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SPARK: Passive vs. Active Reading

A resource for students wanting to improve their academic and research skills.

Passive vs. Active Reading

If you read passively, you might miss really important details and information. Are you reading passively? Do you:

  • Read simply to get through the assigned pages?
  • Pay little attention to identifying and remembering the main ideas?
  • Feel little engagement with the reading?
  • Avoid rereading sections or asking questions?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these you may be reading passively and missing an important chance to learn the material. 

Active reading is more like a discussion between you and the material, and therefore involves repeated questioning, critiquing, re-examination and re-reading to develop ideas about what you're reading. The benefits of active reading include:

  • more efficient reading and studying time
  • greater concentration and focus while you read
  • improved understanding of key information

Characteristics of reading passively include:

  • rushing through reading just to get it done
  • forgetting the material immediately after reading
  • falling asleep while reading
  • texting, emailing or watching TV while reading
  • overzealous highlighting of a text

 Characteristics of reading actively include:

  • asking questions to uncover the purpose and meaning of the text
  • frequently noting the main points and restating them in your own ideas to make sure you understand
  • reflecting on the relationship between the readings and your topic
  • making connections between the readings and themes discussed in class