How to be a Better Reader

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We’ve all encountered chapters or books that we just can’t get into or we don’t understand. There are lots of reasons for this: sometimes we’re required to read about a topic that is just plain boring; sometimes we try to read material that is written way above our current intellectual level; sometimes we find that the writer is just plain bad at explaining things. It happens. Try taking the following steps.

  1. Find your perfect reading spot — a place where you can be comfortable and read. Figure out what conditions you need to be able to concentrate, study, and read most effectively. It may be easier for you to read at a desk, at a table in a quiet library, outside or in one of those cushy chairs at Starbucks. Some readers can’t concentrate when there’s any noise around them, while others can read anywhere. Reproduce those ideal conditions — particularly when you’re reading a difficult book.
  2. Keep a dictionary with you as you read. Look up any words you don’t understand. Also, jot down literary references that are escaping you. Are comparisons being made that are escaping your understanding? Look those references up! You may want to avoid using your smartphone for this task to avoid tempting distractions.
  3. Look at how the book is organized by reading through the table of contents and reading the introduction. This may help give you a sense of what material is coming as you read.
  4. Try to avoid skimming as much as possible. If a book is dense or dry it can be tempting to try to get through it as quickly as possible, but skimming can cause you to miss key points that would add to your comprehension.
  5. If you own the book you are reading, you may want to highlight passages that seem important. Otherwise, you can take careful notes, keeping track of quotes, characters, or passages that you might want to return to later. Some readers find that by using flags or page markers, they can more easily find those sections that are essential to an understanding of the book. Keeping notes is a way to help ensure that you really think about what you’re reading.
  6. Don’t become bleary-eyed. In other words, if the book seems too overwhelming, stop reading for a bit. Take this time to organize your ideas about the book. Write down any questions you have. If the concepts are still too difficult to grasp try talking about it with a friend to flush out what you are thinking (and feeling) about the work.
  7. Don’t stop reading for too long. It can be tempting to put off finishing the book when the book seems too difficult but don’t give in to that temptation. If you put off continuing your reading for too long you may forget what you’ve read. Key elements of the plot or characterization may get lost over time so it’s best to try to keep reading at your usual pace.
  8. Get help! If you’re still having a difficult time with the book, consider talking with your teacher about your confusion. Ask him/her specific questions about the book.

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