This page lists a number of tips and strategies which you may find useful during your study. Enjoy.
It is easier to understand a text if you already know something about the topic.

Do some research on the topic you have read - especially if it’s a difficult subject – because the more background information you have, the easier it will be to understand a text. Then, relate the background information you have found to what is in the text. Try to research in English because the process will help you start remembering important vocabulary about the topic. If you find that too difficult, research the topic in your own language until your reading skills improve.

To understand the main idea of a paragraph, find the topic sentence.

Topic sentences can be found in most paragraphs of good writing. They work as focus sentences and they organise and control a paragraph. Each topic sentence links the paragraph to the subject of the text and gives supporting information. Clearly stated topic sentences will tell you the information you can expect from the paragraph and help you understand the important ideas in a text.

Dictionaries are a great learning aid but you shouldn’t always rely on them to understand the meaning of every word or phrase.

If you look up every new word you read you will spend your whole day with a dictionary. Instead, try to understand the meaning of the word or phrase you don’t know by looking at the sentences and words that surround it because they can give you an idea of its meaning. Once you have guessed the meaning, continue reading. If, however, a word you don't understand appears three times or more, it is important and you should check its meaning in your dictionary.

Learning transition words helps you understand how a text is organised.

Transition words connect different parts of a text and help writers structure their thoughts. They can, for example, focus attention on what is going to be said, add information, emphasise, contradict or change the subject. In fact, there are many transition words for many purposes so try learning some of the ones most often used and you will find it easier to understand a text.

Some important transition words:

also, therefore, except, unless, however, instead, (al)though, furthermore, moreover, nevertheless, on the other hand, as a result, despite, in conclusion

To get the most out of your reading, you need to create the right environment.

You can’t really expect to understand a difficult text if you are continuously distracted. Find a quiet spot with good light, keep your dictionaries, notebooks and other materials nearby and make sure that you are comfortable. Natural daylight is the best but if you do need to read at night always have a good, strong lamp pointed at the text. Reading in poor light will only make you drowsy and will develop eyestrain and headaches.

Take your time with difficult texts and don’t leave them for last.

If you have a difficult text to read, it’s best to do this first. If you leave it until last when you are tired, you will find it even more difficult to get through. Also, take your time reading difficult texts. Put your highlighter down and pick up a pencil. Summarise each paragraph and if you can’t, reread it until you can. This will slow you down but it will give you a good grasp of what the text is about and improve your comprehension dramatically.

Read for pleasure to improve your general understanding and build your vocabulary.

The more you read different types of texts, the better your English comprehension will be and the more vocabulary you will have at your fingertips. Reading for pleasure, however, should not be hard work. There should be no more than 6-10 new words per page and, even if you read simple books, you will still improve your reading skills - as long as you read lots of them. If you are really interested in a topic, you should try more difficult texts because you’ll probably understand a lot more than you think.

Surf English sites on the Internet to improve general comprehension.

You can learn a lot of English just by surfing around on websites that interest you. Choose sites that contain pictures to help you understand the text and if you find a text too difficult, look for it in your own language (many articles on the Internet are news stories that have been translated into your own language). Make a note of the language you don’t understand on the English site and relate it to the one in your own language.

Learn to be selective when you are choosing vocabulary to study.

Learning new vocabulary can be quite time consuming so don't waste your energy trying to memorise words that are rare or not useful. Spend your precious time learning those that are important to the subject you are studying, those that you read and hear again and again, and those that you know you will want to use yourself.

Improve your vocabulary by creating your own personal dictionary.

After you have finished reading a text, find 5 words or phrases that you don't know. Look them up in a dictionary and write down the translations and definitions in a special notebook kept for this purpose. Add sentences with the word or phrase included so that you can study them in context. This will help build your vocabulary and improve your reading because you will understand more.

Study new words and phrases any time and any place with a set of vocabulary flash cards.

Memorisation is an important part of learning new vocabulary so make your own vocabulary flash cards to study new words and phrases every day. Get yourself a set of small cards that is easy for you to carry around. Write the word or phrase that you want to memorise on one side and its translation and definition on the other side. Add one or two sentences that show you the word or phrase in context and include the part of speech that the word or phrase belongs to, for example, noun, verb, idiom. You should also try to colour code your vocabulary cards for each different part of speech. For example, nouns are blue, verbs are green, idioms are pink.

When you come across a word that is difficult to read, sound it out.

To sound out a word, start with the first letter and say each letter-sound out loud. Next, blend the sounds together and try to say the word. If you still have trouble, finish reading the text then look up the phonetic spelling of the word in your dictionary. If you have an electronic or online dictionary, listen to how the word is pronounced. Practice saying the word until you feel comfortable with it then go back and re-read - both silently and out loud - the sentence with that word.

Continually test your vocabulary by marking words and phrases in your dictionary.

Mark each word that you look up in your dictionary with a tick or a cross and the next time you turn to a page with one or more of the marked words, quickly test yourself to see if you remember its meaning. Then check if you are right.

The more you practice learning a word the more likely that it will become a part of your active vocabulary.

Divide your words into two groups: active and passive. Passive vocabulary contains all of the words that you understand when you read or listen, but which you don't use (or can't remember) in your own writing or speaking. Active vocabulary is all the words that you do understand, plus all of the words that you can use yourself. Your active vocabulary, in both English and your own language, is probably much smaller than your passive vocabulary but the more you can work on learning a word the more likely it will transfer to your active vocabulary.

Predicting the content of texts is an excellent way of developing your active reading skills.

Before you read look at the title and other clues in the text, such as pictures, headings, table of contents, diagrams or comprehension questions, and write down what you think the text is about. Predicting what is in a text is an excellent reading strategy because it makes you actively look for information. You should practice predicting outcomes, motives and likely next steps. For example, the next time you read an article, make a prediction about a character or the story based on the first paragraph. Write it down. Then, keep reading looking for words or phrases that support your prediction.

To improve your reading speed and increase your reading confidence, choose a text that is slightly under your level.

To increase your reading confidence you need to be able to read texts several times without stopping. This is best done with books that are just below your level such as graded readers (English novels that have been specially designed for learners at different levels). Reading easier texts will also improve your reading speed as you become better at quickly recognising English words and phrases.

Remember information by linking it to real-life experiences, knowledge and other texts.

A good way of remembering information is to personalise it by connecting it to your own experiences and knowledge and to other texts. For example, ask yourself:

  • Is the subject familiar? Do the characters resemble familiar people? Did I learn about the concept from school, home, work or other experiences?
  • Is the writing style familiar? Is it similar to other texts?
  • What do I already know about the subject of the text, paragraph, or sentence?
Summarising a text helps you separate the main ideas from the details that support them.

While you are reading a text, note the main ideas or events and mark them either in the book or write them on a separate sheet of paper. Read the text again and make notes about the details that support the main ideas. Next, summarise the information in the text focusing on the important points and supporting them with relevant details.

If you are not sure about which English dictionary definition to use, try back-translating.

When you look up a word in your own language in a bilingual dictionary you’ll probably find that there is more than one English translation. If you are not sure which to use, back-translate. To do this you look up the English translations one by one in a monolingual dictionary. If a word has a definition that matches the word in your language you are safe to use it.

Asking questions about a text encourages active learning and helps to clear any confusion.

Good readers make a habit of asking questions while they read. They ask questions about the text, the writer, their own responses, opinions, and even their reactions to the reading. Here’s how you can do that:

  • Before reading, think about the subject based on the title, chapter heads, and visual information. Make a note of anything you are curious about and anything you want the material to answer.
  • While reading, pause and write down any questions that the material raises and be sure to ask questions if there is any confusion.
  • Look for the answers while reading. Pause and write them down.
  • When you have finished reading, note any questions that weren’t answered and think about whether those answers might come from other sources.
Highlight to capture key concepts and reduce review time.

When you highlight a text remember to only highlight the information you need and to eliminate any unnecessary words. Do not highlight whole passages, just the key information. If it is a difficult text, do two readings and on the second one skim only and highlight the key concepts. When you need to review, this will save you time as your eye will immediately go to the information you need.

When the text is difficult and very dense, focus on the key concepts.

When you need to read difficult text, focus on identifying the most important ideas or key concepts (the ideas, concepts and themes the writer is trying to convey). Then, put those ideas into your own words and explain why the concept is important and whether it connects to other concepts in the text. The best way to do this is to make three columns on a sheet of paper. Title the first column “Key concepts” (include the page number), the second column “Key concepts in my own words” and the third column “Why the concepts are important and how they connect to other concepts”.

Train your mind to learn using the SQ3R technique.


Skim the book or article for its content and approach. Read the title to help prepare for the subject. Read the introduction or summary to see what the author thinks are the key points. Notice the boldface headings to see what the structure is. Notice any illustrations, maps, graphs or charts. They are there for a purpose. Notice reading aids such as italics, boldface and questions at the end of a chapter. They are there to help you understand and remember.


Your mind is actively engaged in learning when it is looking for answers to questions. Help your mind to engage and concentrate by forming questions that you expect the text to answer. For example: “What is the main point being made here?” “What is the author trying to explain or illustrate?” “Have I understood the arguments and conclusions?”


Read the first section focusing on the main points while keeping your questions in mind. Look for the answers and make up new questions if necessary.


After each section, stop and think back to your questions. Try to answer them from memory. If not, take a look back at the text. Make notes summarizing the important points of the material and if you are not clear about something write it down.


Now go back over all of your questions and see if you can still answer them. If not, look back at the text and refresh your memory. A quick re-reading may help you fill in any gaps or make corrections and, if done immediately, will help fix the subject in your memory.

If you’re having difficulty reading, take a short break.

If you find reading difficult at first, start with short periods of reading and take regular breaks. This will prevent you from becoming tired and you will remember more. Gradually increase your reading periods and decrease your break periods as your ability to concentrate improves.

Be very selective in your choice of background material.

This is particularly true when researching for a project or essay. You don’t have time to waste so you need to find the most useful information as quickly as possible. Go to the library and preview the books you want to use. Skim read your selections choosing only those which are going to be useful. Reject any that are not directly related to the subject.

When you need to read long books, list and summarise so that you don’t have to spend time re-reading them.

Follow these simple techniques to save you having to read a book more than once:

  • Summarise the content of each chapter
  • Make a list of the principal issues or events
  • Write your own comments on the book
  • Make notes on the content as you go along
Improve your reading speed by reading texts several times.

To improve your reading speed it’s important to read texts several times so that you get used to reading in English. If you come across difficult words or phrases as you are reading, it’s important that you don’t stop. Try to quickly guess what the word means and continue reading. Often you will understand what the word means as you read the rest of the text.

Become a more efficient reader by avoiding “back skipping”.

“Back skipping” is the habit of rereading words or sentences that you might have skimmed over and it can really slow down your reading. Try to understand the word or block of words you’re reading before you move on to the next and, if necessary, use a ruler or pencil as a guide. Drag the guide slowly down the page and force yourself to keep up.

Don’t just look up the word and try to remember its meaning. Do something with it.

It’s often easier to memorise words if you do something with them. Try to learn the word in a typical combination with other words. For example, learning that to apologise means to say sorry is a good start but it’s much better to learn a whole expression containing the word. For example, “He apologised for being late.” Not only might this be easier to remember but you are also learning some very important information on how the word is used.

Be aware of the different types of material that you read and apply different reading strategies.

Don’t treat everything that you read in the same way. Sometimes you need to skim, to read only the introduction or conclusion, or to skip straight to a particular section. When you pick up reading material, ask yourself the following questions: “Why am I reading this?” “What do I need to know?” Then adjust your reading to suit the material.

Studying one or two books thoroughly is often better than looking quickly at several.

Detailed reading of one or two carefully chosen books will give you a much deeper understanding of a subject than quickly scanning several books. In this type of careful reading, you may find it helpful to skim the text first so that you can get the general idea and then go back and read in detail. Use a dictionary to make sure you understand all the words.

When you don’t know the meaning of a word, look for clues in the surrounding sentences.

When you find a new word while reading, finish the sentence or, better still, the paragraph. Read past the unfamiliar word and look for clues. If the word is repeated, compare the second sentence to the first and try to think of a word that might fit in both sentences. If you can’t guess the meaning and it still seems important, then look it up. To avoid interrupting your reading for too long, you should find the meaning in your own language using a bilingual dictionary.

Visualising images from a text can help your understanding.

When you visualise, you create a picture in your mind. When you do this during and after reading it can help you understand the text better and remember it. When you have finished reading a text, think of these questions:

  • What pictures came to my mind as I read this book, paragraph or sentence?
  • What sounds did I hear as I read?
  • What textures did I feel?
  • What words and phrases did the writer use to evoke pictures in my mind?
When you come across a difficult word, look for help from the writer before grabbing your dictionary.

Writers often know that a particular word may be new to readers and will help them try to understand by adding information. The writer may also be using the word in a new or unusual way and might explain how it is being used. So, before picking up your dictionary, look for a definition, an explanation, an example or a synonym (a word with the same meaning) and phrases such as “called”, “known as”, “is applied to”, “in other words”, “that is”, “is said to be”.

Identify the writer’s purpose so you can analyse the information better.

The writer’s purpose is that person’s reason for writing the text. It could be to entertain you. It could be to persuade you to a certain way of thinking. It could be to express a feeling. It could be to inform you about something. Whatever the writer’s purpose, by identifying it, you will be able to analyse the information more thoughtfully. It makes you a more reflective reader and you will understand the information much better.

Break down difficult sentences to understand them better.

When you come across a difficult sentence, doing the following can help you understand it better:

  • Divide the sentence at any connecting words such as “therefore”, “nevertheless”, “moreover” and find out what those connectors mean
  • Underline reference words. What do they refer to?
  • Identify subjects, nouns, verbs and objects which go together
  • If the sentence is very long, re-write it into smaller sentences
To become a very good reader, you need to look beyond the text itself.

Good readers approach texts in three ways:

  1. They look at the text itself or the basic information on the pages
  2. They think about what is “between the lines”: the conclusions and inferences the writer wants them to take from the text
  3. They think about what is beyond the text. What new, creative and different thoughts occur to them as they combine their knowledge and experiences with the writer’s ideas
Use a note card as a bookmark where you write key concepts and terms.

Find the page you want and create a list of the important information from a text by using a note card as a bookmark. As you read, write down key words or points about the information you need and add the page number so that you can quickly find it again. By the end of the text you will have the key concepts all listed and where to find them so that you can transfer that information as you need it.

When you want to add information, there are many linking words and phrases you can use, or you might add a relative clause.

Some linking words and phrases you can use to add information are:

  • and
  • as well as
  • also
  • too
  • besides
  • Moreover,
  • Furthermore,
  • What is more,
  • In addition,
  • not only...but also
  • another point is that
  • apart from

In addition, you can add information by using a relative clause. Relative clauses describe or provide information about something or someone that you have usually already mentioned. For example:

I met the boy who won first prize.

Relative clauses begin with a relative pronoun and those pronouns are:

  • that
  • which
  • who
  • what
  • whom
  • whose
  • where
  • when
  • why
When you want to add contrasting information, there are many linking words and phrases you can use.

Some linking words and phrases that you can use to contrast information are:

  • but
  • However,
  • Although,
  • despite
  • In spite of
  • Nevertheless,
  • On the contrary,
  • on the one hand
  • on the other hand,
  • whereas
  • while
  • but while
  • In constrast,
  • Neither...nor
  • Either...or
  • yet
When you want to show the cause or reason for something happening there are many linking words and phrases you can use.

Some linking words and phrases that show the cause or reason for something happening are:

  • because
  • as
  • since
  • This is why
  • because of
  • Due to
  • Owing to
  • For this reason,
When you want to show the effect or result of something, there are several linking words you can use.

Some linking words and phrases that show the effect or result of something are:

  • so
  • so...that
  • such a...that
  • Therefore
  • Thus
  • Hence
  • Consequently,
  • As a result,
  • For this reason,
  • not enough...for/to
When you want to relate events, such as telling a story, there are many linking words and phrases you can use to help connect the different parts of the text. There are many of them so we’ve divided them into three parts. This is Part 1.

Some linking words and phrases that help you narrate or give an account of something are:

  • First (of all)
  • At first
  • In the beginning
  • then
  • next
  • Before
  • After
  • After that
  • After which
  • afterwards
When you want to relate events, such as telling a story, there are many linking words and phrases you can use to help connect the different parts of the text. There are many of them so we’ve divided them into three parts. This is Part 2.

Some linking words and phrases that help you narrate or give an account of something are:

  • When
  • While
  • during
  • Soon
  • prior to
  • immediately
  • Once
  • Suddenly
  • As soon as
  • on
When you want to relate events, such as telling a story, there are many linking words and phrases you can use to help connect the different parts of the text. There are many of them so we’ve divided them into three parts. This is Part 3.

Some linking words and phrases that help you narrate or give an account of something are:

  • No sooner...than
  • Hardly...when
  • Finally
  • Eventually
  • At the end
  • In the end
  • At last
  • To begin with,
  • until
When you want to show the purpose for something or when you want to express an opinion, there are several linking words and phrases you can use.

Some linking words and phrases that you can use to show purpose are:

  • to
  • so as to
  • in order that
  • so that
  • for

Some linking words and phrases that express opinion are:

  • I would say that
  • In my opinion,
  • I think (that)
  • I believe (that)
  • Personally
  • Apparently,
When you want to give examples, there are several linking words and phrases you can use.

Some linking words and phrases you can use to give examples are:

  • for example,
  • for instance,
  • For one thing,
  • this includes
  • such as
  • e.g. (for example)
  • i.e. (that is)
  • namely
When you want to sum up or conclude, there are several linking words and phrases you can use.

Some linking words and phrases you can use to sum up or conclude are:

  • All in all
  • overall
  • generally
  • In conclusion,
  • on the whole
  • in the main
  • To sum up,
When you want to emphasise information, there are several linking words and phrases you can use.

Some linking words or phrases you can use to emphasise information are:

  • especially
  • particularly
  • Naturally,
  • exactly because
  • above all
  • Whatever
  • Whenever
  • too/enough
  • The more...
  • As a matter of fact,
  • In fact,
  • Indeed,
When you want to express a condition there are several linking words and phrases you can use.

Some linking words and phrases that you can use to express a condition are:

  • if
  • in the event of
  • as long as
  • so long as
  • provided that
  • assuming that
  • given that
To skim a text, read the first and last sentences in a paragraph only.

Skimming a text is reading it quickly to find out the general information it contains. You don’t need to read or understand each word. You should look at the first and last sentences of each paragraph. These usually contain the topic sentence which explains the main idea of the paragraph.