Whether you're a student or a member of the workforce, the ability to read well can set you apart. Outstanding readers read quickly, confidently and accurately, and they have thorough comprehension. Concentration on what you read is key to improving in all these areas, and, while better concentration comes naturally with practice, there are several simple strategies that can dramatically improve concentration while reading. Plus, with improved concentration come improved speed, accuracy and comprehension.
Environmental and Physical Strategies
Real concentration involves the whole body and is affected by the environment in which you're working. Thus, to improve concentration while reading, it's helpful to consider the time and place at which you read. Many people concentrate best alone or in a quiet room, although some find it helpful to read in an area with some background noise, such as a park or coffee shop.
Involving the whole body in reading makes a remarkable difference in concentration. Techniques such as reading aloud, sitting up straight, standing, or even pacing keep the mind alert. Underlining, highlighting, and note-taking also improve concentration by turning passive reading into an active process that keeps the eyes and hands, as well as the brain, on the move.
How you start reading can make a big difference in your concentration. Setting a goal for the number of pages you'll read, the time you'll spend, the techniques you'll use or the information you'll find focuses your mind on a specific task. Previewing or skimming to get a general idea of what a passage or chapter is about can dramatically improve your comprehension of what you read. Asking yourself some questions about what you are about to read turns you from a passive reader into an active reader, and will help you concentrate on finding the answers to your questions.
For maximum concentration while reading, you should make the material your own by asking and answering questions about it. Try answering the "4 Ts" about each passage you read: What is the type of literature (e.g., argument, story, satire)? What is the tone (e.g., ironic, argumentative, sad)? What is the topic? And what is the author's thesis, or main point about the topic?
Summarizing or paraphrasing as you read is also crucial to maintaining concentration. Pausing at the end of each paragraph or passage to mentally state the main idea in your own words forces you to focus and prevents you from getting lost in the text.
Note-Taking and Marking the Text
A highlighter, a pencil and a piece of paper are your best friends when you want to concentrate on reading. You can circle or underline the key ideas in each paragraph, diagram the flow and structure of the author's argument or analysis, note the relationship of one section to another, and jot down words you need to look up or questions you have. Taking notes as you read, in the margins or on a separate piece of paper, can also be valuable. You can also use color coding to organize information or draw funny illustrations to keep yourself interested.
- Becoming a Master Student; Dave Ellis
- Brigham Young University: Center for Teaching and Learning: Five Keys to Helping Students Read Difficult Texts
Shandi Stevenson is a teacher, tutor and author whose work has appeared in national and international publications including "Shibboleths," "Homeschooling Today," and "Resort Living." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in literature in English and a Master of Arts in humanities.