Reading Tips for English Majors Who Can’t Read Good

If you’re naturally a slow reader, English may have been a bad choice. But just in case, here are three tips to speed up your reading.

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If you’re naturally a slow reader, English may have been a bad choice. But just in case, here are three tips to speed up your reading.

Reading Tips for English Majors Who Can’t Read Good

How I Get Through College as a Slow Reader

If you’re naturally a slow reader, English may have been a bad choice. But just in case, here are three tips to speed up your reading.

By Jill Phelan, St. Vincent College


Despite the fact that I am an avid fan of novels, I’m actually a slow reader.

It can be especially challenging considering that I’m majoring in English and am expected to read close to a book a week, but I’ve managed to get by in spite of my shortcomings.

You see, I didn’t always like reading. In fact, before seventh grade, I detested it. I was that kid in school who exerted more effort searching the internet for summaries and analyses when in reality, it would’ve just been easier to read the dang book.

But once seventh grade hit and I started taking an advanced English class, I was assigned to peruse material that I actually enjoyed. Even still, I never did much reading outside of school. As I got older, I found less and less time to dive into a good story.

So by the time I got to college, my reading skills weren’t all that impressive and I would soon find that I was going to be buried up to my eyeballs in work as a result.

In the Composition class that I took my senior year of high school, I learned that the only way to get faster was to “practice.” My teacher told me that reading for at least twenty minutes a day would help me become a more fluid reader, which was great advice—except for the fact that by the time this knowledge was bestowed upon me, I was already knee deep in assignments.

Needless to say, I didn’t really have time to get up to the required speed in order to finish all my homework by its due date.

I’ve always had an inkling that I was slower than my peers in terms of reading. My friends could get through thirty pages in a half hour without breaking a sweat, whereas the same amount of words could take me two hours to trek through and I would feel drained afterwards. It felt like I was running a marathon (or so I would imagine, since I’ve never actually done so before).

I wasn’t sure, though, if this feeling was all in my head or not, but then I found a test on the Staples website that told me how fast I actually read. As it turned out, I scored around 213 words per minute (I took the test a few times just to make sure the results were consistent), which the results also informed me was about 15 percent slower than the national average and way slower than the average college student.

Well, on the bright side, I now have confirmation that I need to step up my game. But on the down side, I really don’t have the time as a junior in college. *Sigh*

Fortunately, I do live up to my collegiate expectations in another way—I’m resourceful. I’ve since come to learn three useful things that have helped me survive school, despite the fact that I read at a snail’s pace:

Audiobooks Are Your Best Friend

If you’re forced to tackle a large amount of novels in a short amount of time, then audiobooks may be your best bet.

The great thing about them is that you’ll know just how long it’ll take you to get from start to finish, so it’s easier to factor into your busy schedule. All you have to do is press play and listen (and jot down some notes along the way, if need be).

I just tried out Amazon’s new service, Audible, and it was pretty awesome. I got through one of the books I needed for class in only four hours! It made my life so much easier. So if you have to money, I think it’s definitely worth the investment.

Skimming Doesn’t Mean Skimping

Now, I know not every homework assignment is going to mean cracking open a good story. Sometimes you have to read a textbook. Yuck.

And since listening to a textbook isn’t really an option (and even if it were, that would be super boring), the next best thing is skimming.

I had a professor freshman year teach me how to properly scan for information. It may not be a hard and fast solution that’s guaranteed to work every time, but it’s a good general rule of thumb.

Basically, you begin by reading the introductory paragraph of any given section, and then you read the first and last sentences of the remaining paragraphs before the conclusion. You may have to go into the second sentence or go back a line before the last sentence, but typically, you’ll get the basic idea of what you need in those areas. Then, you read the concluding paragraph.

The reasoning for this method is that you’ll get introduced to all the facts you need followed by a synthesis of the main points.

To put it simply, just focus on beginnings and ends. It’ll really help you cut down on the amount of time it takes to sort through all of the material while still providing you with enough detail to understand the big picture.

Summaries Aren’t Just for Cheating

Believe it or not, SparkNotes exists for more than simply learning the premise of a story in order to avoid reading the actual book.

Summaries can be a great supplemental tool to use before diving into a dense plot.

One of the reasons it takes me so long to get from one page to another is that my brain works harder to process the information my eyes are trying to absorb. But by looking over a short synopsis of the storyline before trudging through sentences, I don’t have to spend so much time thinking about what each event is leading to because I already know what’s going to happen.

It may take way the element of surprise, but it can be more efficient than the alternative. Chances are, you’re probably not all that invested in whether or not Brutus kills Caesar anyhow.

So don’t sweat it if you can’t read as fast as everyone else. Fitting in is overrated anyways, am I right? You don’t have to be a fast reader; you just have to be a smart one.

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