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Year 11 and 12 Study Guide: Reading & Note Taking




  1. Survey/ pre-read the text - quickly look over the whole document. 
  2. Skimming - Moving quickly from paragraph to paragraph reading only the key sentences. 
  3. Scan your document for a particular piece of information, like a keyword. 
  4. Look for key points 
  5. Read phrases. 

How to write effective study notes


Efficient readers use reading strategies to save time and cover a lot of ground. Depending on your purpose for reading, you should choose one or more of the main strategies:



Gaining an overview gives you an idea of what the text is about and alerts you to where the information you need is. Gain an overview by reading only the parts of the text that 'jump out at you', like parts with changed print and graphics. Changed print, like bold, italics, underlined or CAPITAL LETTERS tells you that something is important. Graphics include diagrams, maps, graphs, cartoons or photos and can give you a lot of information relatively quickly.



Skimming involves running your eye very quickly over large chunks of text. It is different from gaining an overview, because when skimming you deal with the standard print. You are trying to pick up some of the main ideas without paying attention to detail. It is a fast process. A single chapter should take only a few minutes. You would choose to skim read if there is very little changed print to gain an overview of a text. Skimming adds further information to an overview.

undefinedScanning is sweeping your eyes (like radar) over part of a text to find specific pieces of information. You know how to do this; for example, if you are at the train station you scan the timetable to find the next train—you don't start at the beginning and read all the information!

undefinedIntensive reading is detailed, focused, 'study' reading of important pages or chapters. To read intensively:

  • Start at the beginning. Underline any vocabulary you do not know, but do not stop the flow of your reading.
  • If the text is relatively easy, underline, highlight or make brief notes.
  • If the text is difficult, read through once or several times (depending on the level of difficulty) and then take notes.
  • Be alert to the main ideas. Each paragraph should have a main idea, usually contained in the first sentence.
  • When you have finished go back to the new vocabulary. Look it up in an ordinary or subject-specific dictionary. Keep a new word book or card system.


Textbooks are designed to teach students the main ideas in a field,  and which most scholars agree upon, rather than arguing an individual point of view. You need to become very familiar with the way your text books are organised:

  • If the textbook is divided into sections, there may be an introduction at the beginning of each section.
  • It may summarise each of the chapters briefly and say how they relate to each other – don’t skip these summaries!
  • When reading any chapter, read the headings first, and any "teaching devices" like summaries or questions following the chapters; then go back and read it through.

You will most likely be looking for information about some specific topic

  • First, check the table of contents and/or index to work out which parts of the book are useful and book mark them.
  • Next, read headings, summaries, and questions at the end of the book marked sections and/or chapters.
  • Once you know which parts are most useful, spend your time reading these closely and making notes.

Journals are collections of articles published one or more times each year. In print, a journal looks like a little book (but you are most likely to access journal articles online through the library’s databases). Articles can also be collected as chapters in books compiled by an editor, where each chapter, by a different author(s), discuss some aspect of a common theme.

  • Of all the reading you do, journal articles are likely to be the most difficult, because they pull you into an existing conversation that you know little about as yet.
  • It can be difficult to sort the author’s position out from all the others s/he may be referring to.
  • They may begin with the context of what others have said, that this author is either going to take further or going to raise doubts about. Usually, his/her own idea comes next.

You will need to become familiar with the way research articles are organised.

  • First, read the abstract and skim through to find keywords.
  • Next, read the introduction and conclusion.
  • If the article is definitely useful to you, spend time reading the method, results and discussion sections.

You need to make decisions about the relevance of what you read. 

Select only those articles or chapters that relate directly to your topic for further in-depth reading.

Reports begin with a Summary, sometimes called an Executive Summary, so that you can get an overview before plunging into the Introduction, Discussion, Conclusion, and Recommendations.

  • Start by reading the executive summary and contents.
  • Next, read through the introduction and recommendations sections.
  • If necessary, work your way through the remaining sections of the report.


4min video explaining how to use a process called SQ4R to maximise retention and understanding.

Another 4min video explaining how to use a process called SQ4R to maximise on retention and understanding. 

Different strategies you can apply to your reading, depending on your goal: Previewing, Skimming, Scanning, Detailed Reading