Reading at university

Learn about types of readings at university, related challenges and lecturers’ expectations

How is reading at university different to school?

Reading has played an important part in your learning and you are probably a competent reader. However, learning at university requires a different approach to reading.

  • At school, your teachers chose your readings, and your research was based on a limited selection of materials.
  • At university you will engage with a broader range of materials such as electronic databases and academic journals to find information for your assignments and lectures.

You will experience an increase in reading load and complexity of readings. You will probably need to invest some time to improve your reading skills to meet the requirements of your courses.

What students say:

“The reading experience at university is far different from that of high school because it is really more about finding the right information. I really had to learn to skim read when I got to university …”

— Theodore Macdonald, BFA (Hons), 4th year

“At high school, we would occasionally have a small reading to do, maybe three pages, and it was really small. Whereas at uni they are a lot longer and you can get quite lost in them, so you kind of have to stay focused.”

— Olivia Zambuto, BA/LLB, 3rd year

“The biggest difference to reading compared to high school is how much time it takes up … you spend almost as much time thinking as you do reading, that you do have to take it slowly and work out your own opinion …”

— Josh Jeffrey, BEd (Teaching), 3rd year

How can you access your course readings?

There are two ways to access your course readings:

  • Canvas – Click on the Reading list tab in the Canvas course navigation menu.
  • Course Readings List page – Search by course code.

How does reading help your learning?

Reading plays a central role in your learning and writing. You will be expected to read, analyse and synthesise different sources of information to prepare for lectures, tutorials, tests and assignments.

Most of your reading will assist you in combining your knowledge about course content. You will also be encouraged to read beyond your subject area and keep up to date.

What will you read for?

  • Reinforcing your understanding – textbooks, journal articles, websites.
  • Getting an overview – textbooks, encyclopedias, Wikipedia, literature review articles.
  • Researching for assignments – journal articles, books, reports or reviews, research data.
  • Staying current – newspapers, magazines, discussion in blogs and forums, and audio-visual material.
  • Curiosity – books, magazines, blogs.
  • Future scoping – career trend publications, websites.

What is expected of you as a reader?

Reading effectively enables you to successfully manage your course reading requirements. Keep in mind different disciplines may have different reading expectations.

Listen to Dr Claire Meehan talking about reading critically.


What are common challenges with reading at university?

Some common challenges identified by students are:

  • Too much to read and not enough time.
  • Too slow getting through the material.
  • Not locating relevant or important information.
  • Not understanding content and vocabulary.
  • Not remembering or recalling.

Developing skills in quick readingnote taking, and in-depth reading will help you tackle these challenges.

Where to start reading?

As a university student, you may have a lot to read. You may need to have a look at your reading list and decide:

  • which resources are most important, and you should read first
  • which important resources you should read next
  • which less important resources you could choose not to read to save time.

You should start with resources that provide you with a broad overview to gain a general understanding of the topic. In the next step, look for resources that are relevant and have been written recently by respected authors to become aware of current thinking in the field. If a resource is not relevant or up-to-date or it contains information that is no longer accurate or is too narrow in focus, you can exclude it from your reading list.

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