Reading difficult material

Learn strategies to help you read difficult material.

Tips to tackle difficult reading

During the course of your studies, you will encounter material that is difficult to understand. Feeling overwhelmed is completely natural but do not give up.

It is okay if you do not understand it straight away

When you first read a text, you will often encounter new vocabulary and ideas you do not understand. Keep going. Understanding comes through re-reading. It is okay to skim the parts you do not understand at first. Just make a note to come back to them later.

Take your time

Give yourself time to read complex material multiple times:

  • Skim at first to get a general sense of the text, like the main topics and how it is organised.
  • Then read it again to get the main meaning of the text. Note anything you do not understand to look up later.
  • Make notes as you go to help you keep track of the points in the text.
  • Look up any terms you do not understand.
  • Read the text again. See if you can add to your notes now that you have had some time to digest what you have read.
  • Once you feel like you have a good understanding of the material, try questioning its claims.

Chunk it

  • Make longer texts more manageable for yourself by breaking it up into sections or paragraphs to read.
  • Tackle these sections one at a time. Give yourself a time limit for each section and take breaks in between. This can help you get through the whole text.
  • The Pomodoro technique can also help if you’re struggling to focus.

Look for clues

  • Most paragraphs follow the TEC structure. See if you can identify the different parts of the paragraph.
  • The topic sentence is often in the beginning and states what the main idea of the paragraph is about. Look for the topic sentence in each paragraph can help you understand how the writer has developed their argument throughout the piece.

Check in with others

  • Look for additional sources the material references, especially on anything you do not understand. They can help you get a bigger picture of the topic.
  • Review your notes on your readings with a friend or classmate. It can help you to understand what you have read by explaining it to others.
  • Check in with your lecturer or tutor to see if you have fully understood what you’ve read.

Make connections to what you already know

When you review your notes, think about how the material relates to what you already know about the topic, what you have learned in class, and what other readings you have done.

Try making a mind map of these connections so you can understand how the ideas fit together.

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