Building Strong Reading Skills

Create an Optimal Setting for Reading

Stop for a moment and think about yourself and the act of reading. Whether you read headlines or social media posts on a smartphone or tablet, love to settle in with the Sunday paper, devour stacks of hand-held magazines and hard copy books, or read only when forced to, what does reading look like for you?

  • Consider your ideal spot for reading. Is it a favorite chair in your living room? Your bed? A coffee shop? The cool green grass in a local park?
  • What’s your favorite time of day for reading?
  • Do you read best in silence? Or do you like to have music playing, be around other people, or have some other sort of active distraction?
  • Do you prefer hard copy (printed) books, e-books, or audiobooks?

In each case, think about why you’re making each of these choices.

For instance, many college students read and study late into the night, perhaps because that’s the time they have available after work and family responsibilities or maybe because they’ve heard from others that all college students tend to study in the wee hours. Simple truth: not everyone reads most effectively at 2:00 am—or at 2:00 pm, for that matter. That’s not to say some people don’t do their best work late at night; the point is simply to really try and find when you study best—and then to make use of that.

Also, you may already know that the human body works via a series of diurnal cycles—cycles that move through peaks and valleys over each twenty-four hour period. During these cycles, levels of circulating hormones and chemicals rise and fall. Typically, this starts with a big chemical “push awake” in the morning, a peak of energy in the afternoon, and then a gradual lowering through the evening. Understanding these cycles can be helpful in finding effective times to read and study. This is important because as a college student, you’ll be doing lots of reading and studying, and if you can find the time at which these activities are most effective, you can cut your reading/study time in half while also finding it’s more enjoyable. And who wouldn’t like to spend less time studying? (I know, right?)

Location is important, too. Some folks work best in an absolutely silent setting, while others prefer the background noise of people, music, etc. You may find you read most effectively on your couch, in a library, or in a lawn chair in your backyard. My point here is that you shouldn’t just assume that a certain time and place are best for you. Experiment, trying out different settings for reading until you find the combination you know is best.

Once you’ve found that perfect setting, use it. Develop a routine of reading and studying at about the same time and in the same place as much as you can. Doing this will help the activity become a habit, and once that happens, it will be even easier—and more effective.

Here is a suggestion for those students with children, family obligations, pets, and other responsibilities: you may find you’ll need to remove yourself from your usual daily setting in order to get your reading done. We’ve heard many stories of people who can’t work at home because their dog, child, or partner are constantly interrupting them. This can be well-meaning, but even so, being interrupted when trying to read or study more or less destroys the process. Don’t hesitate to escape to a local coffee shop, a campus library (fact: most college libraries are open to the public), or another safe spot to get your work done. If you’re in an optimal setting, you’ll finish faster—and then you can get back to whatever else is on your list.


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The Word on College Reading and Writing Copyright © by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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