Tips for Becoming a Better Reader in College

Susan MacDonald Ed.D, Adjunct Assistant Professor

Did you ever find yourself wondering what you just read after finishing a few paragraphs of your homework assignment from your professor?  I think everyone has had that experience.  You start off with good intentions to complete your reading assignment and find yourself rereading the article over and over again and still not understanding what you just read.

Reading at the college level can be challenging for many reasons.  In the United States, 30% of undergraduate college students drop out before their sophomore year.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that students feel like they weren’t prepared enough in high school to be successful in college. Some students may even have experienced difficulties reading independently at the high school level.

As a reading specialist who has worked with students at every level, I have some good news, there are some things you can do to help become a better reader and be able to enjoy and understand what you are reading.  The following strategies can help to get you through your freshman year and beyond:

  • Active Learning
    • – Reading is not a spectator sport. You have to actively engage in order to better remember the material you just read. Active reading includes taking notes while you read, putting concepts in your own words, working with a partner and discussing/questioning your reading assignment. Perhaps most importantly, how does the material relate to you or someone you know? You are the most important person in the world to you!
  • Decoding Syllables
    • Break words up into syllables or “chunks.” Being able to decode (sound out) a multi-syllable word can seem almost impossible, but it’s not.  You can read almost any word by breaking that word into syllables.  Here’s a fact – almost every syllable in a word contains a vowel or a vowel team.  A vowel team is two vowels together.  Take the word “antagonistic”.  How many vowels do you see?  You are correct if you said there are 5 vowels.  That means there are 5 syllables in that word.  Sometimes the vowels are together, so that counts as a vowel team and makes up one syllable.  For example, the word “contain.” This word has three vowels but two make a team: “ai”.  This means that this word has two syllables, even though it has three vowels.
  • Background Knowledge
    • Increase your background knowledge before reading by taking a “virtual field trip.” Knowing something about the topic you have to read about will make it easier to make connections and help you to understand what you have read.

Now go and enjoy learning new and exciting things through reading!