How To Read Too Much

After our last set of exams, a bunch of us collected at the pub to celebrate the end of a bit of a grind of a term. Midway through a glass of fairly ordinary red, a classmate (let’s call him Dave) was talking to me about some of the marketing material. We were talking about some of the details in the book, and Dave expressed frustration about how I seemed to be able to get through so much more reading than he could.

There’s a lot of reading in an MBA, and doing it part time as well as working full time and trying to have some semblance of a social life means you don’t have a lot of time for poring your way through Principles of Corporate Finance page by page.

I’m no expert, but I’ve picked up a couple of simple tricks that I figure could help you, as well as Dave, if you have a lot of reading to get through in a short space of time.

Liking It Helps

When you have to do something a lot, it’s a big help if you actually enjoy it. If you’re one of those people who don’t really like reading, you have my sympathy. Also I wonder what on earth you’re doing here, given that the Internet is full of reading. And pictures of cats. But also reading.

Even if you’re not a big fan of reading, you may well be a big fan of a specific topic. Reading about that topic then becomes enjoyable, because it’s about something you’re interested in. Figure out what interests you about a given topic, and then focus on that as you read.

But if you’re not a fan of reading, and have to slog through something dull, never fear!

Just Enough Reading

Speed reading is often recommended to people, and while I once did some classes on some of the techniques (back in high school), I never practised them, so I wouldn’t call myself a speed reader per se. What I do is skim read.

Bad writers (like me) use way too many words to get their point across. You can usually skip at least half of what they’ve written, because they just repeat themselves over and over.

Good writers structure their writing in a way that actually makes skimming easier. They break the text up with useful headings, so you can scan the headings to get a rough idea what it’s all about. The first paragraph contains the main point of the section, so you can just read that and skip the rest if you’re in a real hurry. If you need better understanding, spend more time on the bits that make the least sense.

Bad writers are actually harder to skim read then good writers, because they don’t structure their writing as well. Adapting your skimming to skip over the repetition and pick out the key points takes a bit of practice, but not as much as you’d think.

Practice

This is another reason that liking to read helps. Getting better at reading quickly takes practice. People who liked reading from an early age just did it more, which is why they’re better at it than those people who didn’t.

If you do a speed reading course, you’ll have to practice the techniques quite a bit in order to get good at it. To stay good, you have to keep using the techniques. I’m too lazy to bother, which is why I can’t speed read.

Getting good at skimming also takes practice, particularly with slowing down again after you start skipping repeated ideas from ordinary writers, but nowhere near as much as learning to speed read.

In fact, you’re probably already pretty good at it.

The best piece of advice I had for Dave was: just speed up. You’re probably a lot better at reading quickly than you give yourself credit for, so just give it a go!

Test Yourself

Pick two articles in the newspaper or somewhere online, preferably from the same source so they have a similar style.

Read one of them as you normally would. Once you’ve finished it, write down what you remember about the article on a piece of paper.

Now read the other article twice as fast as normal. Again, write down what you remember once you’ve finished reading it.

Now go back and re-read each article, and compare what you pick up now to what’s in your notes. How’d you do? I’m betting you picked up a lot more from the fast-read article than you thought you would, right?

If you practice this, you’ll find a sweet spot for reading things really fast when you know you don’t need to take much of it in. You’ll also get better at picking when to slow down for things you need to pay closer attention to, and when to speed up again when it gets dull.

Try It Out, and Let Me Know

I learned this “read fast and check comprehension” technique back in, I think, primary school. I still use it, so I figure it’s still good, but I’m interested in if it works for you.

Let me know how you find it in the comments.

Or maybe you have a tip of your own you can share with Dave?

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