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August 2005

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Mona Pelkey

How to Jump Start Your Textbook Reading in One Easy Lesson

By Mona Pelkey, United States Military Academy, West Point

Often my speed reading students ask me for my most-prized reading tips. I expect that in my ten-lesson course, students will forget many of the concepts presented, once they have been out of the course for a few months. However, there are three strategies that I urge my students to always remember and use, no matter what, in order to increase their textbook reading efficiency.

  1. Set your purpose for reading. Identify your learning objectives, or your reading "targets," first. Think about it-how would you achieve a "bull's-eye" if you fire your weapon before you have identified your target? Chances are, you would miss the target altogether! It's the same way with reading assignments-if you do not clearly identify your purpose for reading, you will not know what concepts you are supposed to be looking for. "Purpose" is not the fact that the professor has assigned pages 25-42 in the text, due Tuesday. "Purpose" is defined by the answer to the following question: "What are the questions you need to answer, and where are the answers located in this text?"

    Our students are given a set of learning objectives for each lesson in each of their courses. However, lacking clearly defined learning objectives, a student might also look at the questions at the end of the chapter, to identify important concepts to look for while reading, before doing anything else. Students might also devise their own questions to be answered by the reading.

  2. Preview the reading before actually reading. This accomplishes several purposes. First of all, it enables the reader to ask him/herself, "What do I already know about this topic?" and literally "wakes up" the student's schema, or background knowledge, on the topic, making the actual reading a little bit easier, and enabling better comprehension. It's a lot easier to read a chapter about something that you have already been thinking about, isn't it? Second of all, it helps the student to identify main points of the reading assignment, and helps to give the student a "mental roadmap" of what the author is discussing. Third, it gives the student an opportunity to find the location of answers to his objectives or questions.

    Previewing is basically looking over anything that "sticks out" on the page: boldface print, italics, headings, information set apart by white space on the page, first and last paragraphs, first and last sentences within paragraphs, graphics and captions, charts, and the like. Taking time to preview saves much time in the actual reading.

  3. Pace through the actual reading of the text by using the index finger, running the finger left to right under each line of type, and allowing your eyes to read while following the movement of the finger. Think of the purpose of the pace car in an auto race; the finger pacer operates on the same principle of setting the speed for the activity, which in this case is reading speed.

    Pacing sets a reading rhythm, encouraging more efficient eye movement, and pushes the reader forward through the reading, eliminating regression. Using a pacer can immediately increase reading speed by 100 words per minute.

Purpose, preview, and pace: three easy steps to more efficient textbook reading!

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