Imagine you’ve been reading a book for more than an hour now and you’ve gone through a couple of pages. You stop to ask yourself what you’ve been able to grasp from all you’ve read so far but you seem quite blank. You’ve been going through the words, sentences, and paragraphs without really getting much from the text. Why does reading sometimes seem like a waste of time?
In this article, you will learn about the importance and benefits of being an effective reader. You will also learn about some helpful tips for becoming better at reading.
Benefits of Being an Effective Reader
The importance and benefits of reading go far beyond passing tests and exams in school. Reading gives your brain a workout. In fact, just as exercise is good for your body, reading stimulates your brain. As you progress through a book, you have to remember a lot of things that have been earlier mentioned, and this improves memory.
As you get exposed to different kinds of material, you will often encounter strange words. You will also encounter familiar words used in different contexts. Reading helps you expand your vocabulary. The more words you know, the better you’ll be at describing the world around you.
How to Become a Better Reader
The following are some tips that are helpful for reading effectively.
1. Skim before you read
Skimming involves reading something a little quickly or superficially. It is particularly helpful in allowing you map out the text you want to read. Knowing how an article or book is structured, then, allows you to pay more attention to the things you think are important. A study found that skimming a text before going on to reading it, improved comprehension in the majority of cases.
2. Estimate how much time and mental effort is required
It is important for you to have an idea about how much time it will take you to read a book. Different texts require different amounts of mental effort. For instance, a 300-page maths textbook will take much longer to read and fully grasp than a 300-page history text. This is also where skimming helps.
3. Start at a comfortable reading level
You can much more easily advance to more difficult materials, if you have gone through the basics. Challenging yourself to read texts that are quite advanced for you, though wonderful, could leave you feeling discouraged. This is particularly important and applicable in maths and science-related subjects.
4. Remove distractions and focus
In the article on chunking, we explained why paying focused attention is crucial to understanding. Read in quiet and comfortable environments and avoid multitasking while reading.
5. Read at a reasonable pace
We all want to be able to read faster, since there just seems to be too many books out there waiting to be read. The brain can only hold around 3 – 5 chunks of information at a time, and this is usually described as the working memory. This poses a limit to how fast we can actually read. In fact, anything above 500 – 600 words per minute or 8 – 10 words per second is improbable without losing comprehension.
In other words, if you’re reading at a faster pace than that, you are probably losing considerable comprehension of the material. Off course, we all know that understanding what you’ve read is more important than how fast you read it. So, read to understand.
6. Look up strange words in a dictionary
Building a greater vocabulary will make reading easier and more fun in the future. The more words you are exposed to, the more your vocabulary will grow. Look up words in the dictionary that you do not recognize or understand while reading.
7. Engage in big-idea thinking
Fitting the puzzle pieces together as you read is very important. You could write down key points as you read and ask yourself how they fit into the big picture or the main idea of the text or material.
8. Use your imagination
One of the best things you can do to not only remember, but understand the concepts you’re reading about, is to create a metaphor or analogy for them. The more visual your metaphor, the better. A metaphor is just a way of realizing that one thing is somehow similar to another. For instance, if you are trying to understand the flow of electric current through a wire, you can think of water flowing through a pipe as an analogy or metaphor.
9. Diversify your library
Read different kinds of books. Don’t limit yourself to particular styles of writing and presentation. There are books that cover every topic imaginable, written in a variety of styles. Even when reading about a particular topic that interests you, expose yourself to not just textbooks, but graphic materials, research papers, journals, magazines, novels, short stories and even comic books. This is where local libraries, bookstores and the Internet can be very helpful.
10. Inhibit Information
The highest performing individuals are not those who can remember the most, but rather those who know what to block out and what to focus on. This is a skill that is developed as you get into the habit of letting the diffuse mode of thinking take its turn after some time of intense focus. Not all books are worth reading, so read selectively and put a restraint on how much information you take in at a time.