Chapter 5: Reading to Learn in University

Figure 5-1: You’ll become a stronger reader as you work your way through university. Source: Francisco Osorio “University Life 246” Permission: CC BY 2.0

Think back to a high school history or literature class. Those were probably the classes in which you had the most reading. You would be assigned a chapter, or a few pages in a chapter, with the expectation that you would be discussing the reading assignment in class. In class, the teacher would guide you and your classmates through a review of your reading and ask questions to keep the discussion moving. The teacher usually was a key part of how you learned from your reading.

If you have been away from school for some time, it’s likely that your reading has been fairly casual. While time spent with a magazine, blog, or news feed can be important, it’s not the sort of concentrated reading you will do much of in university.

In university, you will be expected to read much more. For each hour you spend in the classroom, you will be expected to spend an average of two or more additional hours studying between classes, and most of that will be reading. Assignments will be longer (a couple of chapters is common, compared with perhaps only a few pages in high school) and much more difficult. University textbook authors write using many technical terms and include complex ideas. Many university authors include research, and some textbooks are written in a style you may find dry. You will also have to read from a variety of sources: your textbook, ancillary materials, primary sources, academic journals, periodicals, and online postings. Your assignments in literature courses will be complete books, possibly with convoluted plots and unusual wording or dialects, and they may have so many characters you’ll feel like you need a scorecard to keep them straight.

In university, most instructors do not spend much time reviewing the reading assignment in class. Rather, they expect that you have done the assignment before coming to class and understand the material. The class lecture or discussion is often based on that expectation. Tests, too, are based on that expectation. This is why active reading is so important—it’s up to you to do the reading and comprehend what you read.

Note: It may not always be clear on an instructor’s syllabus, but a reading assignment listed on any given class date should be read before coming to class on that date.

This chapter will provide some insights into university-level reading strategies, including effective reading of textbooks and other materials.


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