Improve Your Reading Skills to Read on
a College Level

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Obviously, your IQ isn’t intended to stay at one number throughout your life. Instead, it’s influenced by what you do. If you actively read and absorb new material, you learn. You gain new skills and your increase your general intelligence overall. This is what neuroplasticity is. Your intellect can be exercised and improved through the intellectual activities you pursue.

This includes reading for fun. In school, you have to read assignments and explain to your teachers what you learned after reading them. All the way through the end of high school it’s likely that you are only required to memorize and commit basic facts to your short-term memory. After you take a test on the material, you may forget most of it.

However, your brain reaps the most benefits from deep learning. When you take part in deeper reading, you use your curiosity and give long-term attention to what you’re reading. You interact with it more fully to gain deeper insight and interrogate the material to not only learn the facts or what someone else believes, but to make your own decisions on the concepts involved. This is what is required of you in most college-level courses and a major part of college-level reading.

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What is College Level Reading?

The shortest definition includes a slew of higher-level foundational reading skills: summarizing, paraphrasing, annotating, identification of thesis ideas, arguing with the work, illustrating text-to-text connections, and building reading stamina. By developing these skills, you’ll be able to break down difficult passages and even entire difficult chapters in your texts.

You also need to be willing to look up words you don’t understand and question the parts of the text you don’t understand well enough. By looking further into the complex language and asking questions, you can learn enough to either agree or disagree with what you’re reading. Because you buy your textbooks in college, you can highlight and mark them up, which strongly supports a greater understanding of what you’re reading and can help you identify and track what you’re going to need to review for tests.

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You’re going to encounter some pretty challenging reading in college, so it’s best to learn what reading skills you need so that you can begin practicing them now. That way, by the time you begin your college studies, you’ll be better equipped to tackle the reading that’s required.

Why is Reading so Important for College Students?

In all of your college or university classes, you will be responsible for keeping up with the reading yourself; understanding it by using any or all of the reading skills above; and possibly even doing some outside reading. You will not learn everything you need to in the classroom and may actually be a little lost if you ignore the reading between classes. That means you’ll constantly be playing catch-up if you don’t take the trouble to work through your more difficult texts.

If you find any particular takeaways here, it is this: In college, you are teaching yourself. That is, you are learning in a new way, at a higher level, so that you can pick up where your professors stop. They will give you the material you need. They will explain and outline it and plan to build on it in future class periods, but it’s up to you to take that material and absorb it in such a way that it becomes a part of your understanding.

You’re going to fall into one of a few groups in your college classes. You could be a motivated student who absorbs the material, no matter how difficult it seems at first, and some of it certainly will, and you’ll have an easier time understanding your professors in the long run. Or you might be the student who struggles with the material, even reading it much less understanding it. If you fall in the first group, it might be that you don’t really even need your professors. You’ll be much more able to learn class material on your own. If you are having trouble, you’ll need to focus in on the time outside of class that you spend on your texts. If you can’t understand them, then no amount of class notes will fully prepare you for tests and new material that will come up.

Are High School Graduates Prepared for College Reading?

The short answer is, generally not. A little less than half of the students who took the ACT in 201 were more ready for college classes than they had been in 2017. More tellingly, more students slipped toward the bottom when it came to being prepared. They had little to no readiness for college courses, much less college-level reading requirements.

One indicator of the lack of college readiness (including reading) is the frequency with which students are placed into remedial courses in English or math when they enter college. This lack of readiness is costly to students, taxpayers, colleges, and universities. As recently as the 2014-2015 academic year, 96% of postsecondary schools enrolled students into remedial classes.

When it comes to underserved students (minority, first-generation college students, or low-income students), readiness levels for college classes are even more discouraging. Less than one-quarter of underserved high school graduates showed that they were ready to handle classwork at the college level.

Tips and Strategies for Improving Your Reading Skills

What Parents Can Do

Whether you went to college or not, you know that your college-bound child is going to experience a significant increase in the difficulty of their classwork. A large part of their preparation for university-level classes is in developing appropriate reading skills such as comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency.

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Your child needs to be able to read well and decode what they are reading, even when it is beyond anything they’ve read before. It will help if they can read quickly, due to the volume of reading assignments they will receive. They need a vocabulary that enables them to understand, communicate well, and understand through context. Consider using some of the following tips to improve your child’s reading before they leave for college.

  • Help your child with vocabulary. Let them know they can ask you about new words they encounter. Play word games with them. Have more conversations at home and try to use language that is more complex. Make sure your children have plenty of reading material—magazines and books that are age-appropriate and challenging. Encourage them to make note of new words they find so that they can look them up at home. Encourage reading for fun or relaxation. From Harry Potter books to books by Louisa May Alcott; this is the best way for your kids to find new words that will challenge their knowledge. Go to the library—make this a fun activity so your kids will want to check books out. Find activities they will enjoy such as museum exhibits, plays, and historical sites.
  • Before going to college, your child should be able to comprehend what they read. They comprehend what they just read when they can demonstrate an understanding of what the passage said. Read the same books your child is reading. This way, you can talk about the book and what it says in selected chapters. Suggest that they read more actively by writing down words or characters in a notebook (especially if they are reading a library book). Reading in a noisy room, where the television and computer are located isn’t the best environment for reading comprehension. Have your child go to a quiet room with no electronics.
  • Your college-age child will need to be fluent in reading. They need to be able to read without hesitating over words. One good exercise is repeated reading; You read a paragraph or page to them, then they “repeat-read” what you just read out loud. Keep reading this passage until they read it easily. Finally, “echo read.” That is, read one or two lines from a favorite book. Then, they read the same passage. They should try to mimic the expression you used in your voice. Their fluency should be as close to yours as possible. This builds memorization of unique words, among other skills.
  • Help your child learn how to personalize what they are reading. It’s easier to understand the context of the material when they find a way to connect it to something in their life. A good exercise is to write down each connection to the material using a notebook. A second good idea is to have them think about how the material fits in with today’s events. In this way, they will be better able to comprehend what they are reading. If, for instance, they are reading about how young people have influenced changes in society, they could find similarities to what youth are doing today.
  • An excellent way for your child to develop college-level reading skills is to highlight text as they come across needed information. Obviously, you should only have them do this in a book you’ve bought rather than using a school book or library book. They can also write notes in the margins of the book they are reading (annotation). This helps them to stay tuned into the material so they can increase their comprehension. If they have questions about what they are reading, they should also write these down so they can do some research. If they encounter a new word, they should highlight that (or write it down) so they can find out what it means. All of this forms a deeper level of connection with everything they read, so they comprehend it more easily.

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  • Have your child look for themes in the chapter they are reading. As they do so, they will begin to get more involved with the topic (engagement). Ask your child to show you what they found or used to identify the theme. This allows them to think more deeply about what they are reading. Along with identifying themes, have your child break the reading material up into sections. By reading and thinking about smaller sections, they are better able to hold onto what they are learning. Breaking down a complex topic into manageable sections also allows them to develop more confidence in understanding a topic they see as complex.
  • Read out loud with your child. This doesn’t have to be only an elementary-grade practice. When you and your child read aloud together, they can let you know if they don’t understand a word or a passage. Use that as a time to work on what they need to learn—if a new word stopped them, have them look it up—looking it up themselves allows them to retain it longer. It’s also a good idea to stop occasionally so you can see if your child understands what the two of you are reading. Some novels have discussion questions. If you find books with these questions, make it a point to work on some of the questions so your child can practice reviewing and isolating text so they can provide the answer. If your child has a question about anything they have read, teach them that it’s okay to ask—they may learn something new that way.
  • Students are pretty likely to encounter words they’ve never defined before when they start college. For this reason, it’s a good idea to begin adding new words to your vocabulary. If you have already identified a possible major, start identifying words that you’ll encounter in that field. Soon enough, you’ll be reading that college textbook and running across many words you didn’t know before you graduated from high school. When you do run across such a word, write it down and look it up.
  • Begin these practices in high school if it’s not something you’ve done before. As you’re reading a class assignment, write down the key information in the chapter. Isolate those important terms and definitions that will help you to assimilate the material (and pass the test). Do the same with phrases and facts. This practice is similar to annotating, which is simply making notes in the margin (or sheet of paper) and underlining those needed phrases (write these down in a notebook if you’re using a textbook you have to give back to the school). As you continue making note of key phrases, words, and concepts, you may begin to see a theme developing in your note-taking. This will be an important skill when you start college.
  • Learn how to paraphrase what you just read. This means putting the sentence or sentences into your own words. This is also called summarization. By summarizing, you are distilling what you have just read into only the key points you need. When you take notes in high school or college, it’s better for you to note down only the key points of what your instructor is saying rather than trying to take down every word. The same practice applies to good college-level reading. You’re going to put things in your own words, break the points down into smaller bits and write them down for future study.
  • If you struggle with reading, look through the headings and subheadings of the chapter you’re reading. Study graphs or charts. Both of these practices help you to determine what will be discussed in that chapter. You can also work on text structure in reading literature in your English classes. These books should have structure to the story. Look for story elements such as plot, setting, and character. As you read, you’ll find it easier to hold onto what the story is about.