You Can Be a Better Reader!
NO ONE would be satisfied with an automobile that had just one working gear. If a car had only a low gear, it would not move fast on a level highway. If it had only a high gear, it would have trouble on steep inclines. To be a good reader, you also need to be able to “shift gears.”
You would not read the Bible or Shakespeare at the same speed as you would read a newspaper or the comics, would you? But perhaps you read just to enjoy yourself, not worrying about speed. If that is the case, you might be compared to a ‘Sunday driver,’ unconcerned about where he is going or when he arrives.
Driving like that may be delightful, but not every day is Sunday. And not all our reading is leisure. Some of it may be for educating ourselves, for broadening our horizon, or as part of our work. To avoid wasting time, we must be able to change “gears.” Let us start with “high gear.”
Skimming—“High Gear” of Reading
Skimming is getting the essence of material without reading it word for word. You allow your eyes to travel over a page quickly, stopping here and there to detect the main thoughts.
By itself, however, skimming will never allow you to discern the flavor, emotional tone and pleasurableness of good literature. Too much is missed. Nor will it aid your memory, because your mind is not given a chance to digest the material. But most of what is written is not great literature and does not need to be remembered. A businessman, for example, can save himself hours each week simply by skimming.
Would a course in rapid reading help you to get necessary reading done? By means of commercial courses, people have doubled and tripled their reading speed, some claiming up to thousands of words per minute. They learn to read word groups and phrases (not word by word) and seldom notice “it,” “be,” “the,” “a” and other small words. But when anyone claims to read thousands of words per minute, he is skipping more than a few details.
This calls to mind the experience of a Columbia University reading teacher, as reported in the magazine Across the Board. He prepared a one-page test for a roomful of “speed readers.” Amazingly, they read his test at almost 6,000 words per minute. To make sure they understood what they read, he asked them to read it again, and then again. Their speed slowed down to 1,700 words per minute—still impressive. Then the teacher broke the news: What they had read had absolutely no meaning, being just random lines from various magazine articles.
The lesson? Do not get “hooked on speed.” As Mortimer Adler wrote: “Great speed in reading is a dubious achievement; it is of value only if what you have read is not worth reading.”
Previewing—A Key to Good Reading
There is a method that improves reading comprehension and retention while using skimming techniques. It is called previewing.
Every explorer knows that looking over the terrain from some lofty point and checking charts before setting out into unfamiliar territory is the course of wisdom. Similarly, the reader who familiarizes himself with his “terrain” by skimming will set his sights in the right direction, identify the high points and keep himself from getting lost in a maze of words.
How is this done if the material is detailed? One method is outlined in the box on this page. Previewing should take only a minute or two, but it is time well spent.
Now let us shift to straight reading, a “lower gear,” so to speak.
“The surest way to remember what you read is to read structurally, sensing the orderly unfolding of the author’s thought,” says The Art of Book Reading. Without question, your being able to follow the author’s development of ideas will help your comprehension. In turn, comprehension will aid retention.
Train yourself to distinguish main points from subpoints and details. Look for the topic sentences found in most paragraphs. As one reading expert put it, soon you will be able “to see the main sentences as if they were raised from the page in high relief.” Also, learn to anticipate what you will read next and summarize what you have already read. In short, be an active reader!
If you employ the technique known as questioning, this can help you to anticipate what is coming and to improve your comprehension. How is it done?
Factual reading material is usually divided into sections by chapter titles and subheadings. As you reach each new heading, turn it into a question. Then as you read, look for the answer.
If your questions are significant, most of the main points will be included in your answer. And if you give special attention to the main points, you will remember the details better than if you treat all sentences as of equal importance.
Then, too, the intent to remember will improve your reading. Students who know that they will be tested on what they read, for example, always retain more than those who know they will not be. In harmony with this, there is another “gear” you can shift into that will enhance the effectiveness of your reading. It is similar to an automobile’s “reverse.”
Immediate Recall as a Memory Aid
To remember what you read, more than comprehension is required. You need to “back up” and focus on the most important points you have read. Does that mean rereading the material? Sometimes. But there is a better way—known as immediate recall.
To demonstrate its effectiveness, a group of students were asked to recall information immediately after they read it. Seven days later they were able to remember 83 percent of what they had learned. But when another group was asked first to recall the information one day after their reading it, they remembered only 45 percent after seven days. The conclusion? It is best to review what you read immediately after your reading, even during your reading.
Using a review method such as the one outlined in the box on this page is so effective that, according to one study, more can be remembered after two months than could ordinarily be remembered after one day without a review. In another study a college professor demonstrated that one minute spent in review would double retention. That is not too much of a price to pay, is it?
Here are a number of other tips: Remember ideas, not words. Take down a few brief notes on the main points. And review the information periodically instead of trying to learn it all at one sitting.
Of course, not everything you read needs to be remembered. Well has it been said: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” To gain the most from your reading experience, be selective. Develop an appetite for deeper literature in addition to light, entertaining reading. In particular, include the Bible as a prominent part of your regular reading.
There are many reading skills available to you. Learning them will take a little effort. You will need to practice. But you can be a better reader!
[Box on page 11]
1. Change the title into several questions that represent what you expect the article or chapter to cover.
2. Read the first paragraph or two.
3. Now read the subheadings.
4. Also read the first sentence of each paragraph. As you do, watch for sentences with italicized words and boldfaced type.
5. Examine illustrations, charts, diagrams, numbered sequences and other striking features.
6. Now ask yourself: What are the major points that the author is making? How is the material organized?
[Box on page 12]
RECALL AND REVIEW
1. After reading each section, ask yourself: What is the main point? Recite the answer. Only if you cannot answer satisfactorily should you look back.
2. Finally, when you complete your reading, test yourself on the entire article or chapter. Recite the main points, one section at a time. Look back only if you cannot remember.
[Graph on page 12]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
HOW MUCH IS REMEMBERED?
With immediate review
With review after one day
With no intervening review
[Picture on page 10]
With so much to read these days, how do you cope with all of it? Here are some suggestions