How many times have you said to yourself, “I wish I had a month to stay at home and read all those books on my shelf.” Well, it’s happening. 

But now that you have the time to read because of the lockdown, are you suddenly feeling overwhelmed? And wondering where to start? Or how to read intelligently?

Harappa’s Reading Deeply course helped me figure out how to go beyond just a quick skim and read analytically, a term coined by American philosopher Mortimer Adler.

Because it’s one thing to just read a book, it’s another to understand it. 

So, if you’re feeling intimidated, here’s what you can do. Divide your reading into three parts: pre-reading, in-reading, and post-reading. 

In the pre-reading stage, you prepare yourself and acquaint yourself with the content. You skim and scan. Doing this before reading has the effect of priming your brain to readily pick out information when you’re going through the text. 

Try this: Close your eyes and think about a specific color for a couple of seconds. Once you open your eyes you’re going to start noticing that color everywhere in your environment. You’ve primed your brain. And pre-reading does the exact same thing for words. 

Next comes in-reading.  This is when you dive into the text or book. There are different ways to make this process more active. Using the margins to have a conversation with the author, summarizing each section, or my favorite—mindful highlighting.

A lot of people have a tendency to highlight immediately as they start reading, but as American educator Walter Pauk pointed out in his book, How To Study In College, “You should read the text before you start marking it.” 

This has the dual effect of making sure that you’re focusing all of your attention on understanding what you’re reading instead of looking for sections to highlight. It also prevents you from highlighting too much which is important because the more you highlight, the less useful those highlights are. 

Imagine if you highlighted every single piece of text—you would have essentially changed the background color and gained nothing. 

The third part—post-reading—is where most of us struggle. There are a lot of approaches to tackle this part which all boil down to applying the knowledge after you read. You don’t have to specifically wait until you have read an entire text, but I find it’s good to at least read a section. 

The most effective application for me has been to seek out additional sources that complement the text. Additional sources can be books or articles, and also podcasts, video games or even museum tours based on the text you are reading. This builds additional connections in the neural network that is being forged through the reading and it keeps the level of interest high. 

The reason that I still remember details of how diseases spread with ridiculous detail is because I used that knowledge when playing my favorite video-game Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Make no mistake about this, interest is the most important ingredient in the recipe for long-term recall. 

An additional step to add a practical application to the post-reading stage. For instance, in my favorite cookbook, Cooking Bengali Cuisine, there’s a theory on how to differentiate between spice blends for everyday flavored rice dishes and complex traditional rice dishes. 

Now, I could have just stopped at reading this theory of spice blends. After all, blending choices aren’t too difficult to grasp. But I went a bit further: After I read about them, I wrote three different spice blends down. And then I spent some time picking random combinations from those blends and building my own recipes for flavored rice. 

Doing this helped me build a more concrete understanding of how these blends worked. And to further solidify that understanding, I also spent time playing around within the blends I had built. Doesn’t that sound more fun than just reading a cookbook? 

It goes back to the importance of interest during reading; if you can bind something to an interest while reading, you can apply it and recall it a lot more effectively. 

So, use these techniques to start reading more effectively and let your brain marinate in the knowledge you gain. But always keep in mind the words of video game developer Gabe Newell, “These things, they take time.” 

So, grab a coffee and curl up on your couch with a book. Make reading a habit.

Aditi S. Biswas is a Learner Engagement Manager at Harappa Education. She studied Epidemiology at Boston University and is currently a student of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at IGMPI. She enjoys cooking and watching documentaries. 

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