Skills & Vocabulary for College Level Reading

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson you will explore some of the tools and techniques you can use to get better at reading at a college level and also to expand your vocabulary.

College-level Reading Skills and Vocabulary

Plenty of classes in high school require you to read a lot. Whether it's History or English, chances are by the time you graduate you've read your fair share of novels and textbooks. But college can be a whole different ballgame. Courses are largely uncoordinated and, depending on the classes you choose, you can end up overwhelmed with stacks of reading assignments.

In this lesson you will explore some skills that can help you read more efficiently at a college level and tips to improve your vocabulary to aid comprehension.


At this point, you likely know how to read well, but do you know how to read quickly and efficiently? You will need these skills in college; with your assignments, courses, and extracurricular activities, you will likely not be able to read every single word of every single book. But that's OK! Here are a few tips to help you get through your reading quicker and more efficiently.

  • Look for emphasis in textbooks
  • Scan headings and topic sentences
  • Take notes
  • Use good time management
  • Look up unknown terms

Textbooks generally use many forms of emphasis to help readers, including italicized passages, bold words, and notes in the margins that emphasize key concepts, terms, and definitions. Some textbooks even include sections with headings like 'Remember' or 'Key Concepts'. Pay particular attention to these sections as they will highlight important information.

Often headings and the first sentences of each paragraph in a textbook can tell you the main point of the entire paragraph. If you are short on time, reading topic sentences is a great way to get the main points of a reading.

When reading, it's important to take notes on the important points and concepts. Writing things down has been shown to aid reading comprehension, and writing key concepts on a separate piece of paper can also give you good study material. If you own the book, highlighting main points to study later is also useful.

Time management is crucial to tackle college reading assignments. Attempting to digest 200 pages the night before a test is a tall order for any student. You might get through all that material, but you will not actually retain much. If you know you have a week to read a book, break the reading down into sections in order to tackle it wisely.

Unless there is a definition readily available in the textbook, be sure to use a dictionary to look up any terms you don't know. Sometimes, they can be crucial in understanding a key point of text. And of course, the more words you know, the more you expand your…


Vocabulary is very important in college-level reading. Likely the prose and terminology you encounter will be a step up from what you studied in high school and you will be expected to master the texts regardless of the difficulty. Expanding your vocabulary is a great way to aid your reading comprehension. Here are a few tips for expanding your vocabulary.

  • Write down new terms
  • Look for context clues
  • Use a thesaurus
  • Make flash cards or other word-definition association games
  • Review vocabulary lists

Any time you encounter a new term, write it down. This way, you do not interrupt your reading too much and later you can go back and review all the new terms you encountered.

When you encounter a new term, don't immediately run to a dictionary. See if you can decipher an approximate meaning for the word yourself by looking at the context clues, other parts of the sentence that can help you figure out what that word might mean. Then you can check your work with a dictionary.

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