The ‘How to’ guide: effective reading skills

fullToday I wanted to look at why my students read slowly and what it can lead to. Also, I would like to suggest the ways of speeding up your reading. Firstly, let’s look at why some of my students at either a graduate or postgraduate level are still reading slowly. The reasons that I can think of is that they don’t know some of the jargon used in the article because their first language is not English. Then, there is a problem of reading or pronouncing (in your head) every word they see on the page and then going back to the beginning of the line to read the same sentence again. Another interesting phenomenon is when students write down everything they read. You can imagine how long the whole process can take. In some severe cases, they spend an hour on one page. Understandably, this sort of reading will take them nowhere far and with the coming deadlines, they will not be able to cope.
So what are the actual strategies? One I can suggest is to learn to be a little LAZY and not read every word of the text. Remember that you were given an essay title. You need to highlight all the key words first. Then you need to relax and think about what you already know on this subject. You have TWO choices now: either you write a draft including all your ideas on the topic or you brainstorm ideas associated with the topic (in a shape of a diagram). So, what’s next? Next is YouTube and Google. If you learn faster by listening, then go to Youtube and watch something on the topic. If you want to dive into reading, go to Google and put the key words there.

Now I want to deviate a little. Think for a second and say if you read all of the newspaper you buy or just bits that interest you? Usually the answer is: only what I am interested in. So you can imagine that when you get your essay title, you have to focus on the title and only search for the key words in the title or their synonyms (words with a similar meaning). This will help you concentrate on what you need.  Here I want to give you some advice. If you open any text, don’t just read from the beginning to the end, but use this trick: press CTRL+F or CMD+F (on Apple computers). Why? Because now you are going to search for the key word you need. This will point you in the right direction as you will only read bits of the text that are relevant and save you lots of time as a result.

I want to go back to the problem of reading and writing down everything you are reading. Try not to do this. If your mind drifts when you start reading, you might need to use another trick to fool your mind. Imagine that what you are reading is related to you. You are in the situation so visualise yourself in it. This will make the text more relevant. Also, you can identify key words in the text that carry meaning: these are called content words. For example, in the sentence ‘I love you’, which word is the content word? Yes, it’s the word ‘love’. So you need to approach any text by looking at content words. Another idea I’ve had is to read only Subject, Verb and Object and ignore anything after the words ‘which, that, who, whom, whose, etc’ as these start an additional clause. Ignoring this information the first time will let you understand the idea of the text. Then, if you need to, you can read the paragraph or underline the information that is relevant to you.

Raining code
Raining code

Do you remember this  scene from Matrix when a crew member is sitting in front of the screens with the green raining code and he is able to understand what the letters and numbers mean in the code? This is how you are supposed to be with the texts you are reading: fast and efficient, able to see their patterns and structure. When you are looking for causes and effects, you need to look for these words: leads to, results in etc. This helps in seeing the structure of the text and remember that the author of the article puts such words in a text intentionally so you can then see its organisation. This actually helps you navigate in the text.

Well, there’s a lot more that one can say here but probably enough for now. Have a look through Buzan’s Speed Reading book and try some exercises from it.

Speed reading techniques
Speed reading techniques

What I can also suggest is that you need to be curious about the text. This means asking question about its content. If there is something unclear, you can always try a search engine to find out. This way you will be interacting with the text. The example here is when you read a novel, you tend to ask yourself what happens next. When reading academic literature you can try asking questions about what you are reading.

Hope you have stayed with me till the end of the blog. Next time we can talk about how to approach a specific essay title.



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