Reading Skills

How to become a more effective and efficient reader

A common complaint among college students is that there just isn’t enough time to do all of the assigned reading every week. While this may actually be true in some cases (everyone has at least one professor who doesn’t seem to understand that assigning 500 pages of reading a day is a little much), it doesn’t help that many students have poor reading habits. The information here can help you get most, if not all, of your reading done and still have enough time to eat, sleep, bathe and go to the bar (you know, the essentials).

Reading Conditions

Choosing a good reading place is as important as choosing a good study place. In fact, for many students, the two places are the same. Some students, though, like to pick a special reading place where they can curl up with their textbooks and shut themselves off from the world.

When choosing a good place to read, look for:

  • No distractions. This should go without saying, but don’t try to do your reading in a busy dormitory or on the couch in front of the television.
  • Sufficient light. Read in a bright place. This will keep you alert and prevent your eyes from becoming fatigued.
  • Proper temperature. A warm, stuffy room may put you to sleep. Read in an environment that is slightly cool and has a draft.
  • Comfort. Read sitting in an upright position. Try to find a balance that makes you comfortable but not too comfortable.
  • Focal distance. Your book should be held or placed on a flat surface about 18 inches from your eyes.

How to Increase Your Reading Speed

With so much to do and so little time, all college students can benefit from increasing their reading rate. Getting your reading done faster doesn’t mean that you comprehend less. In fact, research shows that there is no clear relationship between rate and comprehension. Comprehension depends on your ability to extract and retain the important ideas from your reading, and there’s no reason that you can’t do this at a faster rate. Try these strategies for putting some zip into your reading rate:

  • Scan the chapter or article first. Before you delve into your assigned reading, have a brief look at it. How is it divided? Is there a summary at the end? Read the headings and look for sections that are important or irrelevant to what you’re studying. Decide what sections you can skim and which ones you need to spend extra time on.
  • Don’t read every word. Many of the words necessary to form a grammatically correct sentence actually convey no meaning. This is particularly true in unnecessarily complex academic writing. Don’t waste time trying to conceptualize meaningless words. Focus on the important ones. If you don’t understand a word or sentence, skip it and see if the rest of the article makes sense without it.
  • Omit sections. This may sound like blasphemy to overachieving students, but the truth is that you don’t have to read every word of every chapter in your textbook. Focus on what matters, and don’t get bogged down in details that you don’t need to know.

How to Improve Your Reading Comprehension

No matter how fast you read, all that ultimately matters is whether you understand and remember the key ideas in the passage. There are a few strategies that can help you absorb information from your readings, such as:

  • Read during the day. This is when your mind is the most alert and the most productive. Reading right before you go to sleep is not conducive to information retention.
  • Read in chunks. If the subject matter is difficult to understand, read for 30 or 45 minutes and then take a break.
  • Take notes while you read. Ask questions about the material. What is the key idea? How is it organized? Try to reduce every chapter or article into a one- or two-page summary sheet.
  • Reread difficult passages. You can’t expect to understand everything the first time. Going over things twice can help clear up any questions you may have.
  • Always read the summary. Most textbook chapters and journal articles contain a summary or abstract, which synthesizes the main points. Always read it. In fact, if you read nothing else (which is a very real possibility), at least read the summary.
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