Significant differences exist between reading for pleasure and reading assigned material for class. First and foremost, the purpose is very different. When you read for pleasure, the activity generally is something that you look forward to. Your engagement and interest level is high. On the contrary, when reading an assigned text, the reader often has little personal investment in the piece. The purpose is generally to read for meaning. Often, readers take notes to remember key details of the assigned text.
When reading that novel you've been salivating over, you'll typically delve right in, losing yourself in the characters and experiences in the pages before you. However, when reading for a class, you probably will try to put this text in perspective by comparing it with other academic texts you've read. Who are the authors? What expertise do they have? Will this text support or deny what you were required to read last semester? All of those questions will flutter through your mind as you ready yourself for the task at hand. You might anticipate how the material will be used in tests or essay assignments.
While reading that best-selling novel, you rarely take notes or think critically about the story. You are reading for the sheer pleasure of losing yourself in another world. Cluttering that existence with critical questions or note-taking is not necessary. However, when reading the text for class, you have a greater purpose. Are you analyzing the work for accuracy or specific concepts? What do you need to take away from the text? Notes are often a good idea when reading for a class. Highlighting key passages and noting important themes will help you later when you are asked to reflect on the reading.
When you finally put down the great American novel, what do you do? Do you compare it with other books you have read? That's likely, but rarely do you do so to the extent you would for class. After finishing the reading for class, look over those notes. What is the important theme that runs through the piece. What was the main idea, the main theme? What did the author want you to take away from the work? Answering those questions will give you a leg up when you return to class to discuss the work.
Benefits of Both
Research has shown that readers who read for enjoyment on a regular basis are more likely to become better, more motivated readers of all types of texts. Students who read only for school or assigned work, get little enjoyment from the texts they read. While students who read regularly for a variety of purposes are more likely to find intrinsic value in what they read, assigned or not. So, whether you are reading for pleasure or for class, giving yourself the opportunity for both is an important part of enjoying the reading process.