summarize what you just read?!

Want to practice reading with mindfulness? The Townsend Memorial Library is the place for you! We invite you to view our website to learn more and to find a book that is right for you.