I spent the better part of 17 years in and out of higher education. Eleven of those years were invested in taking classes and pursuing degrees. In the process of having to read a lot of books and articles that I didn’t really have time to read, I began asking myself, “Isn’t there a more effective way to do this?” Like many of you, I had a life outside of the academic world. I had a family, jobs, responsibilities, and the desire to enjoy some portion of each week. Reading was necessary, but it wasn’t something I always enjoyed.
That’s the way it is with academic reading… most of the things we have to read are not things we would normally select. We find ourselves falling asleep believing that the words from the book or article will ooze into our brains while our eyes are closed. There has to be a better way to stay alert and actually remember what we read! Try the following ideas:
1. Have a reading place. Create a place that is designated for reading. Don’t select a spot too comfortable or you will fall asleep. Don’t select a spot that is too uncomfortable or you will spend more time thinking about your discomfort than the reading.
2. Pick your time. If you are a morning person, your best time for reading is early morning; night people do better mid-morning to early afternoon. You have pockets of time when you are more alert, so use those times for reading. If you find yourself at work during those times, use your break times or weekends to maximize your effectiveness.
3. Focus on new information. We learn things best when we can connect new information to something we already know. Rather than simply highlighting information, write down questions such as, “How does this concept related to what I read in other publications?” For many people, highlighting sentences is counter-productive because they spend more time trying to make sure the lines are straight than they do paying attention to what the text actually says.
4. Speed up. Many people read at the speed they talk, yet research tells us that our brains process information much faster than we realize. Get in the habit of moving your eyes faster and see if you catch things you didn’t actually verbalize in your mind. You’ll be surprised at how much you actually comprehend when you speed up your reading.
5. Take good notes. In business and academics some texts are permanent fixtures. If you take good notes the first time you read a text, you will be better prepared to locate and use that information later. It is a poor use of your time to reread books and articles you have read before. File your notes so that you can locate them later. You might even stick a note inside the book telling you the location of your note.
Reading is an unpleasant part of our academic endeavors, so do all you can to maximize your efficiency. Time is too valuable to waste! Think about it!