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What is Active Reading? {Learning How to Remember What You Read}

Updated on April 16, 2013
Diane Lockridge profile image

Lockridge homeschools her children and holds an EdS in Curriculum and Instruction, an MS in Elementary Education, and a BA in History.

Train your mind to pay attention to the textbook; it will help you remember better.
Train your mind to pay attention to the textbook; it will help you remember better. | Source

The Importance of Active Reading

Success in the college classroom is often dependent upon students reading the course material thoroughly and adequately studying for testing. With that sentiment in mind, chapters 7 and 11 of Kanar’s book, “The Confident Student”, discusses strategies for students to become active readers, and how to prepare for tests by becoming better readers.

Active reading involves paying attention to the text and comprehending what the text means. But not everyone reads actively. For example, if you've ever read a page in a book, but then not remembered what you read you were reading passively, not actively. While passive reading isn't necessarily a bad thing— reading magazines for example is fine— students are better prepared for exams and writing papers when they read actively.

Chapter 7, titled “Becoming an Active Reader” encourages students to concentrate while reading and take notes instead of reading material quickly. “Passive readers are not aware of their reading process. They read inattentively and usually do not make use of active learning strategies”(Kanar, 2011, p. 162).

Active readers pay attention to what they read, know what they are looking for and interact with the textbook by taking notes and highlighting or underlining important sections. One of the more-telling statements in Kanar’s book asked students to evaluate how many times they had to read a passage in order to understand the content. Sure, skimming a text for a quick answer has it's time and place, but active reading yields better results.

Tips for Active Reading

Engaging in active reading strategies allows students to understand and what remember what they read. Kanar suggests that students:

Set realistic reading goals. Break up large reading assignments into more manageable reading sessions.

Read with a purpose. Know what the assignment is asking before you read.

Use a pen or highlighter to mark important parts of the text. Use index cards or take notes for library books.

Review and recite notes regularly.

Skimming vs. Scanning

Do you when know when it's best to skim and when it's best to scan?

  • Skim when…

You want to get the general idea of the content

Previewing the material

Deciding if you need to research further

Determining the author’s purpose

  • Scan when…

Finding answers to a specific question

Looking for specific facts, names or dates

Referring to charts and graphics

Reviewing material you previously read

Look for the topic sentence, supporting elements and conclusions. Locate the main idea of the text. Make inferences from the reading and make connections between what you knew previously and what are learning currently in the class. Distinguish between facts, examples and opinions, and identify the author’s organizational patterns.


Kanar, C. C. (2011). The confident student . Boston, MA: Wadsworth.


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