You certainly know how to read, but do you know how to read most effectively? You may be surprised at how much you can improve your reading ability using some new strategies and a little practice.
There is no better way to improve your reading than by improving your vocabulary. Buy a good dictionary and keep it nearby when you read. Every time you encounter a word you don’t know, stop and look it up. Trying to figure out the meaning as you read further usually wastes time, and you may miss important information because you’re concentrating on the definition, not the information.
Try to develop an interest in learning more words. The more words you know, the more concepts you will understand.
Authors often refer to people and events from literature or history; if you don’t understand the reference you may miss the point. Reading in general gives you a useful store of information, so read as much as you can, and include the “classics” along with areas directly related to your class reading.
Most textbooks contain a variety of tools to assist your reading. These include pivotal words and visual elements.
Authors often provide clues to let you know when there is more to the idea, or when there may be a “catch.” Here are some words or phrases often used as clues:
- Additive words mean there is more important information to follow:
“also,” “additionally,” “besides”
- Equivalent words mean there is a dual meaning of function to the subject matter:
“as well as,” “ at the same time,” “equally important”
- Amplification words are specific examples of instances to support the concept:
“for example,” “for instance,” “specifically”
- Summarizing words sum up everything that has been said:
“for this reason,” “in brief,” “in summary”
- Emphasizing words tell you something very important is coming up:
“above all,” “indeed,” “more important”
- Cause-and-effect words provide an explanation:
“accordingly,” “because,” “thus"
Visual elements such as tables, graphs, diagrams and pictures can assist you in understanding and recalling information.
- Graphs show relationships between sets of variables.
- Tables organize and condense information and can help you see relationships.
- Diagrams help you visualize parts that can help you remember information.
- Pictures aid recall through visualization. If you can remember the picture that accompanied the material, you have a better chance of remembering the material itself.
Maximizing Your Reading Productivity
- Limit your reading to a reasonable amount of time. Don’t read more than 30 minutes without a break.
- Estimate how much information you need to cover in the time you have, and try to finish within the time limit.
- Be realistic about how much you can read. Don’t expect to cover 100 pages of a philosophy text in the same amount of time as 100 pages of a novel.
- Warm up your brain before reading by reviewing your notes or other information you already know about the subject.
- Think of questions about what you’ll be reading. Read to answer the questions.
When you plan what you need to get done in the time available, you will know where you’re headed. This helps you maintain concentration and keep on task. Reviewing information establishes connections between old and new material, and raising questions about your reading helps keep you interested in the material.
General Reading Tips
- Read for fun. Like any skill, reading improves with training. Any reading practice will help your academic reading.
- Learn a reading method, and use it.
- Use a pencil when you read. It serves as a guide to keep your reading speed steady, and is handy for making notes in the margins.
- Highlight or underline only the important information. Read a section before you mark it. You can’t decide what is important information until you’ve read it. Going on probably won’t help.
- Set your environment. Find a comfortable location and make sure you have your supplies (highlighter, dictionary, etc.). Pay attention to conditions such as light, temperature, and background noise.
- Pay attention to the text. Use all the clues and tools the author provides. Remember the pivotal words mentioned above, and study graphics carefully.
- Take notes while you read. This helps you retain new information and organize it for review. If you routinely review your notes (reading and lecture) throughout the semester, you will be much better prepared for tests.