Different Kinds of Reading

There are different kinds of reading. Scanning the menu at a restaurant is reading. Skimming through a page of Google search result is reading. Glancing through a magazine while waiting for your turn with the dentist is reading. Devouring every word of a best-selling thriller is reading — even though you will not remember much beyond the barest outline of the plot two days after you finish the book. And “reading” is also the label given to the process in which we engage when we try to understand, learn, and retain complex material published in printed form. All of these activities are called reading, but they have very different purposes and results.

The Purpose of Study Reading

Study reading is the slowest, most intricate of the various kinds of reading. Its purpose is to absorb and retain material presented in many different kinds of printed formats, but usually in the form of a textbook, or coursebook of selected reading.

Your mind will understand and register a lot of material when you skim and scan, but the purpose is limited and these items are usually stored in your short-term memory. For example, your eyes will scan dozens of names in an index, and your brain will only retain the page numbers you want to access. But how often do you remember those page numbers even ten minutes after you looked them up? That data has disappeared from your short-term memory.

In study reading, you need to concentrate on each word and let it register in your brain. You need to work with the material in the many different, focused ways that will make it part of your long-term memory.

If you have unrealistic expectations about the speed and ease with which you can properly study your textbooks, you will very quickly get frustrated and set yourself on the road to exam disaster. Do not expect to go fast. Your texts cannot be read like novels or directories. Start out by knowing that effective study reading is slow, sometime tedious, hard work.

On the other hand, study reading is the most satisfying of all reading. All other forms serve a purpose, but only study reading changes you. Aside from the obvious medium-term benefit of passing exams and getting better grades (and the self-confidence that comes with excellent results) don’t underestimate the power of knowledge that you accumulate as course after course of information becomes part of you.

Study reading also makes physical changes to your brain. The short, shallow writing encouraged by the Internet and smartphone use has probably warped your brain to the point that engaging with nuanced, sophisticated material is difficult and daunting. That’s the effect of neuroplasticity working against you. Your brain has adapted to repeated exposure a certain kind of stimuli. When it comes to study reading, your job is to get neuroplasticity working for you so that your brain changes to handle “deep learning.”

How? Find out by reading Study Smarter, Not Harder by Kevin Paul, or wait till next week to read another blog post from us.

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