Strategic Reader

Aims of the Strategic Reader

The Strategic Reader is designed for students, professionals, and others who feel overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of their reading or who find that they are not getting what they need out of their reading.  The reader helps to develop a repertoire of active reading strategies, to cultivate a questioning mindset, to approach a text with a sense of purpose, to consider a text from a writer’s point of view, and to experience a sense of competence and confidence in their reading.

Topics and Components

Ten core topics:

Developing Awareness Reading with Questions  Discerning Structure Making Sense Creating a Summary Evolving as a Reader Monitoring Your Understanding Identifying Text Functions Trusting Your Wits Minding Your Memory

Includes:  experiential lessons, Guided Eye Movement (GEMTM) videos, and practice readings, as well as metacognitive reflection to help students transfer the skills to their own reading. 


Strategic Reader is an online, self-paced course, created by the BSC staff and recently published by Pearson Education.

Strategic Reader offers flexibility, convenience, and extensive practice.

More Information

For more information, including registration and fees, click on the tabs below. For information about a limited-time offer of free access to Strategic Reader, click here

Online Course

Strategic Reader  was created by Abigail Lipson (retired director), Sheila M. Reindl (retired associate director), Bureau of Study Counsel, Harvard University, and published by Pearson Education.

For one student's story of how Strategic Reader transformed his experience of reading, click here

Time-Limited Promotion with Free Access

Pearson Education is offering a time-limited promotion: free access to Strategic Reader (a $35 value). To register for Strategic Reader via this special promotion, follow these three steps:

STEP 1: Go to the site

STEP 2: Click "Waiting for financial aid? Get 1-day temporary access" link.

STEP 3: Create a Pearson account.

Research has shown that new reading strategies are more readily acquired when practiced on hard copy (with its visual, spatial, and tactile cues) before being transferred to digital reading. An associated optional Anthology (ISBN 9780134193670), a bound paperback of the practice readings for Strategic Reader, is available for purchase through the Harvard Cooperative Society (Harvard Coop), regardless of whether one is affiliated with Harvard (shipping is available within the U.S) or stop by the customer service desk in the text book department of the Coop in Harvard Square. The Anthology is also available for purchase through Pearson Education. Alternatively, practice readings can be printed out as pdfs or read on screen within the application.


If you have technical issues with Strategic Reader, please contact Pearson Customer Support.



* After the special promotion period, Strategic Reader will be available for purchase from the Harvard Coop as Access-Code-Only or Access-Code-plus-Anthology (ISBN  0134193679).


The Hollis Owl

The owl represThe Hollis Owlented here[1] is based on an ink-and-wash drawing commissioned by Thomas Hollis V (1720-1774) from the Italian artist Giovanni Baptiste Cipriani, c.1760.  Hollis used the Cipriani drawing to create a gold imprint for the red leather bindings of books that Hollis contributed to the Harvard University library.

Today, the main University library computer system is named HOLLIS (Harvard OnLine Library Information System) in honor of Thomas Hollis V, and many of the books that he donated to the College are still here, almost three centuries later, in the collections of Houghton Library -- with the owl clearly stamped in gold on their red leather bindings. It is said that when Thomas Hollis acquired a book for inclusion in the Library which he thought was valuable to read, but with which he did not necessarily agree, he would position the owl stamp upside down – an early indication of a commitment to critical reading and thinking that remains part of the foundation of a liberal arts education today.

In adopting the Hollis owl as a logo for the Harvard Course in Reading and Study Strategies, we hope to honor what it means to be a wise reader, to seek and find wisdom through reading as well as to approach our reading wisely, with a mindfulness, purpose, and active engagement.

[1]Design by Joe Morris, JOEM Design. All rights reserved by President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Strategic Reader a speed-reading course?

No.  Improving reading efficiency and effectiveness is not just a matter of moving one’s eyes more quickly over the pages; it is also a matter of using one’s mind more actively and one’s attention more purposefully.  Strategic Reader equips students to read mindfully and intentionally, improving focus, comprehension, efficiency, and effectiveness. 

When we witness skillful activity in most realms – e.g., on a piano, in a lab, on a stage, or on athletic field – we can imagine the commitment that skillful person devotes to practicing, to reflecting on their practice, and to making adjustments based on their experience and on feedback.  We can literally picture what practicing looks like.  

But because we can’t see inside of a reader’s mind, it’s hard to imagine what the practice that leads to reading with competence and confidence looks like.

Why do readers need a repertoire of reading strategies?

A common assumption is that the only proper way to read a text is to read every word of it, word by word, in order, from beginning to end.  That assumption is based upon our early experience with reading.  As young children, we were likely read to, every word, in order, beginning to end.  When we ourselves originally learned how to read, we likely read out loud, every word, in order, start to finish.  

That linear, word-by-word approach was appropriate and effective when our purpose was to learn to decipher the code of written language.  But as our purposes in reading become more numerous, varied, and complex, and as the materials we read become more numerous, varied, and complex, our approaches to reading also need to become more numerous, varied, and complex.  While linear word-by-word reading remains an important and necessary approach, the reading courses help student develop a larger repertoire of strategies and a sense of how and when to apply them.

What are examples of non-linear reading strategies taught in the course?

The Strategic Reader can help students learn how to

•    read with a questioning mindset.
•    discern a common structure of inquiry-driven text.
•    connect the parts of a text to the whole and connect their own perspectives with the writer’s.
•    summarize a writer’s main point in their own words, without parroting or plagiarizing.
•    closely monitor their comprehension and articulate what they do and don’t understand.
•    identify the functions of parts of a text to help them read purposefully and selectively.
•    use their intuitions, speculations, and associations to help them make sense of a text.
•    remember what they read.

Won't readers miss something if they read selectively and strategically?

Yes, readers will miss something if they don’t read every word.  They will also miss something if they try to read every word: they will miss what’s at the end of a book, chapter, article, or reading list, or at the bottom of the stack of books on their desks, because they will not have enough time to get to it.  Or they will read every one of the words but miss the meaning because their minds are not engaged.  Most students and professionals reach a point where it is not humanly possible to read every word of every page of every document that comes their way.  Time is limited.  Just as when we go to a museum or visit a country or read the New York Times, we must make choices about what to attend to and what to miss.  The reading courses help students make active choices about what to read (and how to read it) rather than to miss by default the reading they simply run out of time to do.    

But don’t instructors want students to read every word they assign?

Reading word-by-word is a necessary and useful strategy to include in one’s repertoire.  For some purposes – for instance, when a reader wants to closely follow a writer’s line of reasoning, or to pay close attention to a writer’s use of language, or to appreciate the sound and rhythm and beauty of language – reading word-by-word is a great strategy.  But linear word-by-word reading is most effective when a reader intentionally chooses that strategy from among others in their repertoire, given their particular purpose(s) and priorities.  When instructors say they expect students to read every word, they often mean that they expect students to thoroughly master the content of the assigned reading.  That goal is best achieved by reading actively and mindfully with a combination of word-by-word and non-linear reading approaches rather by than passively and mindlessly reading every word.

How long does this take to complete?

Each module of Strategic Reader takes about one hour.  There are ten core modules and two “bookend” modules, so the whole course takes about twelve hours.

Is there homework?

No, there is no homework other than for readers to transfer the skills they learn in a reading course to the work they do in their own lives by practicing new strategies on their real-life reading and studying.

Does the Strategic Reader help with all sorts of reading – for instance, fiction, poetry, or technical writing?

The Strategic Reader is primarily oriented towards reading inquiry-driven writing common in academic and professional contexts – that is, texts that raise a question, present arguments or observations, and offer a conclusion.  The core principles and strategies, however – of reading actively, purposefully, and mindfully – can be readily adapted to many other reading materials, such as literature or technical/informational text.  Even if a text is not inquiry driven or not structured as a narrative of inquiry, a reader can be inquiry-driven.

Can readers apply the strategies from the Strategic Reader to readings in other languages or cultures?

Yes, but.  The core practices of reading with purpose, intention, and strategy are applicable to all languages and cultures.  But writing conventions differ across cultures, as do expectations about the student’s role as a learner.  For example, the common four-element structure of text presented in the courses is culturally grounded in inquiry-driven Western academic and professional contexts.  In some cultural contexts, the structure of text might often be implicit, while in others it might commonly be explicit.  In some contexts, strongly structured writing – with a clearly stated thesis and a format with headings – is considered clear and professional, while in others it is considered inelegant and artless.  Conversely, writing that is considered gracefully discursive in some contexts might seem vague or under-structured in other contexts.  There is no single formula for how text is structured.

The role of the learner also differs from context to context.  In some contexts, the student’s job is to read and remember an established canon of respected texts and to readily refer to and recite from the works of respected scholars, thinkers, makers, and writers.  In some contexts, the role of the learner is to place existing works in dialogue with one another and to enter into and contribute to that conversation in an effort to develop an independent mind and a sense of one’s own authority.

What distinguishes this from other resources?

Some reading programs (e.g., those that use rapid serial presentation of text) focus more on speed than strategy or teach strategies but do not provide the rich demonstrations, lessons, and practice readings that the Strategic Reader does.

•    Strategic Reader engages students in actively reconsidering fundamental assumptions about how they approach their reading.
•    The course draws upon state-of-the-art digital technology and neurocognitive research to provide sophisticated yet readily accessible demonstrations and exercises.  
•    Strategic Reader provides students with opportunities for hands-on experiential practice and experimentation with non-linear reading strategies.
•    Strategic Reader focuses on inquiry-driven approaches to reading inquiry-driven texts cultivates a questioning mindset that many students experience as transformative.  This is not a remedial course; this is designed for learners at the college-level and beyond. 
•    Strategic Reader emphasizes reading with purpose – bringing one’s mind and heart to one’s learning – makes them broadly applicable to many reading contexts.
•    Embedded throughout the course is a theme of metacognitive awareness and deliberate practice to help students generalize and transfer to their own reading the skills they are learning.