Providing practical support to help psychology students develop their reading
habits can take lots of forms, depending on the time and facilities available to the
college. Providing support may involve running dedicated sessions devoted to giving
practical advice on improving academic reading. It may involve building up
resources detailing strategies to help students keep with the reading demands of the
course. Try this Top 10 areas of practical reading support for newly enrolled
psychology students:
1. Using reading lists effectively
Students may need guidance about how much of a reading list is meant to be
covered, as well as on how to obtain items on the list.
2. Selective reading
effective academic reading involves using books in a different way from the way, say,
a novel would be read. Rather than ploughing from cover to cover it is important to
extract the relevant information in as little time as possible. This means using the
index, scanning pages, chapter headings and so on. Also, it may help to use word
limits for assignments to guide the amount of reading that is necessary – a lot of time
can be saved by planning to read the appropriate amount. Too often students are
put off by the sheer choice of books available, seemingly covering the same material.
Rather than reading the lot it is useful to develop skills for selecting the most userfriendly, up to date and relevant texts. This needs guidance, time and practice.
3. Active reading
In academic circles reading becomes something you do with equipment – pens,
paper, highlighter and so on. Again, students need time and guidance to develop
note-taking and information gathering skills necessary for effective study. Another
aspect of active reading is questioning the text. To give purpose and structure to
reading it is a good idea to keep key questions in mind whilst reading.
4. The art of summarising
Reading for academic study requires students to take a piece of text and summarise
the main points. This is a skill which requires real engagement, confidence and
practice. It may be useful for students to ask themselves – can I sum up what I’ve
just read in 20 words?
5. Personalised reading
It may help to develop a set of symbols, colour-codes or card indexed aids to help
record which sections of text have been covered and to help organise notes into a
plan for an assignment. It takes students a while to develop the confidence and
techniques necessary for this personalised approach.
6. Critical reading
Since academic reading generally culminates in discussion, it is important for
students to develop strategies for forming opinions about texts. Such evaluation skills
are vital to success in psychology, so students need to overcome their feeling of who
am I to criticise?
7. The reading environment
Where we read has a key influence upon how effectively we read. Academic reading
should be done in a space which is tailored to the individual needs of the student.
Some people prefer absolute silence, others prefer background noise and activity.
Others need to snack, or to be in a relaxed posture. Above all, the effective reader
has to be sensitive to the importance of their environment, as well as to their own
preferred learning style. In terms of the social environment, informal study groups
(organised by students) can help them organise their reading and develop their ideas
about texts.
8. More and more reading
Once enrolled it is important to find extra time and opportunity for reading. This is a
real challenge for psychology A-level/access students and can make the difference
between effective and ineffective study. Students can really benefit from advice on
organising reading time, setting reading targets and reflecting on how well they are
9. Dealing with hard, technical bits
Academic reading involves wading through text which, in other circumstances, might
be tossed aside. One aspect of psychology texts which can be daunting is technical
language. Jargon enables writers to summarise complex information and to explain
specialised concepts. New students need guidance to understand the uses and
benefits of jargon, and to gain skills necessary for using it themselves.
10. Speed reading
Academic reading may require the student to vary his/her reading speed to suit the
task in hand. For example, if s/he is looking for reference to a specific topic it might
be useful to develop the skill of ‘skimming’, which might be a new venture for anyone
whose experience is limited to leisure reading.
Helping students make the most of their psychology textbooks is especially
important in view of the size, scope and complexity of some of these texts. They are
highly useful volumes, though they are likely to be more formidable than anything the
students have experienced previously. In short, these are big books.
As the table below suggests, some students have more ‘intimate’, more productive
relationships with their textbooks than others do.
Effective students …….
…. keep a copy of their favourite text
close at hand
…. dip into their text quite regularly
(spontaneously even) during their studies
….. are skilled at ‘tracking down’ topics
or authors in their texts
Less effective students ……
…… consider it low priority to have easy
access to a text
…… are likely only to open their text
under direction
…… struggle with indexes and chapter
summaries to find required topics and
It is useful therefore to encourage all students to take on the study habits of the more
effective textbook reader. This may involve setting up tasks and games to build up
students’ familiarity with their textbook. Some examples may include …..
‘open mike’ presentations: students take turns to give a short pre-prepared
presentation on anything at all they found interesting in their textbook, with Q & A
to follow
ten-minute textbook treasure hunt: students are given 10minutes to research a
topic/study/name/concept – using the indexes and chapter headings in their texts
textbook review: comparisons can be made of different textbooks, teasing out
their strengths and weaknesses and summarising them in the format of a book
set readings: this is a more traditional exercise, where students are directed to
read a fairly challenging passage on a topic, then invited to answer questions in
class or take part in a debate or discussion.
These suggestions might help to guide your efforts to enhance new psychology
students’ experiences of academic reading.