Reading Is Not a Passive Activity: 8 Tips for Active Reading

Read with purpose, think about what you just read, teach it to yourself

Active Reading Tips

Have you ever started reading something, and a moment later realized you had no idea what you just read? 

It’s a bit like pretending you are listening to someone, or trying to listen to someone while something else is on your mind. You’ll probably have a hard time recalling what they told you later. 

That would be called passive listening. And if you are reading something and you aren’t paying attention that is passive reading.

If you read passively, especially when it comes to learning something new, you might as well not be reading the material.

It simply won’t stick into your long-term memory, let alone your short term memory. 

We all read a bit more actively when the material is unfamiliar to us, or if the material is going to be on a test, and of course, we read more passively when we are reading something simply for entertainment purposes (like a novel).

In some respects, active reading is brought on by our motivation for reading the material in the first place.

Info graphic for active reading:

Read with purpose, stop and think about what you just read, teach the material

Active Reading Tips

After all, it takes work to be an active reader, and when we are reading for fun, we don’t want to do work. We want to enjoy what we are reading. 

But here is the big secret about active reading. 

If we read and study without a passive attitude, the material becomes more entertaining and this means we have a better chance of remembering the material.  

It really is that simple. 

If we read with an active mind we are engaged in the material and the material we read then becomes more interesting to us.

Here are eight tips to become a more active reader: 

  1. Pretend you can only read the material once, and then the words will disappear.  When we think we can go over something later, we become more passive and our minds have a tendency to wonder. By truly believing we will never be able to read this material again, we will force our minds to be more engaged.
  2. Tell it in your own words (but only if you think you really understand the material). Most anyone who has learned something about study habits, has been told to retell the material in their own words. This can be pretty time consuming, and the problem is that if you don’t really understand the material yet, it may only tell you what you don’t really understand (which is a good thing by the way). However, don’t try to do this after every paragraph or you’ll never get through the material. Reflect after a chapter and go back to the key points before moving forward.
  3. Stop to think. Sometimes we read through something important and don’t take the time to analyze what we have read. If we get into the habit of thinking about something we have read the minute we finish reading it, we have a better chance of retaining it for future use. Try doing this after reading a paragraph that feels important to you. Get into the habit of doing this ‘behind the scenes.’
  4. Draw it. Make sketches of concepts that lend themselves to graphs, charts etc. This will get easier the more you do it and definitely counts as active reading.
  5. Pretend to teach it to someone else. After reading a chapter, pretend you are an instructor and now must teach the concepts of the chapter to a group of students. If you can teach it, you understand it. This is another great way to discover what you really know or don’t know.
  6. Test yourself. After reading, find a way to test yourself on the topic. Perhaps write down ‘keyword’ concepts while you are reading, and then look at the concepts and try to explain the concept. Then go back to the concepts that you forgot or didn’t do so well at.
  7. Read with purpose. Know why you are reading the material. If you know what to expect, know the authors intent for writing the material, and have an idea of what you want to get out of reading it, you will inevitably remember more of what you read. Try writing down in one sentence, your purpose for reading the material (or at least thin about your purpose briefly before sitting down to read).
  8. Scan the page first. Depending on what you are reading, it might be a good idea to scan the page you are about to read, to help you get a sense of what the material will be about. If you know what to expect, even on a vague level, you will retain the information more easily.

So there you have it.  

Play around with these active reading tips and please leave comments if some of these work for you, or if you have some other great active reading habits that get the job of learning done quicker. 

Keep active and stay scholarly! 

Seth Daugherty 


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