I know it sounds a little strange on the surface.


How can keeping a reading journal help you have a higher GPA?  It gives you an edge over other students because it increases your ability to understand, analyze, and write about what you read—skills other students have yet to develop.

In 2006, The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE) looked at how well-prepared high school students were for college.  In it, the researcher, Alvin Sanoff, surveyed nearly 800 high school teachers and about 1,100 college faculty members to see what their impressions were of how well-prepared high school students were for college (Jolliffe and Harl, 2008).

Only one-quarter of high school teachers and one-tenth of college faculty members thought that first-year students were “very well-prepared” to read and understand complex materials.   

You don’t want to be one of that 90% of students that college professors think is unprepared to read and understand difficult texts. 

Today, I’m sharing with you one of my best college preparation tips for upping your academic reading and writing skills so that you have a high GPA—starting and keeping a reading journal.


What is a Reading Journal?

A reading journal is a notebook, online document, or any other place where you can write down your thoughts about books, articles, blog posts, and anything else you read.   

There is no set of rules for keeping one.  However, one thing to think about is the length of what you are reading.  If you are reading something long like a book, it is better to write your ideas in a journal as you read it.  If you wait until you finish a book, you miss opportunities to capture and remember the ideas you have.  


Why is a Reading Journal Important?

In college, you need to understand and analyze what you read (academic articles, textbooks, studies, etc.) and write about what you read.   Almost every class has essays, papers, or research projects.

Whenever my students struggled with academic writing, they also struggled with reading articles and books.  Keeping a reading journal is a low-stress way of building up your reading and writing skills.


What Should You Read?

#1 Read books that interest you It doesn’t matter if you read fiction, poetry, biographies, personal development books, or non-fiction books on a subject you like.  If you want to read a book, you will want to share your ideas about it, so put them in a journal. 


#2 Read anything on a suggested reading list for your school.   I know the recommended reading list doesn’t have the most enticing books—but those books do prepare you for college.  


Plus, suggested readings can be more exciting than you imagine.  Most of them are in subjects you want to study for your major.  If you’re going to explore a field, books on that subject fulfill a piece of the knowledge you seek.

One way to approach this type of reading (especially if a book is dull) is to create a plan with a set number of pages you will read each day.  Reward yourself when you finish your reading.

When I had an extensive suggested reading list for the first semester of my MA program in TESOL, I created a schedule to keep track of my reading progress.  I didn’t love everything I read, but I did enjoy seeing what I accomplished.

I read 12 of those books, and to my astonishment, some of them were required books for my courses.  It saved me several hours of studying time!

Spend about 30 minutes-45 minutes about five times per week so that you can build up your “reading muscles.”


What Should You Write About in Your Journal?

15 Reading Journal Questions

If you’re reading fiction, start a journal entry with a few sentences about what is happening in the book.  After a summary, you want to analyze aspects of that book, such as the main characters (protagonist and antagonist), themes (main and subthemes), the plot, point of view, and other writing style elements. 


Here are some questions you can ask and reflect on in your journal entries:

1) How do characters change throughout the story?

2) How do characters act and react in different situations?

3) What types of relationships or interactions do the characters have with people?

4) What are the main characters’ flaws? What are their strengths?

5) What is the central theme (Revenge vs. Forgiveness, Love vs. Hate, Humanity vs. Machines, etc.)? What are the subthemes?

6) What causes or triggers events in the plot?

7) Are there any recurring symbols? What do the symbols represent?

8) What confuses you or puzzles you?

9) What do you think of the story?


When you read non-fiction, you will want to summarize what you learned to check for understanding.  After that, reflect on the knowledge you gained. 

Here are some reading journal questions you to help you.

1) What intrigues you about the book?

2) What do you agree or disagree with, and why?

3) What do you like or dislike, and why?

4) Are there any ideas or points the author makes that are confusing? Explain what they are and why they confuse you.

5) How does this information change you?

6) How does the text impact other people (or the world)?

As you read regularly, you will have many other things you want to express in a journal.   The important thing is that you understand and think about what you read. It’s a way of strengthening those skills for college. 


Start a Reading Journal

Don’t wait until a new semester starts before you begin journaling.  Use a reading journal to enhance your ability to understand, analyze, and write about a text.  You will be ahead of other students at your university, but even more importantly, you’ll have a deeper appreciation for what you read beyond academic texts. 

Yes, you can read and enjoy Game of Thrones, but you can also learn from it and think about politics, war, and human motivations and actions. Don’t you want that in your life?


Want more advice and tips on how to become an excellent college writer?  Join the Academic Writing Success Community and get a free writing schedule to help you accomplish all your writing assignments.





Work Cited

Jolliffe, D., & Harl, A. (2008). Studying the “Reading Transition” from High School to College: What Are Our Students Reading and Why? College English, 70(6), 599-617. Retrieved July 23, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/25472296