Your Study Guides and Strategies starts here!

Difficulty is a
severe instructor
Edmund Burke 1729 - 97
Irish/British statesman

Reading and research series

Reading difficult material

Reading difficult material can be a matter of concentration
or of simply organizing the challenge into steps:

  • Choose a moderate amount of material or a chapter to begin
  • Get a grasp of how the material is organized:
    Scan the section for titles, headings, sub-headings, and topic sentences to get its general idea; pay attention to graphs, charts, and diagrams
  • If there is a summary at the end of a chapter, read it.
  • Check the beginning and the end for leading questions and exercises
  • Read first for what you do understand, and to determine difficulty.
  • Mark what you do not understand to review later

As you read, practice the look-away method:

  • Periodically look away from the text
    and ask yourself a stimulus question relating to the text
  • Phrase the question positively!
  • Respond, or restate, in your own words

Make connections and associations,
but don't use this exercise to memorize--but rather understand

  • Look up words
    Look up words whose meanings are important to your understanding of the material, but you cannot discern from the context.
  • Read to the end
    Do not get discouraged and stop reading.
    Ideas can become clearer the more you read. When you finish reading, review to see what you have learned, and reread those ideas that are not clear.
  • Organize your notes by connecting ideas
    you choose into an outline or concept map.
    Pay attention to relationships between ideas.

Do not confine yourself to words!
Use representations, graphics, pictures, colors, even movement to visualize and connect ideas. Use whatever techniques work to help you understand

At this point, if you do not understand your reading, do not panic!
Set it aside, and read it again the next day.
If necessary, repeat. This allows your brain to process the material, even while you sleep. This is referred to as distributed reading.

  • Re-read the section you have chosen with the framework
    (outline or concept map) you have constructed in mind
    Separate out what you do understand from what you do not.
  • If the reading is still a challenge,
    consult with either your teacher, academic counselors, or reading specialists.

Good luck!


Reading and research series

Reading critically | Prereading strategies | SQ3R reading method |
KWL reading method | Marking & underlining | Reading difficult material | Interpretive reading | Reading essays | Reading fiction | Narrator/character types |
Speed and comprehension | Researching on the Internet | Evaluating websites |
Organizing research: computers | Organizing research: note cards

College Reading and Study Skills by Nancy V. Wood, Holt Rinehart and Winston, Inc. 1991