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Flexible reading (purpose of reading and preview)

What type of information do you have to learn from it? How long do you have to retain the information? How does this selection fit into the whole software? Why has this reading been assigned? To what use will the information be put?

Be flexible reader! Difficulty and purpose of reading determine how to read. Your reading speeds, not just one reading speed. Speeds must vary with the nature of the reading task and the reader's familiarity with the materials. Determine purpose for reading this particular selection. Preview the selection to determine its difficulty. How familiar are you with this field of study? How many unknown and essential words are in it? Read the introduction, subheads, italicized sentences, marginal notes, and conclusion. Try to grasp the general thought structure by integrating these isolated clues.

Preview a text:
  • take 30 to 60 seconds.
  • look over the title of the chapter.
  • look at all the headings, subheadings and marked, italic or dark print.
  • look at any pictures or illustrations, charts or graphs.
  • quickly skim over the passage, reading the first and last paragraph and glancing at the first sentence of every other paragraph.

close the book and ask yourself:

  • What is the main idea?
  • What kind of writing is it?
  • What is the author's purpose?

You might not think that you could possibly answer these questions with so little exposure to the material, but if you do the read correctly, you should have some very good general ideas. If you have a general idea of what the passage is about before you really read it, you will be able to understand and remember the passage better. When you finally get to the point where you are actually slowly reading the passage, read in a "questioning" manner -as if you were searching for something. It sometimes helps if you take the heading or title of a chapter and turn it into a question.

How to read an essay

Note: this excellent process can be applied to books, chapters in books, articles, and all manner of reading. It has been adapted with permission from Professor M. Les Benedict, Department of History, Ohio State University

What is the factual information that you want to retain?

Is there a good description of something you knew, or did not know, that you want to remember its location? If so, mark it. If for research, make out a research note on it.

Does the author cite some important source that you want to retain for future reference?

If so, mark it. If for research, make out a bibliographic note either now or on reviewing the article for such citations.

What is the title?

What does it tell you about what the essay is about?

What do you already know about the subject?

What do you expect the essay to say about it--especially given when it was written and who the author was (see next questions)?

When was the essay written?

Do you know anything about the state of the historical literature on the subject at that time?

If so, what do you expect the essay to say?

Who wrote it? What do you expect him or her to say here?

What are the author's credentials, or affiliations?

What are his/her prejudices?

Are you familiar with the authors' other work related to the subject?

Read the essay, marking the information that is crucial to you.

When the text gives you crucial information, mark and note it:

What exactly is the subject?

How does it correspond to the title?

What are the main points--the theses?

What is the evidence that the author gives to sustain the thesis or theses?

Once you have finished the article, reflect on:

What have your learned?

How does it relate to what you already know?

Did you find the argument convincing on its own terms?

Given what you know about the subject, do you think the main points might be correct even if the argument was not convincing?

Can you think of information that makes you doubt the main points, even if the essay argued it well?

How does the essay relate to other things you have read--that is, how does it fit in the historical literature?


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