Strategic Reading

In college, you will have a great deal of reading to do in some of your courses. The reality is that you may not be able to read this all in a careful way, even assuming that you are a conscientious student who studies the expected 2-3 hours out of class for every hour in class. Therefore you need to be strategic in your reading practices and your use of time. In all cases, you should follow SQR3 (Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review), but your speed and attention will depend on the kind and purpose of the reading assignment.

Types of Readings


  • Survey and Question. In any nonfiction work, it is very important to Survey and Question, first with the title, then with the author's introduction, where they indicate the argument and purpose of the book, and finally with the Table of Contents, which provides information about the scope and sequence of the argument. These steps provide an efficient overview of the book. 
  • Course connection. If you are reading the book as a textbook (as opposed to, say, overviewing to see if you might use it for a research project), pay attention to how the assigned reading fits into the whole work and/or to the course.
  • Skimming and reading. Read the intro of the chapter to find the argument of the chapter; read the conclusion and see if you understand what the chapter is about. If you're really pressed for time, skim through the chapter; ordinarily, read more carefully.
  • Internet searches. In either case, you may be able to internet-search for information about the book and/or the subject.
  • Key terms and definitions. Be sure you understand key terms, by using a dictionary, glossary (if provided), or internet search.


  • Most textbooks are organized to enable students to SQ easily. Look at the title, the intro (for general comments about purpose and organization), and the Table of Contents.
  • Most texts have a chapter summary at the end with review questions.  Some begin with a chapter summary. If so, read those first, to SQ, and then go back to the beginning of the chapter and through the headings.
  • Then, depending on the subject, you will read, write, recite, and review the text quickly or more slowly.
  • For science, be sure to pay attention to the illustrations, and for all textbooks pay attention to the bolded terms. If you wish, internet-search for more information on the same topic.


  • There is no substitute for reading and rereading a work slowly and carefully, pencil in hand to annotate, and this is especially true for works of literature. However, strategic shortcuts include using resources that summarize the work; discuss characters, themes, and issues; and point you toward key passages. You can find decent ones (like Sparknotes) on the internet.

*Based on Staying Afloat: Some Scattered Suggestions on Reading in College