Get in the Right Mindset for Reading to Learn
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Reading to learn

Reading to Learn

This is the first of several articles in our Reading to Learn series. By “reading to learn,” we mean a deliberate and mindful way of reading that promotes both understanding and remembering.

There’s a lot to be said for approaching reading to learn with the right mindset. Let’s suppose you’re taking a class online or at school, or dealing with some intense instructions for filling out an application or other paperwork, or reading a book to learn how to do something specific. There’s just so much reading to do. How do you deal with it?

Break The Bad Habit of Reading Poorly

You find yourself resenting the time it takes to get it all done, so you’re tempted to rush through it as quickly as you can. The problem is, past experience tells you that you really don’t understand or remember very much when you do that.

Here comes the first piece of advice: stop thinking, “it takes too long” to read for learning. In fact, realize that reading poorly is what’s wasting your time; you get very little out of it for the time you spend doing it. Worse still, you feel like you have to spend even more time rereading it because you didn’t “get it” the first time. So promise yourself that you will no longer waste your time reading too quickly and superficially.

Get Motivated

Next, every time you sit down to read, motivate yourself by asking, “Why am I reading this? What’s my purpose?” If you’re taking a course, why are you taking it? Does it bring you closer to a goal that’s important to you—maybe earning a certificate or a degree or gaining a new skill? Take just a moment to visualize yourself completing that goal and imagine how good that’s going to feel. Hold that motivation in the back of your mind as you get started.

Keep Your Concentration

While you’re reading, discipline your thinking; don’t let your mind wander off-topic. If it does, don’t beat yourself up; just gently bring your mind back to the text. Experiment with how long you can keep that disciplined concentration going without a break. If your confidence is low, start by setting a timer for five or ten minutes. When the timer goes off, get up and stretch or walk around for just a couple of minutes. Let your mind process what you just read in the background while you enjoy the feeling of movement. Then sit down and set the timer again. PaceMyDay, part of the BEST Suite of apps, would be perfect for keeping track of sessions and breaks.

Once five or ten minutes at a time is easy for you, increase by five minutes until that’s easy for you. When that gets easy, increase by five more minutes. You get the idea. Just build up gradually; don’t push too hard. You’ll build it up over time.

Stay Actively Engaged with the Text

While you read, the most important aspect of being in the right mindset is to stay actively engaged with the text. We’ll get into specific ways to do that in subsequent articles of this series, but here are some strategies to get you started:

  1. Paraphrase each sentence and paragraph after you read it. If you can’t put it in your own words, you don’t understand it.
  2. Take notes in your own words as you read to keep yourself actively engaged. In your notes:
    • Capture main ideas and key terms
    • Make connections between important concepts
    • Write an outline, draw a diagram or picture, or come up with a mnemonic to help you remember items in a series.


Get in the right mindset for reading to learn:

  • Don’t waste your time reading poorly. Save time by doing it right the first time.
  • Motivate yourself by knowing your purpose, your “why.”
  • While reading, maintain your concentration on the text, even if you need to read in short spurts at first. You’ll build up to longer sessions over time.
  • Always, always stay actively engaged with the text. Paraphrase and take notes—and there are many more strategies to come in the next articles of the Reading to Learn series.
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