Reading tips

Summary

Get the general idea of what you will be reading before you start reading. This doesn’t take long, and it can be extremely helpful. Read the table of contents. Read the first and last paragraphs of a few chapters. You may find that you don’t even want to read the book. Better to find that out from 10 minutes than to wait until you are hours in, or worse, until you finish it! 

Reading is a skill, not just an ability. If you work hard, you can get better. I used to think I was just a slow reader, but that wasn’t true. If you push yourself to read quickly, you will improve your speed. If you push yourself to concentrate, your focus will improve. If you do not ever strain, you will not improve. 

Be free. You can skip around in books. You can also start in the middle. Change your reading speed to match the book. If it’s dense, slow down. If it’s fluffy, speed up. You don’t have to go through a book at the same speed. Also you don’t have to finish bad books! There are too many excellent books for you to spend your time slogging through one you hate because you feel like you have to finish. There are some books that are difficult and rewarding. Those you should finish.

Focus

First, some basic things will help you read with concentration.

  • Read in a quiet place.
  • Read at a desk, not on a couch.
  • Do not listen to music, especially music with words.
  • Schedule time to read.
  • Read for 40 minutes, rest for 5–10. 

Those things will all help you concentrate. If you are willing to sacrifice any of them for a more pleasurable reading experience, that’s your choice. 

"Speed Reading"

I am not a speed reading expert, but one of the core concepts is accepting that words are visual not auditory. You don’t have to sound out every word to yourself to understand it. This may feel strange at first, but your brain can handle it. 

Your general motion of reading should be vertical, not horizontal. Don’t stop, and don’t go back. You can go back later and pick up what you missed.

Surprisingly, speed reading involves reading something multiple times. Let’s try four times. Don’t be scared. It actually takes less time in the end.

First time 

1 second per page. Look for titles and sections. Glance at topic sentences if you have time. Try to understand the broadest arc of whatever you are reading. What is the subject? What are they saying about it? How do they divide the topic? Can you pick up on a general conclusion or sentiment? Use your hand to keep you moving. 

Second time

4 seconds per page. Reinforce your idea of the subject and structure of the reading. What are the parts? Pay more attention to the topic conclusions. You should have an even better idea of the general arc and conclusion. 

Third time

15–20 seconds per page. This is the “speed reading” part. You can go faster because you already know where you are going. You know what the chapter is about. You know the general arc. You know the conclusion. Now you are going a little deeper to pick up some of the details (you probably don’t need them all). The details should fall into place more quickly because you already have a place to put them.

Fourth time

4 seconds per page. Remind yourself of the general arc and conclusion. You can also fill in a stray detail or topic or conclusion sentence here and there. 

Reasons for process

Multiple exposures are good because our brains learn through repetition. More specifically, once you do the first two, you have the main idea and arc, and having that main idea and arc in mind while you are reading will make it easier for you to pick up the details. 

It will also help you retain the knowledge. If you know the author is going to talk about why you shouldn’t invest in the stock market, now you can be looking for those points. You already know the conclusion, so the premises should be easier to find. 

Some of this is unconscious, but you should also be thinking: how does this fit into what this is about? How does it serve the conclusion? Is it an example or counter example? Is it an anecdote? Is it even on topic? 

You can always slow down a bit if you feel it is too dense. I should also mention that speed reading is best for informational books. Most likely it will not be helpful when reading literature or poetry, because the goal is different. If you are reading to enjoy the beauty of a story, then you probably don’t care much about efficiency. If you are reading to gain information, you probably do care about efficiency.