Managing Reading Loads

Hear advice from international students at the U of M about how to manage your reading:


Step 1: Identify the purpose of your reading

Think about WHY you have each reading assignment. If you know the reason for your reading, you can decide how to read. This will help you prioritize your reading and read more efficiently.

Instructors assign reading homework for different reasons. This might be to give you:

  • detailed explanations about course concepts
  • background information or history about a course topic
  • concrete examples of difficult theories or ideas
  • an entire text to discuss fully in smaller pieces
  • different perspectives or models of the course topic
  • sources for further research on a topic

Step 2: Decide how to read (based on the purpose)

  Skimming Slow Reading
What is it? Quickly reading to get to the general idea or main points Reading every word
What is it good for?
  • Texts that give background information but aren't the main focus of the class
  • Texts that explain a topic with more details than you need
  • Longer texts that will only be partially discussed in class
Texts that directly focus on the lecture, discussion, or class topic
How do you do it?
  • Look at title, headings, abstract
  • Read introduction and find overall argument
  • Identify main points by reading topic sentences and signposts ("however...", "what's really important..."
  • Look at key examples
  • Read conclusion
  • Go back and slow read key parts that are most relevant to the course topic
  • If you miss something, read in more detail later
  • Use skimming first to identify what parts to focus on while you read
  • Reread parts of the text that are most relevant to the lecture or discussion topic

Used with permission from Yale University's Academic Strategies Program

Reading Strategies

You may want to approach your reading differently, depending on the material and purpose. 

When your reading is extremely difficult:

  • Don't try to read word-by-word.
  • Find an abstract or summary and use it as a guide to what's important.
  • Skim to locate moments where the writer seems to be making an argument and slow-read those sections.
  • Break it down: identify one or two key concepts and follow them through the reading.
  • Make a connection between just one or two passages and the lecture/class discussion.
  • Collaborate with classmates on understanding the reading.
  • Use your notes from lecture/class as a guide to reread the work after class.
  • Make an appointment to discuss the reading with your instructor or teaching assistant.

Used with permission from Yale University's Academic Strategies Program

What Is Critical Reading?

Critical reading is reading to:

  • discover how and why an argument is persuasive (or not persuasive)
  • understand how the writer's argument fits into a larger discussion of the topic
  • identify how a text constructs an experience for a reader, and the insights it gives the reader

When you read critically, you don't just read. You also think and write about the material.

Before you read:

  1. Decide what you want from this reading. For example, do you want to clarify a concept from class, learn more about something you're interested in, reinforce what you're learning in class, or critically engage with a standard or controversial view of the course topic?
  2. Preview the text. Look at when it was written and who the author is. Read a summary (the back of a book, the abstract of an article, an online summary, etc.). Think about how this reading topic fits into the course. Look at the title and headings and how the text is organized.

While you read:

  1. Skim the text to look for key arguments, main ideas, concepts, and examples.
  2. Slow read the most relevant sections and take notes on those key ideas.
  3. Take notes as you read (in the margins or on separate paper) and include your immediate reactions and questions about parts of the text.

After you read:

  1. Write down the most important things you learned from the reading.
  2. Summarize the argument (or make an outline of the argument).
  3. Write questions or responses to particular parts of the text.
  4. Make notes about how you think differently about the course topic now that you've read this text.

Used with permission from Yale University's Academic Strategies Program

Tips for Reading Journal Articles gives you strategies for reading sections of a journal article, including the Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion.  

Try to think in English as you read in English. If you translate word by word, it will take longer, might not make sense, and might cause you to miss the big picture and main ideas.  Read and think in English and try to understand whole sentences or paragraphs as you read them. 

Good Reading Habits

Here are three easy tips to develop good reading habits.