Saturday, September 24, 2011

my second life lesson from Wheaton: read faster

When I discovered that I had 600 pages to read this week, I realized I was going to need to do something differently. It often takes me an hour to get through 10-20 pages in an academic theology book. You do the math. I simply don't have that much time.

Instead of reading, I spent my first hour online learning how to read faster. Good move. Here's what I learned.
  • Minimize distractions. Turn off email. Sit in a quiet room.
  • Scan the whole page first to decide what's important
  • Focus on action words (skip words like a, an, and, the)
  • Soften your gaze and make use of peripheral vision
  • Use your finger or a pencil to keep focused and keep moving
  • Stop pronouncing the words in your head
    • One online video actually recommended counting 1,2,3,4..1,2,3,4 while reading to prevent yourself from pronouncing what you read. That will take some practice.
    • I found that I don't say the words in my head, but I do hear them, which severely limits the speed at which I can read. I'm learning to just see words and absorb them that way.
  • Don't re-read (I still do this a lot)
  • Take a break every 1/2 hour
I'm no speed reader yet, but I just made it through 55 pages of a published dissertation in just over an hour. That's a huge improvement. This was my break . . . now back to reading!


  1. Carmen: I tried most of these and found that I was left with...not much of an understanding of what I had read. In case this doesn't work out for you, here's what I do now: I scan the entire book to get the point. Then, when starting each chapter, I quickly scan it to get the point. Then, I fly over anything that isn't relevant to the main argument that the author is trying to make (up to 100 pp per 1/2 hour). Most of this is stuff like proofs and the like (unless the class is going to call on you to verify the evidences given in the argument - not many times do you have to do this).

    Now here's the trick...those pages where the author is making their unique argument I read very, very slowly. I read it, and then re-read it, and then re-read it until I fully understand what he/she is saying. This could be 10 pp/90 minutes. If I get that, I have the book.

    One last thing - they usually aren't split up into nice 100 p/10 p sections. After awhile you gain an eye as your scanning for moments when you need to stop and really read slowly. If you're anything like me, you'll need to do this less often than you want.

    I hope the method you already found works for you. If not, I hope this helps. Bonne chance!

  2. Hey Carmen, Greeting from GS. I miss you and your family. The problem I have with speed reading is retaining it. So I pray that will not be a problem. Give your family a hug! Mary Becknell

  3. Thanks, Mary and Brian, for your comments. This type of reading seems to only work with certain kinds of books (say, for example, a book written at a popular level covering information with which I am already familiar). With a book like that my goal is just to find out what the author says that is distinctive. Brian, I expect to need your approach with other books on my comprehensive reading list -- books that I need to be familiar with, but for which I don't need to write a review. Just about all of my reading last week needed to be of the more careful sort, because I was writing reviews, offering feedback, and presenting on the material. As it turned out, I read closer to 800 pages last week. Probably a new record for me!

  4. That's awesome that you did 800 pages last week! I actually use this method for most books that I read - even Platonic dialogues. However, I must add that I'm really familiar with a lot of the information surrounding them and the conversations going on in the field, so it's easier to scan a lot of material. Reading outside of my field can be much, much slower. Glad to hear things are going well!

  5. Very insightful -- Thank you.