Reading Without Headings

Some readings are harder than others for you. Obviously, you’ll learn material more easily if it matches an area in which you have special interests and intellectual strengths. However, liberal arts programs almost always require reading about topics that don’t come naturally. In some readings, technical terms may slow you down. Other readings may require more imagination. Below, we’ll explore some tips that will help you read more efficiently in a variety of disciplines, some of which will be more challenging for you than others.


In literature courses, you study poetry, novels, plays, and short stories. Appreciation of these forms comes most easily to people who enjoy reflective learning and who like to think critically. For them, many great works provide delight. But what strategies can help you when reading literature is challenging?

  • Use your imagination. Visualize the action. Participate at the level the author intended: Use as many senses as the author used – taste, smell, sound – as you recreate the author’s world in your imagination.
  • Look for connections. Are any of the experiences like your own? Do the characters remind you of anyone you know?
  • Make the author real. Search the Internet for a good biography or personal details about the author that might help you understand the author’s motivation to create the work.
  • Make a chart. If the reading is complex, make a list of key figures as they are introduced so you can easily review as the story progresses.
  • Predict what will happen. Once you understand the direction the work is taking, see if you can anticipate what happens next.
  • Read aloud. Some great works are savored best when read aloud. Find a study partner and share the task.


Some students love history because they believe that we are all the walking expression of history. History texts provide a great opportunity to use your imagination and it will come alive if you let it. Good readers in history put conscientious effort into seeing how events, places, and people interconnect.

  • Put yourself in the picture. As you read about events, think about how you might have reacted to them at the time.
  • Change history. Predict an alternative course of history by changing a critical event or two. How might the ripple effect have changed some element of your life?
  • Imagine or draw the timeline. Articulate a causal link from one event to the next over time.
  • Make it into a movie. Imagine a cast of film stars in the roles of the historical figures you’re reading about. It may help you visualize the action better.
  • Don’t forget the big picture. Keep in mind how each new event or person you encounter in your learning adds to your understanding of the grander historic scale.

Natural & Social Sciences

The sciences can be especially challenging because of the level of abstraction in some scientific writing. The terminology presented in the sciences represents a kind of shorthand that allows scientists to communicate with each other. Learning these terms can be a challenge without some helpful strategies.

  • Keep a running glossary of terms. Treat the sciences like a foreign language. Each new term stands for a concept. Study the meaning of each.
  • Accept the role of numbers. If you aren’t comfortable with numbers, you may be turned off by the practice of measurement and statistics that pervades most sciences. When numbers accompany text, spend extra time understanding their significance.
  • Think practically. See if you can come up with a practical application of the scientific relationships you’re reading about.
  • Look for links in the news. The sciences regularly issue progress reports that may enhance your understanding or clarify concepts.
  • Cruise the Internet. Chances are good that the Internet will provide ideas that will help you with the terms. Find information about the scientists themselves that will help make the enterprise more real to you.
  • Look for overlaps. Where does your life intersect with the scientific ideas you’re trying to learn?


Retrieved from Santrock, J. W., & Halonen, J. S. (2006).  Your guide to college success (4th ed.