Forget what you know about reading
There is a right way to read a book for pleasure, and a right way to read a book for learning. You can read a book for pleasure one time through and be just fine. However, it is harmful to assume that you should approach academic reading the same way. In order to read and comprehend a book or article for school, you need to be much more intentional and strategic.
Understand genres and themes
In most reading tests, the student is asked to read a passage and predict what might happen next. Prediction is a common reading comprehension strategy. The purpose for this strategy is to make sure you’re able to infer information from the clues in the text.
Here’s an passage to clarify this point:
Clara gripped the handle of the heavy glass pitcher and lifted it from the refrigerator shelf. She didn’t understand why her mother thought she was too young to pour her own juice. As she backed away carefully, the rubber seal of the refrigerator door caught the lip of the glass pitcher, which caused the slippery handle to slip from her hand. As she watch the pitcher crash into a thousand pieces, she saw the figure of her mother appear in the kitchen doorway.
So, what do you think will happen next? We could guess that Clara’s mother reacts angrily, or we might guess that the mother bursts into laughter. Either answer would be sufficient, since we have so little information to go on. But if I told you that this passage was an excerpt from a thriller, that fact might impact your answer. Similarly, if I told you this passage came from a comedy, you'd make a very different prediction.
It is important to know something about the type of text you're reading. Understanding the genre of a book helps you make predictions about the action--which helps you comprehend the action.
Read with tools
Any time you read to learn, you should use active reading skills. There are good tools to use as you read, and there are tools that are not so good to use.
A pencil is a good tool. You can use a pencil to make annotations in the margins of your text without doing any permanent damage to the text. Another good tool is a pack of sticky notes. Use your notes to jot down thoughts, impressions, predictions, and questions as you read. A highlighter, on the other hand, can be a really bad tool. Not only do you create some serious damage when you highlight a book, you also give yourself the false impression that you have accomplished anything significant by doing so.
Work the vocabulary skills
It's a no-brainer that you should take the time to identify and look up new and unfamiliar words as you read. But it's important to make a log book of those new words, and revisit them long after you've finished reading that book. The more we study a subject, the more it sinks in.
Analyze the title (and subtitles)
If you are wondering why I would mention the title last, I can assure you that there is a good reason. The title is often the last thing to be adjusted once a writer has finished writing. A writer will labor hard and long on an article or book, and often the writer uses many of the same strategies that a good reader uses. Writers edit the text and identify themes, make predictions, and make notations galore. Many writers are surprised by the twists and turns that come from the creative process. This is why, once a text is completed, the writer may reflect on the true message or purpose as a final step and come up with a new title. This means you can use the title as a clue to help you understand the message or purpose of your text.