Learning scientist and head geek. Formally Labster CTO
Train Your Brain #3: Acquiring new information
Many students spend a lot of their time reading material that they are never going to actually use – ourselves included.
You’ll learn how to set the right goals and constantly focus on these goals, rather than just reading faster and faster.
In addition to this, we have gathered some great tools that you will be able to use to store your notes and study more effectively using your computer.
READING FASTER, BETTER, SMARTER!
The reading techniques you will learn in this chapter are simple, easy and practical – and most importantly, very effective!
Before we can dig into them, you need to overcome a difficult barrier in your mind that tends to keep most students from effectively applying the following tricks: You cannot, and you do not need to, remember 100% of each book you read.
Instead you need to make it clear to yourself what you want to remember.
Ask yourself: How much of this book do I actually have to remember to e.g. get an acceptable grade (which of course depends on your personal goals)?
Is it 50%? 25%? Or maybe just 10%?
Very often, it is much less than you think. It is, however, also difficult to figure out exactly how much you need to read, as you don’t know what you are about to learn when you start reading books on unfamiliar subjects.
So when reading any new book, try to follow this 3 step process.
- Determine why you are reading the book
- Skim book chapters and headings to get an overview
- Decide what to read and focus on the critical parts
Next, let’s go a little more in depth with each step, and see how you can reduce your time spent on all books in the future.
#1 WHY ARE YOU READING THE BOOK?
Ask yourself first: What do I need to be able to remember when I have finished reading this book?
- For school books: Look at the course description, curriculum and the past exams to determine what you need to be able to remember without the use of books.
- For all books: See if you know anyone who has read the book before, and ask them which parts of the books were important/insightful, and which parts you can skim through or even skip. Finally, use online blogs to search for reviews of the books you are reading. They often contain explanations of which parts of the books are relevant depending on your goals in reading the book.
- An additional tip: Great books make it easier for you to learn the material by helping you with explanations at the beginning of each chapter. At the end of the chapters, they may also include conclusions with quick overviews of what you actually need to remember from those chapters. Look for these purpose and conclusion parts of the books, and use them to your advantage to understand what you will be learning, and whether it is worth spending time on.
Now that you have the knowledge of what you want to learn from the book, let’s take a look at the second step on how you can get a good overview of the book.
#2 GET AN OVERVIEW OF THE BOOK
- First, go through the table of contents to get an overview of the book, remove the irrelevant chapters, and then quickly review the conclusions of the important chapters’ first.
- Write down effective notes (e.g. using mind maps) for the conclusions of each chapter, while constantly keeping the goal of reading the specific chapter in mind. Simply ask yourself: What do I need to learn from this chapter?
- Now you have a great overview of the whole book and its content in your own personal notes. Finally, skim through your notes, and make it clear in your mind as to what you want to learn from this book and whether you need more information on certain topics.
Typically, you’ll find that you need more information from certain critical chapters.
Therefore, the next step is to learn how to determine what to spend more time on in the book.
#3 DIVE INTO THOSE CRITICAL CHAPTERS
- Review your notes, and decide which points you need more detailed information on, in order to meet your goal with the book.
- Start extending your initial notes with the additional information by digging into the parts of the chapters that contain the information you need in addition to your already acquired knowledge from reading the conclusions.
- Skim through the headlines, read highlights, look at and understand illustrations, and constantly ask yourself how this information helps you get closer to your goal with this book/chapter.
The above techniques are amazingly effective, and you will be able to complete even the longest books in no time, simply by focusing only on the things that matters to you.
Of course, the level of effectiveness depends a lot on how well the book is written – although luckily, most school books today do contain greatly detailed information about all of the chapters in the form of short and precise conclusions.
Also keep in mind that most of the actual content in the book’s chapters is only there to explain and help you remember the topic by using many stories and examples.
By using the note-taking and memory techniques in this guide, you will be able to understand and remember the majority of book chapters very easily, without even reviewing those stories and examples in the actual chapter content.
The following simple techniques are helpful for boosting your reading speed. However, always remember that the important thing is not how fast you read, but what you can remember and actually use later on! So our advice will always be to focus on training your memory skills and ability to understand what you are reading, rather than spending ages on training yourself to read faster.
We have, however, still gathered some of the most effective, and very simple speed reading techniques.
The following 3 techniques will boost your reading with minimum effort:
- Control the speed – Use your finger
- Increase the speed – The highway trick
- Keep the high speed – Boosting your attention and interest
#1 CONTROL THE SPEED – USE YOUR FINGER
Almost too simple to be true: Use your finger to control the pace of your reading and keep your mind engaged by keeping a constant reading speed.
By constantly using your pointing finger to move along the line you are currently reading, you will be able to:
- Control the speed of your reading
- Prevent yourself from going back and re-reading text or paragraphs
- Keep your eyes focused on the text and stay concentrated on the text and prevent your mind from drifting away
This simple reading technique is very powerful, and we encourage you to use this as often as possible – for obvious reasons, this is not practical for reading e-books, unless you print the e-book, of course.
#2 INCREASE THE SPEED – THE HIGHWAY TRICK
Do you know the feeling of driving on the highway at a very high speed while looking out the window, and then suddenly slowing down to normal speed at city streets when going off the highway – it suddenly feels like everything is going much slower than it really is, right?
The reason is simply that your mind has been forced to work at a much higher speed while you were on the highway, in order to process all the information coming into your brain. And now it suddenly has an overflow of capacity to process incoming visual information, so everything suddenly seems very slow.
By using this same trick, you can speed up your brain before you start reading, in order to boost your brain’s capacity and ability to work more actively with the content you are reading (e.g. asking questions in your mind while you are reading).
Simply force yourself to read e.g. four pages of the book at a very high speed - so fast that you will not be able to keep up and process all the incoming information. Use your finger to control the higher speed.
Once you reach a certain point, slow down to a normal reading pace, and you will have a surplus of brain capacity available to read the remaining content.
Use this additional brain capacity to both read faster, and also to continuously ask yourself the powerful questions such as: Why am I reading this chapter? What am I learning now? How can I use this?
This helps your mind always place your learnings in the right context in your brain, so you can remember them much more easily.
#3 KEEP THE SPEED – BOOST YOUR ATTENTION AND INTEREST
Often when people are reading, they suddenly find themselves having read a whole page or two of a book, but not remembering anything, because their mind started wandering off to another (supposedly more interesting) place.
Two simple things can help you keep this from happening:
- Read faster: When you start to slow down, your mind starts to take in new information more slowly, and you start to become bored as your brain is able to process more information than what is coming in. By forcing yourself to read faster, you’ll be using your full capacity and will therefore be able to learn faster. Just apply the highway trick once in a while if you find yourself dozing off. Using your finger to control the higher pace also helps you keep your attention on the book material.
- Know why you are reading: By constantly reminding yourself why you are reading a chapter, you’ll be able to keep yourself more engaged in the material. Ask yourself questions like the following, while you are reading:
- Why am I reading this?
- What can I learn from this?
- How does this relate to something I already know?
Try it right away. Quickly answer these 3 questions:
- Why are you reading this guide right now?
- What did you learn from this guide so far?
- How can you use this information?
As you already know, these types of questions also greatly improve your ability to remember and use the material later on. And as a positive side-effect, they also keep you engaged.
And that's it!
There is no point in you spending more time on speed reading techniques.
There are tons of courses out there that will claim to be able to teach you to read several times faster. In the end however, you will often end up spending more time practicing and training the techniques, just to make sure you can keep the higher speed level with a sufficient comprehension level.
So don’t read faster just for the sake of reading faster - you’ll end up wasting your own time.
TOP 3 NOTE-TAKING TOOLS FOR STUDENTS
As a final note for this part, we have included a list of the key software applications that you can use during your studies to become even more effective at acquiring and memorizing information.
#1 MICROSOFT ONENOTE
OneNote is a part of Microsoft Office solution, but students often overlook it. Microsoft OneNote is an amazing tool to help you store and organize your many notes.
You can read more about how to use the tool effectively here.
#2 MIND MANAGER
In order to be able to fully organize your notes, at some point, you should convert your important notes into mind maps. A great tool to do this with is Mind Manager.
The tool is very intuitive to use, and relies on the same principles that we have discussed in this guide, allowing you to leverage the power of coloring, shapes, contrasts, images etc.
You can download Mind Manager here.
EverNote is another note taking tool, very much in the same style as Microsoft OneNote.
EverNote however, offers great cross platform functionality, so you can view your notes online on the campus computers, on your Mac, PC, iPhone, etc.
On top of this, you can use EverNote to scan and take pictures of your handwritten notes, and then you can easily and conveniently search the text in your notes (given that your handwriting is not too hard to read).
You can find the tool here.
- You cannot, and you do not have to remember everything in the books you read!
- You must spend time to get an overview of the content in the books you read.
- Do not read faster just for the sake of reading faster.
- Focus on understanding what is most important to you in the book, and then spend more time on memorizing this material.