Reading Courses

Aims of the Courses 

The Harvard Course in Reading and Study Strategies and Strategic Reader are 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 courses help readers 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.

Course Topics and Components

Both courses address 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

Both courses include 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. 

Options: On-Campus and Online

The Harvard Course in Reading and Study Strategies is a five-day, non-credit mini-course taught on the Harvard campus by the staff of Harvard’s Bureau of Study Counsel.  Taught since the 1940s, the on-campus course has been continuously renovated to blend tried-and-true study strategies with the latest research in cognition, reading, and learning.  Strategic Reader is an online, self-paced version of that live course, created by the BSC staff and recently published by Pearson Education.

While both courses have the same aims, the experience of each course is different.  The Harvard Course in Reading and Study Strategies offers structure, classroom interaction, and individual support.  Strategic Reader offers flexibility, convenience, and extensive practice.
Both courses are open to anyone interested in reading more efficiently and effectively regardless of whether they have a Harvard affiliation.

More Information

For more information, including dates of the on-campus course and details about registration and fees for each course, click on the tabs below. For information about a limited-time offer of free access to Strategic Reader during the summer of 2019, click here

On-Campus Course

The Harvard Course in Reading and Study Strategies is a non-credit mini-course course comprising five class session meetings over the span of one week. It is offered several times each year; one session of the course is tailored to students for whom English is a non-native language. 


Advance registration is required. The course is open to everyone regardless of whether one is a member of the Harvard community.  Dates subject to change.

Fall 2019 - TBD

Cost and Payment

Payment is required upon registration. Currently enrolled Harvard students may term bill; Harvard Extension School students and others can pay by credit card.

  • No fee for the summer term of 2019 for current Harvard College students and GSAS degree candidates (usually $25)
  • $75 for Harvard Extension School degree candidates
  • $150 for all others

Financial Aid

For the summer term of 2019, the course is free for current Harvard College students and GSAS degree candidates. Harvard students in other schools and programs can contact their program director or dean.


Cancellation Policy

The cancellation deadline is the start of the second class meeting: after this deadline, you will not be eligible for a refund. To cancel, contact the BSC by phone (617-495-2581), by email (, or by stopping by 5 Linden Street during our regular office hours. If you termbill, you will receive a full refund. If you pay by credit card, you will receive a refund of your registration fee minus a $5 administrative fee.



If you need assistance, please contact the BSC at 617-495-2581 or



Online Course

Strategic Reader s an online, self-paced version of the live Harvard Course in Reading and Study Strategies .  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 through August 2019: 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 promotion link.

STEP 2: Click "Waiting for financial aid? Get 155-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.

Session for Non-Native English Readers

Every year, typically in the fall, the BSC offers a speical session of the Harvard Course in Reading and Study Strategies tailored to the experience of students for whom English is not a native language.  This session discusses the nature of American expository styles and academic integrity in the U.S. educational setting, in addition to covering the regular reading course curriculum. Proficiency in English at the university level is a prerequisite.

While the tailored session is especially appropriate for those whose first language is not English, both native and non-native speakers/readers of English are welcome to take any of the sessions of the Harvard Course in Reading and Study Strategies. Proficiency in English at the university level is a prerequisite for all sessions of the reading course.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are the Harvard Course in Reading and Study Strategies and and Strategic Reader speed-reading courses?

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.  Both reading courses equip 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.  Through demonstrations, lesson exercises, and practice readings, both reading courses help students get practice with strategies and mindsets that make for skillful, effective reading.  

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 courses?

The reading courses 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 each course take to complete?

Ten to twelve hours.  The live reading course is taught for five days, 1.5 hours per day with a half-hour “office hour” following each of the five course meetings – for a total of about 10 hours.  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.

Do the reading courses help with all sorts of reading – for instance, fiction, poetry, or technical writing?

The courses are 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 reading courses 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 the courses from other reading courses and programs?

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 Harvard Course in Reading and Study Strategies and Strategic Reader do.

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