Six Effective Reading Strategies to Make you a Faster, More Efficient Reader

University reading lists can be pretty long. In fact, many students often complain about how much they have to read before they’ve even started their Master’s degree courses.

So, imagine how easy your life would be if you could read and understand three or more articles or chapters in an hour. You could work for a few hours, and finish your reading for the week!

What would you do with all of that extra time!?

Don’t start daydreaming about researching at the speed of Usain Bolt just yet… Read this guide, and start your journey towards effective reading.

Now. I’m going to warn you – this is quite a long post (over 1,000 words). But, if that’s not scared you, you’ll find six effective reading strategies to help transform you into an effective reader.

What is an Effective Reader?

Effective readers are like dominant readers. They can find, choose and use information quickly. They don’t read everything because they know that not everything will be useful.

Effective readers are like dominant readers. They can:

  • find, choose and use information quickly
  • skip sections of text that they know will not be useful
  • organise and select information while understanding it all
  • use this information in their assignments

And they do all of this without wasting time.

So, before we carry on, you need to answer this question:

Do you want to know how to be an effective reader?

Yes? Good. We’re going to look at two incredible sets of strategies which will help transform you into an effective reader.

The first is how preparation can make you a better reader. The second is what you need to read in an article (and what you don’t need to read).

effective reading

Get comfortable!

Effective Reading Strategy Set 1: Effective readers know how to prepare

The secret is all in how you prepare…

Effective readers know how to prepare, and they can do it quickly. For normal readers, this will take a bit of practice, but it is worth it.

You may only need to do this preparation once for each assignment, so the time that you spend doing it will be worth it. However, as you read you may want to update your Knowledge Notes and Anchor Phrases.

Strategy 1: Identify your purpose

Before you read, answer these two questions:

  1. What are you looking for?
  2. Why are you looking for it?

These two answers become your purpose. Write them on a piece of paper because you’ll need them later.

What = your essay topic, research results, an expert’s opinion or whatever.

Why = your reason for reading. This is going to be something to do with your assignment… To write a 3,000 word essay on the effects of social media on children, for example.

Strategy 2: Create your Knowledge Notes

Now you need to note down everything you already know about the topic. Spend 10-15 minutes making notes on your topic. I’ve called these Knowledge Notes. You can use these notes to help you to:

  • find useful information which relates to your own knowledge, or
  • know which information to ignore.

Strategy 3: Create your Anchor Phrases

Now you need to use your Knowledge Notes to create your Anchor Phrases. These are the key words and phrases in your topic. Another way of explaining Anchor Phrases would be these are the key words and phrases which you will look for as you read.

  • Make a list of around 20 key words and phrases in your topic.
  • You can use synonyms.
  • Build on this list as you read more.

Final Preparation Checklist

It’s almost time to start the effective reading. Before you read, go through this checklist:

  • What’s your purpose for reading? (What and why?)
  • What do you already know about the topic (knowledge notes)?
  • What are your anchor phrases and words?
effective reading

Everything becomes faster when you know exactly what you’re looking for

Effective Reading Strategy Set 2: Effective Readers read with a Purpose

These next three effective reading strategies will show you how to approach articles.

Strategy 1: Evaluate your sources before you read

Before you start to really read the articles, you need to evaluate them. This means that you need to ensure that they are worth your time. We can do this by following these steps:

  • Look at the title and the date of the article. Discard the article if:
    • The title is unrelated to your purpose
    • The article is really old (unless you’re looking at dated research).

If it passes this first evaluation, you can read it.

Strategy 2: Select relevant sections

Next you need to choose exactly what you are going to read. You will need to refer to your Purpose for this. Effective readers know where to find what they are looking for.

To give you a hint, you can use this as a guide:

  • Look at the abstract
  • Look at the discussion and conclusion to find the implications or findings of the study.
  • Look at the methods/sample to find out how the research was conducted and the variables.
  • Look at the results to find the data to refer to.

Strategy 3: Scan with the Anchor Phrases

Now you’ve chosen the sections that you want to focus on, you’re going to scan each section until your eyes find something that links to your Anchor Phrases.

When you find an Anchor Phrase read around it and highlight it if it’s useful. You can make notes on them later. The initial aim is to find the Anchor Phrases and highlight them if they’re useful.

When you’ve scanned everything you want to in an article, look back at the highlighted sections in more detail.

Note: Skip anything that you don’t understand at first. Come back to it at the end.

Final words:

After you’ve done your preparation, you can aim to read an article in 15-20 minutes. Once those 15 minutes are up, take a break and move on. You can come back to the article later. Start small and train yourself to stick to time limits.

After you’ve read 4-6 articles (do 4 a day until you’re comfortable), you can review these and finish for the day. Don’t try and cram loads of articles or chapters, you’ll just forget everything and waste your time.

Remember to prepare beforehand – it shouldn’t take more than 30-40 minutes.

When reading, carefully choose which sections you’ll focus on. Skipping paragraphs and sections is fine, and you can (and should) skip some.

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About the Author Sam

Sam is the founder and creator of English For Study. He's also lecturer in EAP/Academic English. Apart from making Academic English easy, he likes learning languages, lifting weights and eating good food.

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