Saturday, August 18, 2007
  How to avoid reading books
Good students avoid reading books. To explain this I need to start by describing how average students read, so you will understand what I mean.

Many of us try to read wrong

The average student faced with a book reads it. They begin at the beginning (or more likely at chapter one - which as we shall see is never the right place to start), and slowly - but only sometimes surely - plough through until with a sigh they finish the chapter. Little information and few ideas are retained, the words have mysteriously passed from eye to brain, only to drain out through the pores of the skin to be join the other lost words in linguistic limbo. Such reading is the next best thing to useless. That is time spent in "uselessness" would have been invested more wisely, for wasted time often pays a surprising dividend, time spent reading this way seldom does!

Having described how one ought not to read books, and hinted at why, let's think about how to avoid reading books. The aim of the smart student is to read as little as possible but gain the maximum intellectual benefit from what one reads.

I've always been a slow reader, I try to cope by "reading smarter".

One way I do this is to "waste time" overviewing something before reading it:

Contents list

Even if it is only chapter titles, this page or two should give you a fair idea of what the book is about and how it is organised - a few moments (1mo is shorter than 1min but much longer than 10secs) spent well on the contents list means you can already make intelligent guesses about where to find what, and even join a conversation about the book without sounding totally stupid.

At this stage, if you glance at the foreword (that's the bit before the first chapter - it often tells you what the author though their book was about, and so is often vital reading!) - and the conclusion (yes like detective stories serious textbooks demand you read the ending early on!) you should be able to write a summary of the book in a few sentences - this is a skill worth practising for when you become a teacher, because then with all that marking you will no longer have the luxury of actually reading books ;-)

Go on, write the summary down! At the very worst you can look back at it later and shake your head over how naive you were before you understood the full complexity of the topic ;-)


Look first at beginnings, endings and headings to try to get an idea of what the each chapter is about and how the different parts fit in.

Then skip through the material, not actually "reading" but reading a bit here and there to firm up your idea of what it is about and where it is going. By now you should be able to join a conversation about the chapter and sound like you read it!

Essential "reading"
: they say a picture is worth 1000 words (1Kw in metric measures), well it is true a well chosen picture is worth 1Kw, though badly chosen pictures are worth-less (however, they are fun to look at, so worth wasting time on ;-) charts, tables and diagrams are usually (even when badly done) worth at least 1Kw - so spend time on them!

The right way to read is much like the way we "read" the newspaper or a magazine!

At this stage you should be able to write a brief summary of the chapter - yes, just like you did for the book earlier.

Important "bits"

Then read carefully the bits that you think matter most. Seldom (using this approach) will you actually "read" all of a chapter, but you will get a good idea of what is in it - often better than if you had scanned each of the words!

I find if I try to read page by page that it goes in my eyes and out my ears. If I try to read that way page after page it is all forgotten five minutes after I scanned the page. Such reading is a waste of time - don't do it!

Sometimes with this scheme you will end up reading nearly everything twice - but it will be a chapter or book that really matters. Sometimes you will end up not reading some pages at all - but you will know where they are if you need them "one day"!

In summary

Do a survey of the book, or chapter (much as suggested above - playing about till you know what it contains, and where things are) then actually read carefully the "bits" that matter to you.

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