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  2. Core skills
  3. Critical reading techniques
  4. Active reading

Active reading

Active reading simply means reading something with a determination to understand and evaluate it for its relevance to your needs.

Simply reading and re-reading the material isn't an effective way to understand and learn. Actively and critically engaging with the content can save you time. Most OU study books and websites include in-text questions and self-assessed questions. Use these as built-in cues to make your study active.

In video 1, Lynn describes how she actively reads her module materials with a view to eventually writing her assignments. In video 2, Matthew and Katherine describe their active reading and notetaking strategies.

Try these techniques to make your reading active

  • Underline or highlight key words and phrases as you read. When you return to it later on, you can easily see which points you identified as important. Be selective - too much highlighting won't help.
  • Make annotations in the margin to summarise points, raise questions, challenge what you've read, jot down examples and so on. You can do this in printed books or etexts. This takes more thought than highlighting, so you'll probably remember the content better. (Use sticky notes if you don't want to mark the text.)
  • Read critically by asking questions of the text. Who wrote it? When? Who is the intended audience? Does it link with other material you've studied in the module? Why do you think it was written? Is it an excerpt from a longer piece of text?
  • Test yourself by reading for half an hour, putting the text away and jotting down the key points from memory. Go back to the text to fill in gaps.
  • Look for 'signposts' that help you understand the text - phrases like 'most importantly', 'in contrast', 'on the other hand'.
  • Explain what you've read to someone else.
  • Record yourself reading the module material or your notes, and listen to the recording while you're travelling or doing household chores.

Reading for comprehension

Much of what we have said already is contained within a well known technique for actively engaging with and extracting meaning from content - SQ3R. It is good for revision as well as reading something for the first time. 'SQ3R' stands for the five steps involved.

  1. SKIM through the text quickly to get an overall impression.
  2. QUESTION. If you are reading it for a particular purpose (for example, to answer an assignment), ask yourself how it helps. Also ask questions of the text: Who? What? Where? When? How?
  3. READ. Read the text in a focused, and fairly speedy way.
  4. REMEMBER. Test your memory - but don't worry if you can't remember much.
  5. REVIEW. Read the text in more detail, taking notes. Use your own words.