Reading at all Speeds: 4 Types of Reading and When to Use Them

Posted by Cypress Marss on 11/17/15 9:00 AM

This reading type didn't quite make it into the list...

The most useful thing I learned my freshman year of college was how to read. I already knew how to read—how to turn blocks of letters into words—but as an earnest college freshman, I found that I was reading far too slowly. In an hour, I would get through four or five pages, having generated copious notes and a sense of self-doubt. Mercifully for earnest-19 year old me, my American Lit professor gave me some advice about how to read that has stuck with me since:

Reading is best, texts offer the most insight/information/enjoyment, if they are approached neither quickly nor slowly, but rather at a speed that fluctuates depending on the text’s complexity and relevance.

This approach to reading has proved invaluable to me since then and has allowed me to make my way through huge amounts of text and undertake large research projects.

Here are four types of reading and the contexts they should be employed in.

#1: The Pre-Read, Read AKA The “Should I Read This Read?”

Use this when: you're deciding whether a text is interesting, relevant, or helpful

How to "Pre-Read": Look at the first few pages and the last few pages, the table of context and the bibliography, and for keywords or other arresting features.

  • If you’re working on a research project, this means determining whether the article addresses your topic, and whether the methodology one that is interesting or relevant.
  • If you’re studying, does this text address topics you need to bone up on? Does it do it at a level of specificity that will be helpful to you?

#2: The Quick Read AKA The Main Idea Read

Use this when: you need a general familiarity with a text.

How to "Quick Read": Look for the main ideas of the text. (This means no time for fascinating tangents.)

  • If you’re reading a novel (or narrative nonfiction), this means reading primarily for plot rather than for style.
  • If you’re reading a scholarly article it means reading subheadings and the first and last sentence of each paragraph.  

#3: The Steady Read AKA The Normal Speed

Use this when: you're trying "just read" something; when you're interested in seeing more than just the main ideas of a text to register--style, nuance, ambiguity, intertextuality, ect—without devoting the time to understand exactly how each of these elements functions.

How to "Steady Read": The "Steady Read" is most people's default speed; however,

  • If you're the sort of person who finds that they read faster than they would like, that they find themselves missing things in a text because they default to a "quick read," practice checking in with yourself periodically as you read: at the end of each page ask yourself if you understood what you just read. If not, reread the section. Learning to notice when you've sped up, will help you train yourself to read at a slower, more attentive, pace.
  • If you're the sort of person who will find that they are spending too long reading something, that defaults to the "So-What" read, try putting down the pen, and sliding a bookmark down along the page as you read--demarcating each new line and helping you keep up your pace.

#4: The Close Read AKA The "So-What" Read

Use this when: you need to read between the lines; when you're interested in the way in which a text is creating meaning; when you're obsessed with a single passage; when you're writing a humanities paper.

How to Close Read: Read and then re-read. Take notes.

  • Ask: How does the way in which the text is formed, the way in which it is written, contribute to what is being said? Is there ambiguity, doubt, or nuance in the way in which ideas are presented? Does this contribute to the meaning in the text? So what?

For more relevant reading, check out these other blog posts, written by our tutors: Is Exam Stress Necessarily Bad?Achievement Goals and Why They MatterThe Bionic Power of Mnemonic Devices. Looking to work with Andrew Jungclaus? Feel free to get in touch! Cambridge Coaching offers private in-person tutoring in New York City and Boston, and online tutoring around the world.

Sign up for a free Study Skills Consultation!

Tags: study skills, homework help