Read an Excerpt
Improve Your Reading
By Ron Fry
Career PressCopyright © 2012 Ron Fry
All rights reserved.
The Basis of All Study Skills
I think you'll find this is a book unlike any you've read before. And if you take the time to read it, I promise it will make everything else you have to read—whatever your student status, whatever your job, whatever your age—a lot easier to get through.
Why? Because I'm going to show you how to plow through all your reading assignments—whatever the subjects—better and faster ... and how to remember more of what you read.
This book is not a gimmicky speed-reading method. It's not a spelling and grammar guide. Nor is it a lecture on the joys of reading. It's a practical guide, geared to you—a student of any age who isn't necessarily a poor reader, but who wants to get more from reading and do better in school and in life.
Personally, I'll read just about anything handy, just to be able to read something. But just because I have always loved to read, it didn't make it any easier to face some of those deadly textbook reading assignments. As a student, you will inevitably be required, as I was, to spend hours poring through ponderous, fact-filled, convoluted reading assignments for subjects that are required, but not exactly scintillating.
You may love reading for pleasure but have trouble reading textbook assignments for certain subjects. You may get the reading done but forget what you've read nearly as quickly as you read it. Or you just may hate the thought of sitting still to read anything. Whatever kind of student you are—and whatever your level of reading skill—I've written this book to help you surmount your reading challenge, whatever it may be.
And that includes, for those of you long out of school, reading those nap-inducing business tomes, trade magazine articles, and other work-related stuff that's rarely reader-friendly.
You'll learn what you should read—and what you don't have to. You'll discover how to cut down on the time you spend reading, how to identify the main idea in your reading, as well as the important details, and how to remember more of what you read.
I'll show you different ways to read various types of books, from dry science texts to cumbersome classics.
Who knows? I might even convince you that reading is fun!
When you're a good reader, the world is your oyster—you qualify for better schools, better jobs, better pay. Poor readers qualify for poor jobs and less fulfilling lives.
Ready to Begin? Get Motivated!
Any attempt to improve your reading must begin with motivation. Reading is not a genetic trait that is written in your DNA—there's no gene that makes you a good or bad reader like the ones that decide your hair or eye color. For the most part, reading is an acquired skill—a skill you can secure, grow, and sharpen. You just have to want to.
As the Nike commercial lambastes all of us weekend warriors—"Just Do It!" This attitude—not technique—is where the quest for improved reading begins. You must make reading a habit.
Good Reader vs. Poor Reader
Look at the following comparison of a good reader and a poor reader as if you were some corporate hotshot who could hire just one of the individuals.
Good Reader: You read for purpose. You've clearly defined your reason for reading—a question you want answered, facts you must remember, ideas you need to grasp, current events that affect you, or just the pleasure of following a well-written story.
Poor Reader: Yes, you read, but often have no real reason for doing so. You aimlessly struggle through assigned reading, with little effort to grasp the "message."
Good Reader: You read and digest the concepts and ideas the author is trying to communicate.
Poor Reader: You get lost in the muddle of words, struggling to make sense of what the author is trying to say. You are often bored because you force yourself to read every word to "get the message" ... which you usually don't.
Good Reader: You read critically and ask questions to evaluate whether the author's arguments are reasonable or totally off-the-wall. You recognize biases and don't just "believe" everything you read.
Poor Reader: You suffer from the delusion that everything in print is true and are easily swayed from what you formerly believed to be true by any argument that sounds good.
Good Reader: You read a variety of books, magazines, and newspapers and enjoy all types of reading—fiction, poetry, biography, current events.
Poor Reader: You're a one-track reader—you read the sports pages, comics, or Gothic novels. Current events? You catch updates about your world from TV news "sound bites."
Good Reader: You enjoy reading and embrace it as an essential tool in your desire to better yourself.
Poor Reader: You hate to read, deeming it a chore to be endured only when you have to. Reading is "boring."
Take a minute and ask yourself, whom would you hire? Yes, you might hire Mr. Poor Reader ... in some low-paying job. But would you ever put someone with such low-level skills in a position of major responsibility?
At this point, I won't ask you to evaluate your own level of reading skills. Characterizing yourself as a "good" or "poor" reader was not the point of this exercise. What is important is to realize that Ms. Good Reader didn't spring full-blown from Zeus's cranium quoting Shakespearean sonnets and reading physics texts for fun. She learned to read the same way you and I did—with "See Spot run."
In time and through making reading a habit, Ms. Good Reader acquired and honed a skill that will open a world of opportunity to her.
Mr. Poor Reader, at some point, decided that being a good reader was not worth the effort and made poor reading his habit.
The good news is that being a poor reader is not a life sentence—you can improve your reading. The challenge is to find the motivation!
How Fast Can You Understand?
When we read too fast or too slowly, we understand nothing. —Pascal
Are you worried that you read too slowly? You probably shouldn't be—less rapid readers are not necessarily less able. What counts is what you comprehend and remember. And like anything else, practice will probably increase your speed levels. If you must have a ranking, read the 500-word selection that follows (adapted from American Firsts by Stephen Spignesi, published by New Page Books, 2004) from start to finish, noting the elapsed time on your watch. Score yourself as follows:
45 seconds or less very fast
46–60 seconds fast
61–90 seconds high average
91–119 seconds average
120–150 seconds slow
151 seconds or more very slow
Now answer the questions on the following page without referring back to the text:
1. What stimulant besides cocaine is found in the coca leaf?
2. About how long has Coke been around?
A. 85 years
B. 185 years
C. 120 years
D. 88 years
3. What flavors are mentioned as existing in Coke (vs. Pepsi)?
A. Vanilla, cola, and lemon-lime
B. Cola and vanilla
C. Vanilla, cola, and orange
D. Orange and cola
4. Which has more sugar: Coke or Pepsi?
A good reader should be reading fast or very fast and have gotten at least three of the four questions correct.
Answers to Quiz:
You should only worry—and plan to do something about it—if you fall in the slow or very slow range and/or missed two or more questions. Otherwise, you are probably reading as fast as you need to and retaining most of what you read.
Again, the relationship between speed and comprehension is paramount: Read too fast and you may comprehend less; reading more slowly does not necessarily mean you're not grasping the material.
What Decreases Reading Speed/Comprehension:
1. Reading aloud or moving your lips when you read.
2. Reading mechanically—using your finger to follow words, moving your head as you read.
3. Applying the wrong kind of reading to the material.
4. Lacking sufficient vocabulary.
There are several things you can do to improve these reading mechanics.
To Increase Your Reading Speed:
1. Focus your attention and concentration.
2. Eliminate outside distractions.
3. Provide for an uncluttered, comfortable environment.
4. Don't get hung up on single words or sentences, but do look up (in the dictionary) key words that you must understand in order to grasp an entire concept.
5. Try to grasp overall concepts rather than attempting to understand every detail.
6. If you find yourself moving your lips when you read (vocalization), practice reading with a pen or some other (nontoxic, nonsugary) object in your mouth. If it falls out while you're reading, you know you have to keep working!
7. Work on building your vocabulary. You may be reading slowly (and/or having trouble understanding what you read) because your vocabulary is insufficient for your reading level.
8. Read more ... and more often. Reading is a habit that improves with practice.
9. Avoid rereading words or phrases. According to one recent study, an average student reading at 250 words per minute rereads 20 times per page. The slowest readers reread the most.
To Increase Comprension:
1. Try to make the act of learning sequential—comprehension is built by adding new knowledge to existing knowledge.
2. Review and rethink at designated points in your reading. Test yourself to see if the importance of the material is getting through.
3. If things don't add up, discard your conclusions. Go back, reread, and try to find an alternate conclusion.
4. Summarize what you've read, rephrasing it in your notes in your own words.
Most importantly, read at the speed that's comfortable for you. Though I can read extremely fast, I choose to read novels much more slowly so I can appreciate the author's wordplay. Likewise, any material that I find particularly difficult to grasp slows me right down. I read newspapers, popular magazines, and the like very fast, seeking to grasp the information but not worrying about every detail.
Should you take some sort of speed reading course, especially if your current speed level is low?
Reading for speed has some merit—many people who are slow readers read as little as possible, simply because they find it so tedious and boring. But just reading faster is not the answer to becoming a good reader.
I can't see that such a course could particularly hurt you in any way. I can also, however, recommend that you simply keep practicing reading, which will increase your speed naturally.
Don't Remember Less ... Faster
Retention is primarily a product of what you understand. It has little to do with how fast you read, how great an outline you can construct, or how many fluorescent colors you use to mark your textbooks. Reading a text, grasping the message, and remembering it are the fundamentals that make for high-level retention. Reading at a 1,000-words-per-minute clip does not necessarily mean that you have a clue as to what a text really says.
If you can read an assignment faster than anyone in class, but can't give a one sentence synopsis of what you just read, your high reading rate is inconsequential. If you (eventually) get the author's message—even if it takes you an hour or two longer than some of your friends—your time will pay off in huge dividends in class and later in life.
That's why this book concentrates only on how you as a student can increase what you retain from your reading assignments. Whether you're reading a convoluted textbook that bores even the professor to tears or a magazine article, newspaper feature, or novel, you follow a certain process to absorb what you've read, which consists of:
1. Grasping the main idea.
2. Gathering the facts.
3. Figuring out the sequence of events.
4. Drawing conclusions.
When you spend an hour reading an assignment and then can't recall what you've just read, it's usually because a link in this chain has been broken. You've skipped one of these crucial steps in your reading process, leaving your understanding of the material filled with gaps.
To increase your retention rate, you need to master each level in this chain of comprehension. Not everything you read will require that you comprehend on all four levels. Following a set of cooking directions, for example, simply requires that you discern the sequence for combining all the ingredients. Other reading will demand that you be able to compile facts, identify a thesis, and give some critical thought as to its validity.
Ms. Good Reader is not only able to perform at each level of comprehension, but also has developed an instinct: She recognizes that certain things she reads can be read just to gather facts or just to grasp the main idea. She then is able to read quickly to accomplish this goal and move on to her next assignment—or to that Steven King novel she's been dying to read.
The first chapters of this book will address these different steps and provide exercises designed to help you master each stage in the process of retaining what you read.
In the final chapters, we will look at how to read literature, how to read a math or science textbook, and how to outline so that you can easily review a text.
By the time you finish this short book, you should find that, by following the procedures I've suggested, you have significantly improved your reading comprehension.
Finding Other Textbooks
Few textbooks are written by what most of us would even remotely call professional writers. While the authors and editors might well be experts, even legends, in a particular subject, writing in jargon-free, easy-to-grasp prose is probably not their strong suit. You will occasionally be assigned a textbook that is so obtuse you aren't even sure whether to read it front to back, upside down, or inside out.
If you find a particular chapter, section, or entire textbook as tough to read as getting your baby brother to do you a favor, get to the library or a bookstore and find another book covering the same subject area that you can understand. You might even consider asking your teacher or professor for recommendations. She will probably make your job of finding a readable text a lot easier. You may even score some brownie points for your seeming initiative (as long as you don't wonder aloud what caused her to select that torturous text in the first place!).
"Ron," I hear you grumbling, "what happened to the 'study smarter, not harder' bit? This can't possibly be a time saver. Heck, I'll bet the books don't even cover the subject in the same way, let alone follow the same sequence! I'll be stuck slogging through two books."
Possibly. But if you just don't get it, maybe it's because the author just doesn't know how to explain it. Maybe it's not your fault! Too many students have sweated, moaned, dropped classes, even changed majors because they thought they were dumb, when it's possible it's the darned textbook that's dense, not you. So instead of continuing to slog though the mire, find an expert who can actually write—they're out there—and learn what you need to. After finally gaining an understanding of the subject by reading this other text, you'll find much of the original textbook much easier to use ... presuming you need it at all.CHAPTER 2
Reading with Purpose
Even if you consider yourself "not much of a reader," you read something each and every day: a magazine article, instructions for hooking up the DVD player, telephone messages tacked on the refrigerator, notes from your latest heartthrob.
Regardless of what you are reading, you have a purpose that dictates how you are going to read it—and you read different items in different ways. You wouldn't read the DVD player instructions as you would a novel any more than you'd read a magazine article in the same way as a grocery list. Without a purpose, you'd find yourself reading aimlessly and very inefficiently.
Unfortunately, many of the students I've talked to have not yet realized the importance of having a purpose for reading. Their lack of a reading purpose can be summed up by the proverb, "If you aim at nothing, you will hit the bull's-eye every time."
Before you can understand what you're reading—and remember it—you must know why you're reading it in the first place.
Defining Your Purpose for Reading
What is your purpose for reading? If the best answer you can come up with is, "Because my teacher said I had to," we need to uncover some better reasons. Reading a chapter just so you can say, "I finished my assignment" is relatively futile. You may as well put the book under a pillow and hope to absorb it by osmosis.
Excerpted from Improve Your Reading by Ron Fry. Copyright © 2012 Ron Fry. Excerpted by permission of Career Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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