Active reading requires you to engage with and question the text. You may have already been given some questions to focus on as you read, but we suggest that you purposefully create and write your own questions that you want answered, before you begin deeper reading.


Ask yourself:

  • What do I expect to learn from this text?
  • How does this text fit with the content of lectures?
  • How does this text relate to other texts I have read on this topic?
  • How can I use the information in this text to support my writing?
  • Does this text suit my purpose and is it worth reading ?

Engaging with the text

Use question starters (who, what, when, where, which, why, how) to engage with the text, such as:

  • Who introduced this idea…
  • What was the cause of...
  • Which is the most important…
  • How would (a) effect (b)...
  • When is it important to...

Staying focused

Most people cannot read for longer than about 50 minutes. If you haven’t finished the reading yet, try taking a break of at least 10 minutes to improve your concentration.

Some other strategies to improve you concentration and focus include:

  • Keeping the questions you want answered beside you as you read.
  • Highlighting, underlining and or making notes of your ideas in the margins as you read (if this is appropriate).
  • Deciding whether to take full notes as you read or to summarise after you have finished reading.

The KWL technique

The KWL (know, want, learn) technique (Ogle, 1986) can be applied before beginning to read, so as to activate your prior knowledge and identify what you want to learn from the text.


  • What do you already know about the topic?


  • What do you want to learn about the topic from the text you are intending to read?


  • Was the information in the text different to what you already knew, or thought that you knew?
  • Did you learn what you wanted to learn from the text?

Now plan

Once you have reflected on your learning, identify any gaps that remain in your knowledge and any areas that need to be clarified or explored further. This will assist you in planning your future reading.

Ogle, D. S. (1986). K-W-L group instructional strategy. In A. S. Palincsar, D. S. Ogle, B. F. Jones, & E. G. Carr (Eds.), Teaching reading as thinking (Teleconference Resource Guide, pp. 11-17). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Critiquing the text

We all know that we cannot believe everything we read (especially online) and that experts sometimes make mistakes. This is where your critical evaluation of texts begins.

Reading actively means questioning the text in order to make your own judgment about the content and its reliability. To do this you need to identify the author's purpose and evaluate the evidence used to persuade the reader.

Consider the following:

  • What does the author want me to know or believe when I have finished reading?
  • What is the central topic, problem or issue the author raises?
  • What factors does the author raise about this topic?
  • Who is affected by the factors raised?
  • How are those people affected?
  • What are the solutions to any problems or issues raised?
  • How does this reading expand my knowledge?


At university, you will develop an understanding of concepts, theories and research that are fundamental to your area of study. This will happen over time so don't expect to immediately understand every word in an academic text the first time you read it.

  • When you are reading, try to focus on the ideas not the words.
  • Don't struggle with individual words, leave them and return later.

Understanding may come as you continue reading, or you may need to look up the meaning of some key words before re-reading the text.

Difficult texts

It takes more time to read a difficult text. Try reading it quickly once, then in more detail to engage with the ideas.

You may find it useful to leave a difficult text and return to it later when you have done more background reading.

If you are really struggling, talk to your classmates, raise questions in Moodle or in class, or take advantage of the office hours your tutors and lecturers have made available. Sometimes a very short explanation from someone who does understand the text will help you get “unstuck”.

Reflection and revision

It has been shown that when you actively do something with the information you have read, you are more likely to clarify its meaning and remember it for a longer period. For this reason we suggest that as you finish reading each section you:

  • Reflect on what you have read and take time to answer the questions you set yourself before reading.
  • Summarise the main concepts in your own words and explain them to yourself or a friend.
  • Answer your questions fully and be sure to explain to the reasons behind the author's position.
  • Try and recall the information without referring to the text, then check whether or not you  have recollected correctly.
  • You may like to make a mind map, bullet notes, flash cards or other revision tools after you finish a key reading. This is especially important if you have a test or exam that will cover this content.


You don’t always need to begin reading at the introduction and read every word to the conclusion; it is often better to read more selectively instead. You can skip material in a text that is not relevant to your purpose. We also suggest that you adjust the speed of your reading to suit your present needs, the level of difficulty of the text, and the importance of the information within the text.

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