Words cascade across the page and deluge our eyes as we try to take them all in. Such a flood often overwhelms students who try to stay afloat amidst the ocean of letters and words and prompts them to ask, “How do I keep up with all of this reading?” Other questions swirl about such as, “How can I absorb all of this information?” Another common complaint is, “This book is very hard to understand.” Given these questions, what might a reader do to ensure that she can keep up, retain information, and understand? I often give my students three pieces of counsel regarding reading strategies.
Three Pieces of Counsel
The first step is to remember that slow and steady wins the race. Students need to maintain a daily habit of reading. Trying to read hundreds of pages in a short span of time is a formula for confusion and frustration. At the beginning of each semester, figure out how much reading you need to do daily to keep up, and then schedule time for it. By reading information in smaller rather than larger chunks facilitates better retention and comprehension.
The second step is to read carefully. Screens and the internet train our minds to scan and read fast, which can work for a news article or tweet but are poison to educational reading. Read deliberately, and if necessary, trace the text with a pencil as you read each word, which forces you to focus your attention. Or, read out loud. If you’re reading a sermon, you will probably have little trouble grasping the meaning of the text, but if you’re reading a longer theological text with intricate arguments, then don’t be averse to outlining. Reading and re-reading isn’t remedial but goes to the very heart of what it means to read. Click To TweetGet a notebook or piece of paper and write the outline of the text under consideration. If possible, read a physical copy of the book or essay and annotate its margins—write questions, identify key points, highlight significant facts, dialogue with the author. Reading habits like this will assist you in retaining the information that you encounter.
The third step is to recognize that you might not understand a book the first time you read it, and that’s ok. The fact that you are studying a subject means that you’re tacitly admitting your ignorance—that you need to learn. Naturally, if you’re seeking to learn, you will encounter new ideas, terms, and arguments that require you to stretch, learn, and grow. Just because you read a book once doesn’t mean that you’ll grasp it. There are times when I only really understand a book after I have read it two or three times. My suggestion is that each time you read the book, use a different colored highlighter, and record the date of when you read it. You’ll be surprised what you highlight with each reading of the book. There are some books that merit constant re-reading because they are a trove of wisdom. Regardless, set aside the idea that reading well only means reading a book once. Chances are we will read the best books multiple times, or that we will need to read and re-read a work in order truly to understand it. Reading and re-reading isn’t remedial but goes to the very heart of what it means to read.