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Improve your reading skills

Improve your reading skillsFeeling intimidated by a big pile of books? Here’s how to select the appropriate information and read more effectively.

Plan using the contents page

It sounds obvious but the contents page is your map to the book. Often, you won’t need to read a whole book to get the information you need. Select the chapter or chapters which look most relevant and miss out the rest.

If you’re not sure, ask your teacher or tutor to pinpoint the areas they think are most important for the assignment.

Use the index

The index is another tool to help you find the most relevant areas in a book. Make a habit of checking the index to find references to the topics you are interested in.

Use sub-headings

Sub-headings help you find your way around a chapter of a book. If you don’t have time to read 20 pages in detail, look at all the sub-headings and decide which bits would be most useful.

Practice reading the other parts of the chapter more quickly and slowing down your reading when you get to the areas you think are important.

Use a dictionary

It's very easy to just drift over a word you don't know when you're reading. Sometimes, you might hardly notice that you didn't actually understand what you just read. Get into the habit of looking up words if you're not sure what they mean. You could even make a note of these words separately so you can look over them and make sure you remember them.

Write notes and mark pages

Making notes might make reading take a little longer, but it means you get much more out of it. It will force you to concentrate and understand what you read and the act of writing should help you remember some of the information. You should also record where the information you find is: include page numbers in your notes, and use bookmarks to find sections that you need to turn back to often. This is especially important if you're writing an essay that requires references.

Try to be selective in your note taking – copying out the whole book won’t help you. Set yourself guidelines such as one page of A4 notes per chapter.

If you're reading a library book, never underline, highlight or write in the margins: not only is it annoying for other people, you're likely to be fined.

Learn to skim

Skim reading is a useful skill when you need to pick out relevant parts from lots of material. The idea is to not read every word or even every sentence.

Try to let your eyes skim over the text spotting key words as you go. It does take practice, so don’t worry if you find it hard to start with.

When you come across an important section, read it carefully and take notes.

This isn't a substitute for proper reading, but it does allow you to find useful information quickly when you don't have time to read everything.

Know what you're looking for

If you know what you're looking for before you start reading, you're a lot more likely to find it. Think about the facts you need to find, the questions you need to answer or the things about the book you want to understand before you start. Try writing these key things down with space to note down the answers when you find them.

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