Despite television, cell phones, and Twitter, traditional reading is still an important skill. Whether it is school textbooks, magazines, or regular books, people still read, though not as much as they used to. One reason that many people don’t read much is that they don’t read well. For them, it is slow, hard work and they don’t remember as much as they should. Students, for example,may have to read something several times before they understand and remember what they read. For all those who missed out on good reading skills, it is not too late. I summarize below what I think it takes to read with good speed and comprehension.
1) Know Your Purpose
Everyone should have a purpose for their reading and think about how that purpose is being fulfilled during the actual reading. The advantage for remembering is that checking continuously for how the purpose is being fulfilled helps the reader to stay on task, to focus on the more relevant parts of the text, and to rehearse continuously as one reads. This also saves time and effort because relevant items are most attended.
2) Skim First
Some reading tasks require no more than skimming. Proper skimming includes putting an emphasis on the headings, pictures, graphs, tables, and key paragraphs (which are usually at the beginning and the end).
3) Get the Mechanics Right
For in-depth reading, eyes need to move in a disciplined way. Skimming actually trains eyes to move without discipline. When you need to read carefully and remember the essence of large blocks of text, the eyes must snap from one fixation point to the next in left- to right-sequence.
4) Be Judicious in Highlighting and Note Taking
Use a highlighter to mark a FEW key points to act as the basis for mental pictures and reminder cues. Add key words in the margins if you don’t find useful clues to highlight.
5) Think in Pictures
A picture may not be worth a thousand words, but it can certainly capture the essence of dozens of words. Moreover, pictures are much easier to memorize than words. Those memory wizards who put on stage shows owe their success (as do card counters in casinos) to use of gimmicks based on mental pictures.
6) Rehearse As You Go Along
Read in short segments (a few paragraphs to a few pages, depending on content density), all the while thinking about and paraphrasing the meaning of what is written.
7) Operate Within Your Attention Span
Paying attention is central to memorization. Trying to read when you can’t concentrate is wasting time. Since most people have short attention spans, they should not try to read dense material for more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time. After such a session, they should take a break and quiz themselves on what they just read.
8) Rehearse Soon After Reading Is Finished
At the reading session end, rehearse what you learned right away. Avoid distractions and multi-tasking because they interfere with the consolidation processes that enable longer-term memory. Answer again the questions about content mentioned in the “Rehearse As You Go Along” section.
Think about and rehearse what you read at least twice later that day. Rehearse again at last once for the next 2–3 days.