Effective Academic Reading Techniques – A Beginners Guide

Looking for academic reading strategies?

Need skimming and scanning practice exercises?

Look no further – our Effective Academic Reading Techniques – A Beginner’s Guide is here to help.

Our team of world-class teachers and curriculum designers have designed a series of academic reading lessons designed to help you with these questions and more.  Click here to check them out.  Or you’re more than welcome to try one out for free below – just hit the button, register with your email and you’re all good to go.

What’s that?  Yeah, that’s right – FREE!  Hit the link below and see what you think.

Alternatively, if you’re low on time, we’ve put together a post outlining some of the basic academic reading skills and strategies below.  Read on for more!

Academic Reading Skills

By definition, university/college students are going to spend a lot of time reading.  That in itself isn’t a problem – hopefully you’re interested in your subject and whatever it is you’re reading about.  That said, you want to be as efficient and effective as possible to make sure you’re getting the most of what you’re reading.  This is firstly so that you’re a better student but also to make sure that you’ve still got time for a life of your own! 

There are four basic academic reading skills that we cover in HeadStart courses.  They are:

  • Prediction
  • Skimming (also known as ‘reading for gist’)
  • Scanning
  • Deep reading/reading for comprehension

We’ve put together a rough guide of a few of the things that we teach in our courses below – obviously there’s much more detail (and guided practice) in our courses – click here to try these out – but if you want a quick guide, read on!


Prediction is something that you do before you start reading.  This is where you look at things like headings and images to try and get some idea of what the source is about before you read it.  Thinking about the type of source that you’re reading is also helpful – after all, knowing who the audience (i.e., the reader) is writing for helps you think about what kind of information they are likely to include, etc. 

Skimming (also known as 'reading for gist')

Skimming a text means reading quickly – reading headings, the topic sentences of each paragraph, looking any images that carry information, etc.  If a text is well-written, this approach should be enough to give you a general idea what a given text is about; the gist of a text. 

Maybe the best way we can explain it is with an example – see this wee girl here?

You probably know what she’s doing – you probably did it yourself when you were a child yourself.  Did you ever go down near a body of water – a river, a stream, or a lake – find a flat stone and then kind of bounce it across the surface of the water?  It makes this tch-tch-tch sound – very satisfying when you’re  a kid.  Anyway, we ask because in English this is known as skimming (or skipping) stones.  

And that’s largely the same idea with skim-reading – you bounce across the text that you’re reading – touching on the key parts that we mentioned above and looking for the main idea.


Scanning refers to a type of reading where you read quickly, searching for particular pieces of information (e.g., names, numbers, etc.).  This is very similar to the kind of reading you’ll do when looking over a timetable for public transport (like the one below). 

So this no doubt looks fairly familiar – this is a schedule for buying tickets (plane tickets, specifically).  Let’s say I asked you to tell me how much I would have to pay for a ticket that left after 12pm with 20kg of luggage?  To find that answer ($285) out, your eyes would rapidly search across the timetable, not really reading but just looking for those key bits of information – this is scanning.

'Deep' reading (or reading for comprehension)

‘Deep’ reading is slower, more deliberate, and ‘deeper’.  Sometimes called ‘reading for comprehension’ (where comprehension means ‘understanding),  this is where you read for things that aren’t as obvious as headings, names, or numbers.  Deep reading takes you beyond the surface and into the actual meaning of a text. 

If you want some guided practice with these, check out our lesson on these skills here or in the free sample below

Or, if you’re keen to get some practice reading on useful reading practice resources related to your major/degree, we’ve assembled a range of practice resources organised by major.  These can help to familiarise yourself with key concepts and current issues connected to your major.  They could also be a good source for new vocabulary related to your major – using the skills we cover in the Language Learning Systems lesson (which you can find here).  Enjoy!

Academic Reading Practice Resources (by subject)

Business – Harvard Business ReviewForbes

Finance – Financial TimesWall Street Journal

Science – Scientific American; New Scientist

Engineering – Engineering MagazineEngineering and Tech

IT – WiredComputerWorld

Law – ABA JournalThe Lawyer

Medicine – The LancetHopkins Medicine

General – The EconomistTime    

In addition to these, we’ve added links to a number of papers of record for the various countries that we draw a lot of our HeadStart students from.  Papers of record are newspapers that are widely circulated (meaning read by many people) and are regarded as having a good level of journalism.  These are a great way to practice your academic reading – and to get to know a bit more about the news of the day – or at least the country you’re living in.  Enjoy!

Papers of Record

Australia – The AgeThe Sydney Morning Herald

Canada – The Globe and Mail

Ireland – The Irish Times

New Zealand –  The New Zealand Herald

The UK – The GuardianThe Times

The USA – The New York Times    

Finally,  as always, we’d love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments – write us a post below.  Or follow us on Facebook.  Or if you have a question or a topic that you’d like us to write a blog post (or even better – a full lesson) about – email us!  

And don’t forget to check out the sample lesson below!

4 thoughts on “Effective Academic Reading Techniques – A Beginners Guide”

    1. Hi Sengthideth

      Firstly, we have no idea what happened but your comment didn’t publish for some reason – really sorry about that!

      Second – no problem – we can definitely help. Can you give us some idea of what in particular you want to work on? With that, we can guide you in the right direction for what you can do to make big improvements in your English today!

      Talk soon

      The HeadStart Team

  1. Pingback: Academic Presentations - Headstart Academic English

  2. Pingback: What is academic vocabulary? - Headstart Academic English

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