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Becoming a Quick, Skilled Reader

Updated: Aug 7, 2022

By: Celeste Calabrisi

Reading is such a difficult subject for some people. Reading can put some people in faraway worlds of varying galaxies and mystical creatures. For others, it just puts them to sleep. I hated reading in high school. I was a slow, methodical reader that liked to take my time to absorb the material. However, college was not so forgiving. I realized very quickly, that high school did not prepare me to read a lot of material at once and absorb the main points. In college, as a history major, I would be assigned 170 pages of reading to do in two nights on some of the most boring subjects imaginable. While I wanted to cry some of those days, I can look back now and see just how poor of a reader I was. Now, I am a quick, skilled reader that can read a 220-page book in just under 3 hours with almost complete comprehension. Because I would hate for you to go through the pain I endured in order to acquire this skill, I am going to share some advice on becoming a quick, skilled reader.

Knowing Something is Better than Nothing

I will first start by going over some words of encouragement. The first step to being a quick reader is realizing that not all the information is important. Every little detail does not need to be known—especially not in college. Do not try and read every word of a text that you know will take you forever to get through. When facing super long readings, read as much as you can in the beginning. Then, take a break by skim reading some of the next few paragraphs. After you feel that you are ready to re-engage, start mindfully reading again. Continue doing this pattern until you are done with the reading. This is just a cheat, but it is helpful if you are a stressing student with too much to do. If you have a shorter reading, it is best to read the entire document. So let’s go over how to do that efficiently.

Speak to Yourself - Active Reading

Many of us do this thing. A thing that is super annoying. We read an entire page of something and suddenly realize we truly retained nothing: I call it blind-reading. This is a habit you NEED to break. Doing this wastes too much time. When you read, you need to be an active reader. The subtitle for this says “Speak to Yourself,” but I do not mean out loud. I mean speak to yourself in your head. This entails that as you are reading, you read the words inside of your mind. Once you know how to do this without getting back into the blind-reading habit, there is a part two. While reading the words in your head you will couple them by actively thinking about what you are reading. This will be a skill to acquire over time. Once you achieve the mental reading and mental considerations as you go, you will be able to read pages upon pages in no time.

To summarize this, the best reading strategy is to actively read your assigned text to yourself in your mind, and, as you do so, think about what the text is saying as you are reading it. It may seem difficult now, but you already do that when you blind-read. You are reading the material, but completely thinking about something else. Try to transfer that into active reading, and you will be there in no time!

Mental Image

Another way to effectively read is to let what you are reading paint a picture in your mind. Books, documents, articles, and other materials often have descriptions or ideas that you can make into a picture. Try to imagine what the author is trying to tell you by painting an active image in your mind. Basically, turn what you read into a mini-movie for yourself. This will not only keep you engaged in your reading, but it will also help solidify your memory. More mundane readings like court documents or historical textbooks may be more difficult to imagine than a fictional story or poem. In these cases, try to picture the author writing the works instead. This can still help you create a mental palace of knowledge to return to when you are recalling what you have read. This mental imagery will help you read faster because you will not have to reread, you will not pause your reading until your image is completed, and you will save time not worrying about the tiny details of the reading. Overall, it is a perfect strategy for any kind of reader.

Practice, Practice, Practice

As tragic as it sounds, practice is the best way to become a fast reader. Actively reading and mental imagery is only half of the advice. The best piece of advice I have is to practice reading, so just read more often. Whether it is an article about the latest celebrity gossip, a review on a movie you want to watch, or a hit piece on your favorite sports team, it is super important to read when you can. Test active reading and mental imagery on your practice readings and see how you improve over time. You may hate reading, but I promise it is a skill that you will need in the future: unlike the Pythagorean theorem.

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