5 Speed-Reading Tips for Getting Through Those Tough Textbooks

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Higher education means study and reading. Lots of reading. Depending on the course of study, there can be a staggering amount of printed matter a student is required to absorb and understand over the course of a semester. The prudent student will be able to read, comprehend and articulate the content of multiple texts over the course of their academic career. Countless others will struggle to keep up with the required reading list. Is it possible to make this task a little easier to complete?

Although research results vary as to the effectiveness and actual impact of “speed reading,” there are some commonly accepted methods and tips to improve your reading ability.

1. Read in a space that is quiet and well lit.

As simple as this may sound, it is vitally important to remove or reduce distractions when you read. Your brain is an amazing machine that absorbs input from a multitude of sources. This is why you can hear and follow others’ conversations across the room (or you react if you hear your name mentioned across the room). In order to allow your concentration to increase, first you must minimize the number of data inputs your brain is exposed to. This will allow you to increase comprehension without any additional work on your part.

2. Do not mentally pronounce every word you see as you read.

This is the number one recommendation for improved reading efficiency. That narration voice in your head actually hampers your reading because you can see and understand faster than you can hear and understand. When presented with dual data input (visual and auditory), the brain waits for both to be fully received before accepting the information. With practice, you can stop narrating to yourself and rely on your eyes alone to read (and comprehend) text. This simple adjustment to your reading mechanics will increase efficiency without sacrificing comprehension.

3. Expand your vocabulary.

When you encounter an unfamiliar word, you will first try to understand its meaning by the context. If it is still too vague to be satisfactorily defined, you may need to stop and do additional research to learn its meaning. This greatly reduces reading efficiency. The resolution to this is to continually expand your vocabulary – especially if you are in a certain field which uses jargon or complex words to capture high-level ideas. Once unfamiliar words become a part of your vocabulary, your reading efficiency will increase. There should be a natural growth in your vocabulary as you continue on your academic journey; your ability to read and absorb material within your course of study will improve your reading efficiency.

4. Watch for clues.

Section headings, bullet points, visuals and first sentences. When working through more familiar territory, one “shortcut” is to seek the main point of a section of text. An author’s point may be clearly demonstrated by way of a graphic or diagram (which saves words and improve efficiency of communication). Bulleted lists can be absorbed more quickly that the points being explained. Similarly, a well-written first sentence can capture the main point of the remainder of the paragraph (or section). Once you ‘get it,’ move on. You are reading to gather information, not be convinced of something new.

5. Understand that not all documents are best sped through.

All the books, texts and publications you will encounter are not equal. You cannot speed your way through each and every tome or document and expect full, complete comprehension. Some authors write densely, squeezing much content into each paragraph that you simply cannot race through it. These volumes are meant to be read carefully for the most meaning and understanding. Legal documents, doctrinal statements and confessions are additional examples of texts that must be carefully examined (like licensing agreements or ‘terms and conditions’ statements). Because the balance of speed v comprehension is so tenuous, you must be careful not to sacrifice one for the other inappropriately. A discerning student will tell the difference and spend their reading time wisely as a result.

Generally speaking, speed-reading is not always the best method to use if you encounter new material. Research is varied concerning the effectiveness of speed-reading techniques. It is commonly accepted that increased speed reduces comprehension; so you must determine how important it is that you truly understand and digest the material before you start skimming through the text.

To be fair, the tips above are not technically ‘speed reading’ tips. Speed reading ideas and techniques are available online and at a variety of traditional sources. The recommendations made above are for efficiency of reading – improving your general reading skills in order to become a more effective reader (with increased speed AND comprehension). The author believes that this is a far better goal to pursue than learning to view words 6 or 7 at a time (as most conventional speed techniques embrace). The bottom line is that you will encounter a lot of printed material over the course of your studies (and beyond). Learning to read efficiently and effectively will best serve your needs for the rest of your life.

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