How to learn from books

The reading skill is your ultimate long-term learning tool. More than any other skill, it enables us to think and grow.

Young girl reading a book in a library

As a student, you have several ways of learning at your disposal. Learning through imitation, observation, undergoing experiences, trial and error, experimentation and reflection are direct ways of learning while learning by listening and reading are indirect ways of learning. Reading is a very important way of indirectly learning things.

Reading as an active skill

Today, many scholars consider reading as an active skill just as speaking and writing are. In fact, reading involves a hierarchy of skills ranging from auditory and visual discrimination to such higher order activities as organizing ideas, making generalizations, drawing inferences, etc.

The reading skill is your ultimate long-term learning tool. More than any other skill, it enables us to think and grow. Hence, we are left with no alternative but learn it, considering especially that we read books and other materials for several purposes.

Purposes of reading

Whenever we read something, we read it with a purpose. In most cases, it is for learning. However, this is not the only purpose for which reading is done. The basic purposes for which people generally read are:

  • To grasp a certain message.
  • To gather important details.
  • To answer specific questions.
  • To evaluate what is being read.
  • To put into practice what we are reading.
  • To be entertained.

As a student you read mainly for the purpose of learning the various courses of study. You read to find specific answers to questions, to complete assignments, to take tests, and to revise for exams. You also read for entertainment apart from broadening your knowledge base.

Reading comprehension

As we read, we start perceiving things bit by bit. When we organize what is perceived into patterns, we begin to understand, and only what is understood will be retained and retrieved. When we read, we do not focus on everything that is read. We focus only on the required information. Comprehension depends mainly on three aspects:

Linguistic knowledge: Only a reader possessing an adequate level of linguistic competence, communicative competence and knowledge of semantics will be able to understand a given text at different levels of meaning. Linguistic knowledge envisages not only knowledge of grammar and vocabulary but also different levels of reading comprehension.

World knowledge: It refers to the reader’s knowledge base or prior knowledge. It comprises all knowledge and skills that he or she has so far accumulated and stored in the long-term memory sites. It is on the basis of his or her knowledge base that the reader makes sense of what he reads. The broader the world knowledge he has, the greater the possibility of his understanding what he reads.

Knowledge of techniques and methods of reading: Apart from world knowledge and linguistic knowledge, the reader should have knowledge of a wide range of techniques and methods of reading. Skimming, scanning and skipping are some of the examples of reading techniques while intensive reading, extensive reading, loud reading, silent reading, etc., are examples of reading methods.


  • Different types of reading comprehension
  • The SQ3R strategy

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Dr K. S. Joseph
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Dr K. S. Joseph

Dr K. S. Joseph, M.A. (English); M.A. (Linguistics), M.Ed., Ph.D., teaches M.Ed. students at Titus II Teachers’ College, Thiruvalla, Kerala. He has authored ten books and over sixty papers.