How to read at university

Improving your reading stamina

when you've finished this page you will be able to...


If you're going to fit in all the reading you need to do, you'll need to be able to read for relatively long periods of time, and this means you'll need to increase your reading stamina.


To read for long periods of time, you need to get into 'the zone', so it's important to give some thought to the best place to read - somewhere comfortable and free from distractions. Everyone's optimal reading environment will be different: some people love the library, others prefer the comfort of their own homes - perhaps the sofa, the bath or the bed. Still others like reading outside - although this is not always practical in a northern climate. If you're not yet sure about your perfect reading environment, try weighing up the pros and cons of each option, thus...

Location Pros Cons
Library Quiet, scholarly, fellow students give occasional light relief from reading, also easy to go between lectures Fellow students can be distracting. Can be cold/hot, too quiet, uncomfortable chairs, not allowed to eat/drink tea
Home - living room Comfy, warm, quiet - sometimes. Easy access to snacks/beverages Can be busy/noisy, TV!
Home - bedroom Comfy, warm, quiet, can lock the door, relatively easy access to snacks/beverages Too comfy

After a consideration of the costs and benefits of each location, decide on where you'll do most of your reading. If you remain undecided, give each place a try and see which one works best for you.


Concentration spans vary widely between individuals. How long you can spend reading and understanding a text will also depend on the length and complexity of the text, and how interested you are in the subject matter. Happily, there are steps you can take to increase your powers of concentration. Making notes as you read is a useful way of staying focused - you can't drift off and suddenly find you've not taken in anything of the last half page if you're writing too.

Taking breaks is a great way of improving your ability to concentrate. It may seem counter-intuitive: stopping reading and going to do something else is not really concentrating on the text, is it? But if you're going to have the stamina necessary to get through tricky texts - and learn from them, you need to get into the habit of taking regular breaks. Not convinced? Well take a look at the graph below, and be persuaded by the science...


As the graphs clearly show, concentration and memory come and go in peaks and troughs. You concentrate, read and remember best at the beginning and end of each reading period. Lots of beginnings and ends in one reading period will be more effective than a marathon session with one beginning and end. Science doesn't lie, so heed this advice!

Once you've worked on improving your reading stamina, you'll be better able to deal with the challenges of deep reading, which you will encounter on the next page.

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