Basic reading skills are taught at a very early age but these skills need further development to tackle higher-level reading assignments. Reading for leisure is very different from reading for class. You’ll learn quickly that in college, you are not expected to memorize the material but apply it to different contexts and scenarios. Going into reading with a strategy will help you better understand and retain the information.

Analytical Reading Strategy Evaluation Matrix

(Developed by Dr. Jeff Maynes, Associate Professor of Philosophy at St. Lawrence University)

Using a strategy evaluation matrix (SEM) can help you determine the best reading strategy for your current need. This will help you understand when it is appropriate to use the strategy, how to effectively use the strategy, and why you would employ the strategy.

When: Before reading a complex text

How: Read the introduction/conclusion, review headings/section titles and structure looking for the main claims and reasons for those claims

  • Ask yourself: How should I read this? (Why am I reading this? What kind of text is this?)
  • Ask yourself: What is expected of me? (How much should I understand? What will I do with this?)
  • Read the introduction and conclusion, look for the thesis
  • Scan the text for section headers, bolded terms, big ideas
  • Read the first few sentences of each section
  • State your working summary (thesis and main reasons)

Why: To help situation the reading and its arguments and to make the reading easier

When: When you encounter a difficult passage

How: Slow down, re-read the text, and pause until you can summarize it in 1-2 sentences

  • Slow down - find the last place you understood the reading
  • Read the passage slowly and perhaps out loud
  • Identify any terms you don’t understand and look them up
  • Identify any claims that were established earlier in the essay and review them
  • Repeat until you can summarize the passage in 1-2 sentences

Why: To ensure understanding difficult points before moving on

When: When encountering a central idea or when an idea reminds you of something else

How: Identify the central ideas, think about what else you know or have read on those ideas, and consider similarities and differences

  • Start with an inventory of the central claims and concepts
  • Where have you seen similar ideas in other texts you have read?
  • Where have you seen them in other things you have read and/or seen?
  • Where have you seen them in your own life?
  • How are the uses of the concepts or claims similar/different?

Why: Promotes deeper understanding

When: When a passage puzzles you, excites you, or is worth remembering

How: Take notes on the text

  • Highlight key terms or important passages
  • Write notes in the margin or symbols to denote a key idea, question, contrasting thought
  • Keep summary notes in a notebook

Why: Engages you with the text and helps you remember ideas