Reading underpins your learning at University.  Whether you’re doing a PhD or a Foundation course, reading is fundamental to growing your knowledge and understanding.  So what happens when you just can’t remember what you’ve been reading and it doesn’t seem to stick in your brain?

Let’s look at why this might be happening and what you can do about it.

  1. Are you reading at the right level? If you’re choosing to read in depth research papers before you’ve got a grasp of the basics then you can’t expect to retain much of the information, or even really understand what the main messages are. In this instance take a step back and look for more entry level information about the subject.  Textbooks are one of the best and most reliable options for you whatever your subject.  Make sure that you use those published recently, as you don’t want to rely on potentially out of date information!
  2. The notes that you make whilst reading are an important aspect of translating the words on the page into meaningful knowledge in your brain. Writing down too much in your notes can be a mistake, as can taking down long quotations.  Why is this?  Well instead of capturing the main messages and what you think about them, you’re just copying someone else’s words.  Instead, try to focus on capturing the big ideas and how they fit in with what you already know.  We’ve got lots of advice on this on our Skills@Library notemaking webpages.
  3. Academic reading can be demanding, and you may need to read something important more than once. Rereading doesn’t always have to mean reading the whole piece, you could try concentrating on the sections that you think have the most useful information (see point 4 below).
  4. Reading information in sections is a good way to get to the heart of the writing without being overwhelmed by reading it from start to finish in one go. If you’re looking at a journal article for example, you could read the abstract first to get a feel for the main messages, then skip through to the parts of the article that you want to pay most attention to.

Developing your reading skills is a great way to feel more in charge of your learning.  Try out a few of our ideas above and share your own tips with friends, it could transform the way you read and learn.