7 Tips for How to Read Faster (and Still Understand What You Read)

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iStock

Whether you skim a blog post, peruse files for work, or browse through a book, you most likely do some type of reading every day. But slogging through dense passages of text can be time-consuming, mentally exhausting, and hard on your eyes. If you want to read faster while maintaining reading comprehension, check out these seven tips.

1. PREVIEW THE TEXT.

Viewing a film’s trailer before watching the movie gives you context and lets you know what to expect. Likewise, previewing a text before reading it prepares you to quickly gain an understanding of what you’re about to read. To preview a text, scan it from the beginning to the end, paying special attention to headings, subheadings, anything in bold or large font, and bullet points. To get a big picture understanding, skim the introductory and concluding paragraphs. Try to identify transition sentences, examine any images or graphs, and figure out how the author structured the text.

2. PLAN YOUR ATTACK.

Strategically approaching a text will make a big difference in how efficiently you can digest the material. First, think about your goals. What do you want to learn by reading the material? Jot down some questions you want to be able to answer by the end. Then, determine the author’s goal in writing the material, based on your preview. The author’s goal, for example, might be to describe the entire history of Ancient Rome, while your goal is simply to answer a question about Roman women’s role in politics. If your goal is more limited in scope than the author’s, plan to only find and read the pertinent sections.

Similarly, vary your plan of attack based on the type of material you’re about to read. If you’re going to read a dense legal or scientific text, you should probably plan to read certain passages more slowly and carefully than you’d read a novel or magazine.

3. BE MINDFUL.

Reading quickly with good comprehension requires focus and concentration. Minimize external noise, distractions, and interruptions, and be mindful when your thoughts wander as you read. If you notice that you’re fantasizing about your next meal rather than focusing on the text, gently bring your mind back to the material. Many readers read a few sentences passively, without focus, then spend time going back and re-reading to make sure they understand them. According to author Tim Ferriss, this habit, called regression, will significantly slow you down and make it harder to get a big picture view of the text. If you carefully and attentively approach a text, you'll quickly realize if you’re not understanding a section, saving you time in the long run.

4. DON’T READ EVERY WORD.

To increase your reading speed, pay attention to your eyes. Most people can scan in 1.5 inch chunks, which, depending on the font size and type of text, usually comprise three to five words each. Rather than reading each word individually, move your eyes in a scanning motion, jumping from a chunk (of three to five words) to the next chunk of words. Take advantage of your peripheral vision to speed up around the beginning and end of each line, focusing on blocks of words rather than the first and last words.

Pointing your finger or a pen at each chunk of words will help you learn to move your eyes quickly over the text. And it will encourage you not to subvocalize as you read. Subvocalization, or silently pronouncing each word in your head as you read, will slow you down and distract you from the author’s main point.

5. DON’T READ EVERY SECTION.

According to Dartmouth College’s Academic Skills Center, it’s an old-fashioned myth that students must read every section of a textbook or article. Unless you’re reading something extremely important, skip the sections that aren’t relevant to your purpose. Reading selectively will make it possible for you to digest the main points of many texts, rather than only having time to fully read a couple.

6. WRITE A SUMMARY. 

Your job shouldn’t end when you read the last word on the page. After you finish reading, write a few sentences to summarize what you read, and answer any questions you had before you started reading. Did you learn what you were hoping to learn? By spending a few minutes after reading to think, synthesize the information, and write what you learned, you’ll solidify the material in your mind and have better recall later. If you’re a more visual or verbal learner, draw a mind map summary or tell someone what you learned.

7. PRACTICE TIMED RUNS.

Approaching a text strategically, reading actively, and summarizing effectively takes practice. If you want to improve your reading speed, use a timer to test how many words (or pages) per minute you can read. As you’re able to read faster and faster, check in with yourself to make sure you’re happy with your level of comprehension.

5 Trouble-Shooting Tips to Keep Your Houseplant Alive

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iStock

Maybe you’ve heard that houseplants can help improve indoor air quality. Perhaps you’ve read that looking at plants can help you focus. Or maybe you just really like how that ficus looks in your living room. But buying a plant and keeping it alive are two different things, and the answer to your botanical woes isn’t always “don't forget to water it.” Here are five green-thumb tips to make sure your plant stays as leafy green as it was the day you bought it.

1. Don't overwater your houseplant.

You don’t want to neglect your plant, but it’s easy to go overboard with the watering can, and that can be just as harmful as forgetting to water your plant for weeks. A watering schedule can help you keep track of whether or not your plants need attention, but you shouldn’t water just because it’s Sunday and that’s when you usually do it. Before you go to water your plant baby, make sure it actually needs it.

Your plant’s water needs will vary based on the type of plant, its location, how old it is, and plenty of other factors, but there are a few rules of thumb that can put you on the right track. Lift the pot. If it’s heavy, that means that the soil is full of water. If it’s light, it’s dry. Dig a finger into the soil around its roots, making sure to feel beneath the surface. Still damp? Hold off. Dry? Grab the H2O.

If you really struggle to strike the right balance between too much and too little water, consider a smart plant system. And regardless of how often you water, make sure to use a pot with good drainage to prevent root rot.

2. Watch the temperature of the room your houseplant is in.

Be aware of where your plant is situated in the room, and whether there might be any temperature extremes there. Is your fern sitting right above the radiator? Is your peony subject to a cold draft? Is your rosemary plant stuck leaning against a window during a snowstorm?

As a rule, most houseplants can handle temperatures between 58°F and 86°F, according to a bulletin from the University of Georgia. The ideal range is between 70°F and 80°F during the day, and between 65°F and 70°F at night. Below 50°F, sensitive plants can suffer damage to their leaves. However, as with most plant advice, it depends on the species—tropical plants usually do well in higher temperatures, and some other plants are happier in colder rooms.

If your sad-looking plant is sitting in the middle of a cold draft or right next to the heater, consider moving it to a different spot, or at least a few inches away. If it’s near the window, you can also draft-proof the window.

3. Maintain humidity for your houseplant.

Be mindful of the kind of ecosystem that your plant comes from, and know that keeping it happy means more than just finding the right amount of sun. A tropical plant like an orchid won’t thrive in dry desert air. According to the Biology Department at Kenyon College in Ohio, a dried-out plant will look faded and wilting. You can immerse it in water to help it bounce back quickly. (Warning, though: A plant that’s getting too much moisture can look that way, too.)

If your home gets dry—say, when you have the heater on full blast in the winter or the AC on constantly during the summer—you’ll need to find a way to keep your plant refreshed. Your can buy a humidifier, or create a humidity tray by placing the pot on a tray of pebbles soaked in water. The plant will soak up the humidity as the water under the pebbles evaporates. You can also get a spray bottle and mist your tropical plants periodically with water. (But don't mist your fuzzy-leafed plants.)

Not sure how humid your house is? You can get a humidity gauge (known as a hydrometer) for less than $10 on Amazon.

4. Look out for bugs on your house plant.

Even if you do all of the above correctly, you can still struggle to keep a plant healthy due to infestations. Keep an eye out for common pests like spider mites, which will leave brown or yellow spots on leaves or make the plant’s color dull. If you discover these tiny mites (you may need to use a magnifying glass), wash your plant immediately with water to knock off as many mites as possible. Wash the plant with an insecticidal soap, too, but make sure the label says it’s effective for mites.

5. Repot your houseplant.

Healthy plants often outgrow their homes. if you notice that there are roots coming out the drainage holes at the bottom of your pot, or that water sits on the surface of the soil for a long time before draining down, or that your plant’s roots are coming up out of the soil, it’s time to upgrade to a bigger pot. Signs of a “root bound” plant whose root system is too big for its container can also include wilting, yellowed leaves, and stunted plant growth.

No matter what the size of your plant, it’s good to repot it once in a while, since the nutrients in the soil deplete over time. Repotting creates a fresh nutritional start and can help perk up unhappy plants.

If your plant looks unhealthy and you're still stumped, try consulting the website of a university horticulture department for other signs of plant distress and potential solutions.

Yale Is Offering Its 'Science of Well-Being' Course for Free Online

Chainarong Prasertthai/iStock via Getty Images
Chainarong Prasertthai/iStock via Getty Images

Even if you’ve heard that money or career success won’t necessarily make you happier, it’s still hard to resist the impulse to correlate your own well-being to external factors like those. Why are we so bad at predicting what will make us happy, and how can we figure out what actually does the trick?

These are just a couple questions you’ll be able to answer after completing “The Science of Well-Being,” a Yale University course currently being offered for free on Coursera. According to Lifehacker, the 10-week course consists of about two to three hours of reading and videos per week, and you can work at your own pace—so you can definitely take advantage of a free weekend to fly through a few weeks’ worth of material at a time, or postpone a lesson if you’re swamped with other work.

The class is taught by Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos, who will lead students through relevant research on how we’re wired to think about our own well-being and teach you how to implement that knowledge to increase happiness in your life. Since the coursework is task-oriented and the course itself is aimed at helping you build more productive habits, it’s an especially good opportunity for anyone who feels a little overwhelmed at how vague a goal to “be happier” can seem.

As for proof that this is definitely an undertaking worth 20 hours of your time, we’ll let the previous students speak for themselves: From 3731 ratings, the course averages 4.9 out of 5 stars.

Though the course is free, an official certificate to mark your completion—which you can then add to your LinkedIn profile—will cost you $50. Enroll on the Coursera website, and check out 23 other science-backed ways to feel happier here.

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[h/t Lifehacker]

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