I'm a newly admitted grad student for computer science. I've always had an extremely difficult time with taking notes, reading, and retaining information from reading. I find that I'm only able to read a few paragraphs or so before I start to unintentionally skip words or get distracted by my thoughts. Even while reading these paragraphs it does not really feel like I'm "reading". During my undergrad I was able to get by without reading and taking notes since there was a lot of video content. Unfortunately the topics being covered are only in book / paper form. I'm finding it extremely hard to keep up since it can take me up to a week to fully read a chapter.

So far I've tried making linked notes with obsidian. This has helped a lot with retaining information since the notes are in a short form. I've also tried skimming and looking at headers, subtext, and etc but, any time I try to really read on the topic it really becomes hard to focus. I've been trying to make some kind of framework to systematically read but, I've yet to find anything that really helps. I've always wanted to be a good reader so, I have tried to consistently read things daily but, I have not really improved. Any advice would be wonderful.

  • 1
    Welcome to academia stack exchange, Concerned Grad Student. Some previous questions connected to this, that you might find useful: How can I improve my ability to learn [from longform text[? and How to take notes when reading a textbook.
    – Adam Burke
    Commented Feb 14, 2022 at 4:02
  • 3
    Have you ever explored whether you have some form of attention deficit disorder? If you do, then a medical professional can probably provide the best advice for managing it. (Note that you need not answer my question here.)
    – Buffy
    Commented Feb 14, 2022 at 14:42
  • 1
    @Buffy that is a possibility. I'm just a little scared about the medications. Commented Feb 14, 2022 at 15:03
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    Talk to a professional. Explore the options.
    – Buffy
    Commented Feb 14, 2022 at 15:07

3 Answers 3


up to a week to fully read a chapter

That's actually a pretty good rate. Reading textbooks is hard, and you just have to struggle with it.

A few pieces of advice:

  • To stay afloat in fast paced graduate courses, learn in a "big picture first" manner. Look at a map of the earth before studying a particular neighborhood in great detail. You have the rest of your life to master the details.
  • Try focusing on the problems or on programming projects that you can do that will force you to learn the relevant material.
  • Try reproducing the important ideas on paper with the book closed.

Some of what you say suggests the possibility of a form of attention deficit disorder. I'm not a medical professional, so don't treat this as any sort of diagnosis, but it would be useful to talk to a medical professional and get advice, if only to rule it out. Some universities will provide a way for you to get such advice.

Absent that (or maybe even if that is the case), taking notes as you read is a good way to capture things. In fact, writing them out by hand on paper (or index cards) is efficient and helpful. With index cards it is possible to carry around a a few, including a few blank cards. They are easy to reorganize, discard, update, etc. Don't write too much on any one card since you might want to add to them in the future.

See The Art of Changing the Brain by James E Zull for how such reinforcement is helpful.

Also, textbooks often come with exercises. The more such exercises you do, the more likely it is that the information in the book will be settled into your mind. Try to get feedback on your solutions also. Reinforcement and feedback are important to learning.


Underline, highlight or circle the important passages and, even more helpful, write notes to yourself in the margins summarizing the important points.

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    If you underline and such, it is even more valuable to do so on the second reading than on the first. I've seen books where nearly everything is highlighted/underlined.
    – Buffy
    Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 19:25

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