• Jacob Turk

5 Things You Can Do to Read Smarter

Ever considered that you might not be living up to your reading potential? Here are 5 tips and tricks you can use to get more out of your reading time! 9/1/19.

Reading is awesome. Books can snag your attention and hold it within their fantastical worlds for hours at a time. They let you take a (sometimes much-needed) break from reality while you relax and allow yourself to become immersed into a tantalizing literary adventure.

Books are also incredible learning tools. Our brains are like sponges, constantly seeking information to satiate their hunger. And while YouTube videos and lectures can teach us a lot, books are widely considered the healthiest, most powerful brain food.

But we can only read so many books in our lifetime, so is there a way to optimize the way we learn from books? Well, “optimize” might not be the right word, but there are certainly things we can do to improve the way we learn from reading books. These methods apply to all types of books, too, whether romance, historical fiction, or self-improvement.

Here are 5 things you can do to read smarter:

1. Look up new words

When reading, it’s super easy to skim over a word you haven’t heard of before, read the rest of the sentence, and move right on. You can almost always extrapolate the meaning of the sentence despite the unfamiliar word, so what’s the point in stopping to look up the definition?

Learning. Learning is the point.

Think of looking up new words as an investment. If an author uses an unfamiliar word at one point in their book, chances are you’ll see it crop up again sometime later in your reading. If you had stopped to look up the definition, you’ll be able to conquer the word when it appears again. That will eliminate confusion and expedite your reading.

More importantly, every new definition that you commit to memory is one additional word in your vocabulary.

Yes, looking up a word interrupts your reading and that’s annoying. If you get in the habit of doing it, though, it’ll stop being annoying after a while. Plus, with every new word you learn, there will be less unfamiliar words, so you won’t have to stop to research a definition as often.

2. Make notes as you’re reading

I write notes in pen directly on the pages of my novels!

There’s your horror story for the day. It’s true, though, I write directly on my books.

I like to think that a book is a graveyard of unexplored thoughts. Not of the author, but of the people reading it. Readers will so often make their way through a book and have fleeting thoughts about a “cool word,” or “super emotional description,” or a “smooth sentence.” However, they just keep on reading without exploring the thoughts at all, letting them be forgotten to rot within the pages of the book long after its been closed.

My advice? Every time you have a thought like that, stop and make a note of it. Don’t let the thought be forgotten. Now, you don’t have to write directly in the book like I do; you can keep a separate notebook for it----just mark down the page number and your thought. See a cool word? Mark it down. Encountered a “smooth sentence?” Copy the sentence down (or underline it directly in the book).

Truthfully, you can make as many or as few notes as you want while reading a book. As a flexible baseline, I average about one note per page when I read.

The purpose of doing this is to use your notes as a learning tool, mainly to be able to write and speak better. To be able to learn from your notes though, you need to revisit them at some point, so…

3. Have a reflection period

This is the time where you look back on your notes for a book and ruminate on them. You can implement your reflection period at the end of each chapter, each reading session, or each book itself. You don’t have to spend a ridiculous amount of time pondering each note, either.

The point of the reflection period is to internalize your reason for writing down a note. If you made a note about a cool, new word, then make sure to memorize the word and its context. If you made a note about the description of a character being powerful, contemplate why the description was powerful. What techniques did the author use that resonated so intensely with you? Once you’ve pinpointed the reason, do your best to remember it so you can use the technique in your own writing.

Do this sort of analysis with each note and then move on to reading some more!

If you take the time to make notes and reflect on them, you’ll see rapid, immense improvement in your own speaking and writing. Today, I used the phrase “…as you so admonished” in a sentence and I felt like a complete boss. I picked up the word “admonished” from a Stephen King novel when I made a note about it.

4. Read what you want to learn

It sounds silly to say, but many people don’t follow this piece of advice.

Right now, I read horror and thriller books because those are the genres I want to write. I read self-improvement books because I want to improve my mindset and my mood. I seldom read sci-fi and fantasy books, however. Although I’m sure many of those books would enthrall me, I choose not to read them as often because I would learn more by reading one of the other categories.

Yes, I know you’re learning no matter what you read. Reading anything is fantastic, no matter the genre. And I know reading in other genres can be quite relaxing and fun; I’m also not advising you to pick a genre and stay rigidly within it.

My advice is simply to focus your reading on subjects that are prominent in your life, so that you can make the most of the information you’re learning. Trying to become a professional athlete? Then read books on nutrition, mindfulness, and those about the sport you play. Trying to start a business? Then read books on wealth building, management, and entrepreneurship.

We all have limited time here on earth, and hence we have limited reading time as well. So, try to make the most of your limited reading time; focus on absorbing the most useful information possible.

5. Remove distractions

All the other strategies for reading smarter are next to useless if you’re distracted the whole time you’re reading. You won’t be able to make as many thoughtful notes about the book, and your reflection period won’t be as insightful as it could be. Even without the note-making and reflection, you just won’t learn as much from the contents of the book itself if you’re not paying full attention.

So, make sure you choose a time to read when you won’t be constantly bothered by other people. Put your cell phone on silent and turn it face down, or just leave it out of the room entirely. Find a quiet place and make sure you have a snack and a glass of water ready so that you can stay still and focused the whole time.

Get your mind entirely involved in your book for the time that you choose to read. That’s the best way to ensure that you come out of a reading session having learned as much as possible.

Now you know how to get the most out of any book you choose to read. And don’t get me wrong; the point of these strategies isn’t to turn reading into some hardcore, stressful study session. Reading should still be enjoyable, even while you’re making notes on the book and looking up words.

The point is to incite some deeper thinking about the contents of your book and to go above and beyond to extract some extra information. Again, we can only read so many books, so why not get the most out of the ones you do choose to read?

So, what are you waiting for? Get reading!

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