How to Read Texts for School or Uni

One will be confronted with reading assignments many times throughout school and university. That is why it is so important to have a proper technique/method for reading texts. I will present you my personal methods today.

First of all, it is crucial to know the context in which you are obliged to read a text. Will you be writing a test about this certain text? Will you discuss it in class? Or should it mainly be a kind of background reading from which you would like to extract the most important points mentioned by the author? This will have an influence on how to read and work with/on a text.

Reading for in-class discussion

Whenever I must read a text for a upcoming class, I follow these steps:

  1. I read the whole text through and mark important and/or interesting passages in pencil.
  2. I look up any unknown words.
  3. Before class, I only reread the underlined passages.
  4. In class I try to highlight those passages considered important by the plenum or the teacher (respectively those passages which were discussed in class).
  5. At home, I go through the text again and write a short and concise summary, mainly out of the passages that I have highlighted in class.

Step 5 is just a way of conserving my reading experience, my ideas and interesting points mentioned in class. This will be of great use when I have to write an exam about the text or the theme of it. If you will not write a test on the text, however, you can leave this step. I would not say that it is not of any use, though. It is always good to keep your reading documented in order to be able to come back later and save a lot of time by just reading the summary and not the whole text again!

Reading for upcoming exams

My method for this kind of reading does not differ to much from the one illustrated above, but there are a few slight changes.

  1. I read the whole text through and mark important and/or interesting passages in pencil. (Depending on the text’s transparency, I sometimes use highlighter right from the start.)
  2. I look up any unknown words.
  3. I read through the highlighted passages and write a concise summary.
  4. Before the exam I go through this summary (and not the whole text again!). This saves time. Furthermore, I am able to overview the whole text in a compact way and I am able to link different points mentioned.

‘Simple’ background reading

If you want to acquire more knowledge on a certain subject, you will read some articles on the internet, in a dictionary or in other books etc. Even if you just want to learn some new things for yourself, I think it is important to collect this knowledge in a certain way, as well. You will not have to read the texts as closely as recommended above, though. I personally like to simply copy-paste the most interesting passages (it does not matter if by hand or on the computer. Just chose whatever you prefer!). In order to relocate those passages later, note all the bibliographical information (as author, title of work, year etc.) and the page on which you have found the information.

I used this method with reading for written tasks, as well. If you have to write an essay about a certain subject, you will (probably) have to read through some (theoretical) texts. By extracting the most important passages into a file or onto a paper you will be able to cite easily from the works. Do not forget to mark quotes and cite properly. ;)

General tips

It can be really useful to scribble ‘subtitles’ on the side of the texts. You will be able to find certain passages quickly this way. Those methods and tips I described in this post are just my personal ones. If you feel more comfortable with other techniques – just use them! I will be happy about any other methods/ideas/etc. and/or questions in the comments.


About Dana Winvalley

I am an 18-year-old student of English and German at university. I love music, books, dogs, art and other things, as well. In my spare time I write this blog to refine my English skills and to share my learning experiences and tips with other (language) learners.

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