3 Ways To Boost Your Active Reading Skills in Grad School

In grad school, you will likely encounter a nearly insurmountable amount of reading. And few scenarios will make you want to boost your active reading skills more than encountering doctoral coursework and qualifying exams. For this post, I thought I’d share three ways that you can boost your active reading skills today.


“What are active reading skills? And what is active reading?” you might ask. 


Reading is a skills that we often take for granted. Active reading skills are a set of strategies that a reader might use to help them better understand and engage with a text. Active reading refers to the process of familiarizing yourself with a text before and during reading to enhance comprehension, increase critical thinking skills, and identify what you need to gain from the text. Whereas passive reading involves a more effortless and less interactive way of reading, which is great for leisurely reading, active reading is often a more suitable reading strategy for studying and digesting complex academic material. 


Here are the 3 active reading strategies I recommend:


1) Read Out of Order:

Experiment with reading non-chronologically. This will look different in most disciplines. For scientific papers, you may start by reading the intro and conclusion, then jump to the results section. Or you may skim the method section if it’s not crucial to your research. A humanist, might read the introduction of a book, then pay close attention to a few chapters of interest, and passively read the rest. But note that you’ll need to customize your approach to identify the most important information efficiently.


2) Develop Your Own Reading Questions:

Create a list of targeted questions to guide your reading. I started doing this while preparing for qualifying exams. You may consider aspects like the topic, scope, argument, theory/framework, disciplinary location, methods used, and the context of the work. When in doubt, ask a femtor or advisor if they have any reading questions you might want to add to your list. Don’t forget to also connect the text with others in your field and with its relevance to your own work.


3) Identify Your Learning Style:

I wish I knew I was an auditory learner because it would have saved me from a lot of headaches and frustration in grad school. I didn’t realize I was an auditory learner until I started listening to podcasts and audiobooks and realized I really enjoyed them. Learn from me and determine early on whether you’re a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner, or perhaps a combination of them. You can do this by taking a free learning style quiz, such as this one

  • For visual learners, it might help to highlight readings using different colors on paper or a tablet, create mind maps, and use diagrams to help you process the information.
  • Auditory learners can leverage text-to-speech tools, dictation for note-taking, engage in discussions, or teach others the material. I’m a huge fan of teaching others material and know that it benefits all kind of learners too. 
  • Kinesthetic learners may benefit from movement breaks, reading while exercising, flashcards, handwriting notes, and mnemonic techniques.


Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all method to reading efficiently and effectively. What might work for your peer, might not work for you. Try these out and find what works best for you.

If you want to learn more sustainable productivity strategies in an intimate group coaching setting, then consider signing up for the next cohort of my Grad School Femtoring Academy—a group coaching program for first-gen BIPOC grad students and working professionals who want to learn more about personal development and sustainable productivity.

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