Nursing Students and Reading Skills

ReadingthuRsday-R2           Strategies to impact reading proficiency and comprehension are important for all students, particularly nursing students.  Some might suggest that good reading skills are critical to academic achievement and success.  Nursing students can benefit by reading for comprehension first; reading the small print associated with diagrams, graphs, charts, and tables; keeping the highlighting of text to a minimum; taking notes on the content; reading chapter summaries; and practicing National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) questions related to chapter content (Kurtz-Ogilvie, 2013; Purdue Owl, 2014).

By the time students officially begin their nursing classes, they have sufficiently demonstrated reading proficiency and comprehension through the completion of pre-requisite course work.  However, reading strategies to enhance this skill are still very important.  Nursing students are often tasked to read large volumes of highly technical material in a short period of time.  This can be overwhelming.  Having a few key strategies to improve reading skills can be extremely beneficial.nursebooks

The first strategy for improving reading skills is to read a chapter solely for comprehension without highlighting key points.  Highlighting after an initial read may be useful, but keeping the highlighting to a minimum is important (Purdue Owl, 2014).  Instead, students should focus on what the author is trying to convey and consider whether or not the information is valid and reliable.  Does the information make sense?  Is there a need to question or challenge the content being presented?  Playing devil’s advocate can actually be advantageous by keeping the reader engrossed in the topic (Kurtz-Ogilvie, 2013).

heartSecondly, it is important for nursing students to read and pay close attention to all the diagrams, graphs, charts, and tables within a chapter.  Not only is it important to be able to interpret the meaning of this data, it helps to reinforce the information presented in the text.  Students may be more likely to remember critical information at test time if they have thoroughly read the text and can visualize some aspect of the content.  The diagrams, graphs, charts, and tables can facilitate this.

Finally, taking notes, reading chapter summaries, and practicing NCLEX-style questions are all strategies that help master difficult content (Kurtz-Ogilvie, 2013).  The summary can help organize the information in a condensed and meaningful way.  This is especially helpful when the chapter is lengthy, covers numerous topics, or consists of highly complex content.  The NCLEX-style questions are also beneficial.  They require students to comprehend the content in such a way that can then be applied to patient care.  This application of knowledge demonstrates a higher level of understanding.notes2

Even the best readers can improve their reading skills.  Reading first for comprehension and not as much for detail is recommended (Kurtz-Ogilvie, 2013).  Paying close attention to all diagrams, graphs, charts, and tables can improve understanding.  Taking notes and reading chapter summaries can help students retain information.  Practicing NCLEX-style questions can help students take the learned content and apply it to specific patient situations or nursing practice issues.   Nursing students can enhance their reading proficiency and comprehension by adopting these strategies.


Kurtz-Ogilvie, W. (2013, March 7). More meaningful reading [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Purdue Owl. (2014). Close reading a text and avoiding pitfalls. Retrieved from


2 comments on “Nursing Students and Reading Skills

  1. Your repetition about reading diagrams, graphs, charts, and tables is effective. These were the things I least wanted to read in my science courses as a college student. I may have thought of them as extras or like pictures–nice but not essential. Second, I am surprised by your emphasis on not highlighting. This appears to contradict an age old method of annotation. However, thinking about this here, I can see how it might produce a fragmented intake that misses the whole picture of the text assigned. Surprising also is your emphasis on questioning the validity and reliability of the assigned text. I have thought of science textbooks as “This is the way it is; it’s researched and proven” — unlike theoretical texts more open to debate in courses that are not natural science but social science or humanities. Then also, I like your emphasis on note-taking and summaries after reading for comprehension. The notes would evolve out of a digestive reading, and summaries would show the ability to state the overall point(s) of the text. Thank you for the marvelous article. B

  2. We can always count on the nurses to give the best tips. Thanks, Beth, for some strategies that any of us can use. Way back in January 2013, I wrote about a study that showed that highlighting is not the best strategy ( My own students sometimes think that notecards are microfilm, cramming hundreds of tiny words onto the card. I really appreciate your emphasis on utilizing all the great information to be found in diagrams and illustrations. Those items are the most helpful things in the text used in my classes, so a lot of reading assignments focus on gleaning the information from those tools.

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