Tips on Reading a Book Effectively

For students, effective reading is of critical importance. But our incorrect reading habits don’t allow us to retain information well. This article provides tips on reading books effectively with high recall value.

One of the problems we face is of information overload. We read books, handouts, newspapers, magazines and Internet articles and are expected to have instant recall of the right information at the right time. For students, effective reading is of even more critical importance.

Students at top b-schools have to read more than a hundred books during their course. So how do they ensure they get the best out of their reading?

The answer is ensuring a high recall of whatever they read.

What creates good recall?

Remember doodling in class? Very enjoyable, and sometimes, part of your notes are inside that doodle. How can I make doodling a part of notes-taking? Remember the game of remembering 10 objects in a tray? If you used the ‘a-b-c-d’ concept of linked association, you could remember it. Most good mnemonics are humorous in nature.

If I take one concept at a time, or one paragraph at a time and, in real time, categorise this topic and put it in conjunction with other topics, I would have made a better imprint in my mind. Add to this some colour, some squiggles, some cartoons and some highlighting, then I am interested in and looking forward to what the lecturer is going to say (of the book is talking about) so that I can make more squiggles and create something Picasso-ish (or maybe Pollock-ish).

If I repeat, I remember.

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If my memory is refreshed, I will recall faster.

I don’t need to remember every line unless it is a drama script. If I remove everything but keywords, an article/chapter can become quite small.

If I have a top level map of where I am and where I need to be, I remember the roads quite well. So a map of a book shows me how things are linked and helps me remember

If I can use sight, sound, and other senses, I can recall better. My daughter creates a rap song for her history lessons, throws in some guitar chords and she remembers it all!!!

Is there a methodology to make notes in such a way that it is easy to recall?

Can this be used to take down lectures and notes from books?

I use something called mind maps.

Freemind and XMind are pretty good Open Source software, which you can install and use to make notes. It can also be used for brainstorming, outlining a project, a project report and I even use it for presentations.

But before you jump into mind maps, there are a few things to keep in mind. If you just create a mind map of a book, it is like taking a short cut, and purposeless.

Some tips on how to read a book

Approach the book outside in. This is not ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (you know, “begin at the beginning…”). Look at the cover, back cover, about the author, and read the table of contents. Close it and try to recall the table. This starts creating a map in your mind about the book and the overall territory. Read the TOC again. Think about what is different about this book. Why did this book get written (and no facetious remark, please, about making money, etc.)

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Understand why you want to read the book. What is it that you want from it? Is it just the concepts? Or is it to prepare for an exam? What type of exam is it? Therefore what do you need to extract from the book?

Get an idea of the time it will take to read the book. If you do not have enough time, what are your priorities? Do you need to read every line, every chapter? So what happens if you do not read this book?

All the above should take you 15 minutes maximum.

Now start with the first chapter (or the chapter you need to study)

Take a guess about the chapter. Read the section headings. Look at all the diagrams. Skim very fast, without stopping.

Now read the first line of each paragraph

This is the time when you are going to do your first recall. Create a preliminary mind map.

This should take you another 15 minutes. Later this will improve to 5 minutes.

Now read the details of the chapter, which are necessary and fill out your mind map.

If you have to remember stuff, create funny mnemonics.

Time taken for this depends on length of the chapter, the complexity and the amount of work needed.

Take a break. Reward yourself. Then go to the next chapter and do the same thing.

Link up all the chapters in the mind map. One advantage of this is that if you leave the book halfway and come back to it, just by looking at the mind maps, you will retain the continuity.

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If you can get together in a group and everyone does a book and gives a presentation, you can all cover a lot of books. Share the maps.

What about those lectures?

Create a mind map during the lecture in your notebook. Do not use your laptop. Use color pencils, doodles (and save the desks).

Listen to what the instructor is saying, and THEN put the keywords down. This is important. If you don’t understand, you cannot write it down. Ask for clarification. If we just blindly make notes, might as well bring a Dictaphone to class. Don’t worry that your mind map is a mess.

In the evening, recreate the mind map on your laptop. This is your first revision. Add in more details from the internet or the book. See if you can cross reference with other lectures or book reviews.

Revisit the map before the next class or while waiting for the instructor. This should hardly take you one minute and you will know what happened last time. If there is a spot quizFeature Articles, you are ready!!

Scan the map periodically or before a test/interview.

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