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6READINGMYTHS

AcademicSkillsCenter,DartmouthCollege2001

MYTH1:IHAVETOREADEVERYWORD
Manyofthewordsusedinwritinggrammaticallycorrectsentencesactuallyconveynomeaning.If,in
reading,youexertasmucheffortinconceptualizingthesemeaninglesswordsasyoudoimportantones,youlimit
notonlyyourreadingspeedbutyourcomprehensionaswell.

MYTH2:READINGONCEISENOUGH
Skimonceasrapidlyaspossibletodeterminethemainideaandtoidentifythosepartsthatneedcareful
reading.Rereadmorecarefullytoplugthegapsinyourknowledge.
Manycollegestudentsfellthatsomethingmustbewrongwiththeirbrainpoweriftheymustreadatextbook
chaptermorethanonce.Tobesure,therearestudentsforwhomoneexposuretoanideainabasiccourseis
enough,buttheyeitherhavereadextensivelyorhaveanexcellentbackgroundorahighdegreeofinterestinthe
subject.
Formoststudentsinmostsubjects,readingonceisnotenough.However,thisisnottoimplythatan
unthinkingPavlovianlikerereadingisnecessarytounderstandandretainmaterials.Manystudentsautomatically
regressorrereaddoggedlywithaselfpunishingattitude.("Ididn'tgetathingoutofthatparagraphthefirsttime,so
ifIpunishmyselfbyrereadingitmaybeIwillthistime.")Thisisthehardestwaytodoit.
Goodreadingisselectivereading.Itinvolvesselectingthosesectionsthatarerelevanttoyourpurposein
reading.Ratherthanautomaticallyrereading,takeafewsecondstoquizyourselfonthematerialyouhavejustread
andthenreviewthosesectionsthatarestillunclearorconfusingtoyou.
Themosteffectivewayofspendingeachstudyhouristodevoteaslittletimeaspossibletoreadingandas
muchtimeaspossibletotestingyourself,reviewing,organizing,andrelatingtheconceptsandfacts,masteringthe
technicalterms,formulas,etc.,andthinkingofapplicationsoftheconceptsinshort,spendyourtimelearningideas,
notpainfullyprocessingwordsvisually.
MYTH3:ITISSINFULTOSKIPPASSAGESINREADING
Manycollegestudentsfeelthatitissomehowsinfultoskippassagesinreadingandtoreadrapidly.Weare
notsurejusthowthisattitudedevelops,butsomeauthoritieshavesuggestedthatitstemsfromthedayswhenthe
Biblewasthemainbookread,savored,andreread.Indeed,theeducatedpersonwasonewhocouldquotelong
passagesfromthesebooksfrommemory.
Todayproliferationofbooksandprintedmatterbroughtaboutbytheinformationexplosioncreatesareading
problemforeveryone.Furthermore,muchofthisprintedmaterialoffersconsiderablylessthanShakespeareorthe
Bibleinmeaningorstyle.Youmust,ofcourse,makedailydecisionsastowhatisworthspendingyourtimeon,
whatcanbeglancedatorputasideforfutureperusal,andwhatcanberelegatedtothewastebasket.
Theideathatyoucannotskipbuthavetoreadeverypageisoldfashioned.Children,however,arestilltaught
tofeelguiltyiftheyfindanoveldullandoutitdownbeforefinishingit.Ioncehadastudentwhofeltshecouldnot
havebooksinherhomeunlessshehadreadeveryoneofthemfromcovertocover.Studiesshowthatthisisthe
reasonmanypeopledropBookoftheMonthClubsubscriptions;theybegintocollectbooks,cannotkeepupwith
theirreading,anddevelopguiltyfeelingsaboutowningbookstheyhavenothadtimetoread.
Theideathatsomebooksareusedmerelyforreferencepurposesandarenicetohavearoundincaseyouneed
themseemstobeignoredinourschools.SirFrancisBacononcesaidthatsomebooksaretobenibbledandtasted,
somearetobeswallowedwhole,andafewneedtobethoroughlychewedanddigestednomatterhowtrivialthe
content.Nowondermanypeopledislikereading.

MYTH4:MACHINESARENECESSARYTOIMPROVEMYREADINGSPEED
Nonsense!Thebestandmosteffectivewaytoincreaseyourreadingrateistoconsciouslyforceyourselfto
readfaster.Machinesareusefulasmotivators,butonlybecausetheyshowyouthatyoucanreadfasterwithout
losingunderstanding.Rememberthattheyareinflexible,unthinkingdevicesthatchurnawayatthesamerate
regardlessofwhetherthesentenceistrivialorvital,simpleordifficult.Theyarelimitedtoo,forifyouare
practicingskimming,youarelookingformainideassothatyoucanreadmorecarefully.Sincethesemaynotbe
locatedinadefinitepattern(e.g.oneperline)norbeequallyspacedsothatthemachinecanconvenientlytime
them,machinesmayactuallyslowyoudownandretardthespeedwithwhichyoulocatetheideasthatyouneedfor
understanding.Ifyoufindyourselfinneedofapusher,usea3x5cardasapacer,oruseyourhand,oryourfinger.
However,thereisonecautionyoushouldobserveifyoutrythis.Besurethatyourhandorfingerorcardisusedto
push,notmerelytofollowyoureyes.

MYTH5:IFISKIMORREADTOORAPIDLYMYCOMPREHENSIONWILLDROP
Manypeoplerefusetopushthemselvesfasterinreadingforfearthattheywilllosecomprehension.However,
researchshowsthatthereislittlerelationshipbetweenrateandcomprehension.Somestudentsreadrapidlyand
comprehendwell,othersreadslowlyandcomprehendpoorly.Whetheryouhavegoodcomprehensiondependson
whetheryoucanextractandretaintheimportantideasfromyourreading,notonhowfastyouread.Ifyoucando
this,youcanalsoincreaseyourspeed.Ifyou"clutchup"whentryingtoreadfastorskimandworryaboutyour
comprehension,itwilldropbecauseyourmindisoccupiedwithyourfearsandyouarenotpayingattentiontothe
ideasthatyouarereading.
Ifyouconcentrateonyourpurposeforreadinge.g.locatingmainideasanddetails,andforcingyourselfto
sticktothetaskoffindingthemquicklybothyourspeedandcomprehensioncouldincrease.Yourconcernshould
benotwithhowfastyoucangetthroughachapter,butwithhowquicklyyoucanlocatethefactsandideasthatyou
need.

MYTH6:THEREISSOMETHINGABOUTMYEYESTHATKEEPSMEFROMREADINGFAST
Thisbeliefisnonsensetoo,assumingthatyouhavegoodvisionorwearglassesthatcorrectyoureye
problems.Ofcourse,ifyoucannotfocusyoureyesatthereadingdistance,youwillhavetroublelearningtoskim
andscan.Furthermore,ifyouhavedevelopedthehabitoffocusingyoureyestoonarrowlyandlookingatword
parts,itwillbeharderforyoutolearntosweepdownapageoftyperapidly.
Usuallyitisyourbrain,notyoureyes,thatslowsyoudowninreading.Youreyesarecapableoftakingin
morewordsthanyourbrainisusedtoprocessing.Ifyousoundoutwordsasyouread,youwillprobablyreadvery
slowlyandhavedifficultyinskimmingandscanninguntilyoubreakthishabit.

StepstoFollowinSkimmingfortheMainIdeas
1. First,readthetitleofthechapterorselectioncarefully.Determinewhatcluesitgivesyouastowhattheselection
isabout.Watchforkeywordslike"causes,""results,""effects,"etc.,anddonotoverlooksignalwordssuchas
thosesuggestingcontroversy(e.g."versus,""prosandcons"),whichindicatethattheauthorisplanningtopresent
bothsidesofanargument.
2. Lookcarefullyattheheadingsandotherorganizationalclues.Thesetipyouofftothemainpointsthattheauthor
wantsyoutolearn.Youmaybeaccustomedtooverlookingboldfaceheadingsandtitleswhicharetheobvious

cluestothemostimportantideas.Ifyouconcentrateonthedetailsandignorethemainideas,youwillhavemuch
moredifficultyretainingtheinformationyouread.
Rememberthatauthorsofcollegetextbookswantyoutorecognizetheimportantconcepts.Theyuse:
a. Majorheadingsandsubheadingstoconveymajorpoints.
b. Italicizedwordsandphrasessothatcrucialnewtermsanddefinitionswillstandout.
c. Listsofpointssetoffbynumbersorparagraphsthatbeginwiththephrasessuchas"Thethreemostimportant
factors..."etc.
d. Redundancyorrepetition.Bystatingandrestatingthefactsandideas,theauthorensuresthatyouwillbe
exposedindifferentwaystotheconceptsshefeelsarethemostcrucialforyoutounderstand.Shehopesthat
onatleastoneoftheseexposuresyouwillabsorbtheidea.Therefore,itisvitalthatyourecognizewhenan
importantconceptisbeingrestatedinslightlydifferentwordsandwhenyouhavecompletelymasteredthe
idea.

MarthaMaxwell

AcademicSkillsCenter,DartmouthCollege2001