Friday, November 01, 2013

Apologetics Toolkit: Tips for Lifelong Learning #04

This continues the Apologetics Toolkit series on: Tips for Lifelong Learning. The goal here is to provide a sort of "apologetics toolkit" -- habits, tips, and tools the Christian apologist can use to continue to grow, learn, and develop.

Tool #04: Increase Your Reading Speed

The Problems: You love to read. And you have a stack of books you would love to read. New books come out. You buy them. You add them to the stack. Meanwhile, you crawl at a snail's pace through your current book. The problem is both a slow pace in reading and a backlog of books. This tool for increasing reading speed will help deal with both problems.

The Tools: First, let's look at reading speed. Don't think primarily in terms of "speed reading," although one can benefit from some speed reading programs. Think in terms of grasping the content. The content of some books is just not easy to grasp. At other times, there are only certain sections of books that are a challenge. The key is this: vary your reading pace. Never read slower than the content requires -- and don't read so fast that you can't internalize the content. Vary your speed as appropriate to your content. Some books can be read at a faster rate than others simply because there is less thinking and processing involved. Similarly, there are particular sections in some books that you don't need to focus so much energy on. Knowing what you are trying to get from a book will determine the energy and time you spend as you read.

Here are three tips to increase your pace of reading immediately:
  1. Trace with your finger. This keeps you from losing your place and keeps your eyes moving along the page at a steady rate. Continue to increase your speed as long as you are properly processing the content.
  2. Don't internally verbalize words. When you "say" the words in your head, it slows you down. Instead, see the words, phrases, and sentences and let them form the ideas in your mind without internal verbalization. 
  3. Don't read every single word. Your mind can process content without looking at and thinking about every single word.
Now for the second problem: getting through lots of books. Obviously, the more time you have to read, the more progress you will make. However, most people don't have hours to spend reading on a daily basis. That is... at least not all at once. That's where the second tool comes in: read multiple times a day, in short blocks. The key here is that consistent, diligent investment in short blocks of reading time adds up. Consider this idea:
  • Morning: 15 minute block.
  • Middle of the day: 30 minute block.
  • Evening: 15 minute block.
  • Weekend: 30 minutes or an hour.
If you  dedicate shorter periods of time to reading like this, it accumulates into at least 6 hours of reading a week. For many, time frames like breakfast, lunch breaks, afternoon tea, before bed, and Sunday afternoons provide great opportunities to enjoy some excellent reading time.

The Benefits: By increasing your rate of speed, your mind is more attentive to your reading. You save time and don't backtrack as you read. With a highlighter in hand and being intentional in what you want to learn from your book, you are sure to capture the most important elements for later review. By reading multiple times throughout the day you log a lot of reading time in a week. This allows you to read an hour a day without having to carve out an entire 60-minute block from your day. The added benefit of short reading blocks is that you don't get bored with your reading or bite off more than you can process.

What reading tips do you recommend? What helps you stay focused and retain the content? How do you get through your stack of books?

Again, this book is the most recommended for learning through reading. Looking for good apologetics books? -- Look here. Looking for some great audio for learning? Check out Learning Skills 101.


David Parker said...

Adler's "How to Read a Book" definitely changed my approach to reading. One of the things I will always do now is scan the section I'm about to read to pickup little tidbits before I go through and fill in the cracks.

ProTheist said...

Good article. Every since I an article from Craig which addressed speed reading, I have been trying to get it down.

Unknown said...


I really enjoying this series and plan to keep it for future reference. Great idea and I'm looking forward to the future installments.


Michael Baldwin said...

I'm really enjoying this series Brian, thanks!

For increasing speed rates I'd like to recommend a book called "Breakthrough Rapid Reading" By Peter Kump.
It's an excellent book, my reading speed on the same book tested before has shot through the roof and I'm only a few chapters into the book!

I've also started reading "How to read a book" and it's great stuff so far, so i concur your recommendation ;P

KITOOMAL said...

I have learned speed reading. I agree on the points you make about it. But personally I prefer to sit down with a book and read it undisturbed and long enough for me to get 'into' it.

Maybe I will try the reading plan recommended here. Thanks!

Skylar said...

The main problem I have with Peter Kump's book is the fact that I do a lot of reading that does not allow me to use the finger technique, which is the basis of his method. You can't really use it with online reading or reading on electronic devices.

The Janitor said...

What works best for me is plain old reading. But breaking your reading sessions into chunks is generally great advice.

A few observations regarding speed reading:

I have a friend who learned to speed read and he swears by it. So I did some research into speed reading a few years ago when I was thinking about learning it myself.

What I found was that speed reading generally equals worse reading. Sub-vocalization probably aids memory because it engages another level of processing. In fact reading aloud was found to increasing memory of what was read during the middle of the material (it was postulated that the increase in memory was not found during the beginning of the reading session because readers were focused on their voice and not on the material). That fits with what we already know about mnemonics that the more ways you engage material the better you can recall it later.

It's true that your brain can register words as fast as speed reading programs claim, but long-term memory and comprehension requires focus, repetition, and integration. And I don't think speed reading actually helps the reader achieve the type of focus that aids memory (I could spell that out but I won't for space).

The upshot of speed reading is given by Adler in his famous book: not everything in a book is worth the time and attention given to it by regular reading. Speed read or simply skim parts of the book that aren't important to your purposes and read regularly the rest.

Tim Peirce said...

The 1st thing I do that is critical for me is I read the table of contents, skim through the book, look for pictures and diagrams, check the end of chapters for chapter summaries, skim appendices, notes, and glossaries. Doing all of this, in about 15 minutes, gives me a big picture grasp of the book that I carry with me as I read.

Consequently I recognize rabbit trails and sub points during your reading and can even choose to side step them. Also, if the reading is a topic I have some knowledge of, when I check the notations in the back and see authors I'm familiar with I have a general idea of the direction the author is going to take

Unknown said...

Thank you all for the great information and their sources!

They reminded me of a technique I remember from a resource of Greg Koukl and his organization Stand To Reason. It is the main article in his Jan/Feb 2008 bi-monthly newsletter Solid Ground, and is called, "Why Settle for Merely Reading a Book When You Can Master It?"

Greg provides recommendations of techniques to retain a greater ammount of the information read, and also to quickly refresh our memory in the future of important details.

This combined with all of your suggestions for quicker reading I believe offers the greatest benefit to our time spent reading.

Here is the link:
Here is the link to his original article in 1998:

While searching for Mr. Koukl's article above, one of the results on the search brought me to this page: It linked to a Mortimer Adler article on marking a book. Here is the link to Mr. Adlers article:

Thank you all again for your great suggestions, and may God be glorified through our being better stewards of his gifts to us.

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