How to Massively Increase Your Reading Comprehension


October 8, 2010   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

What was the last great non-fiction book that you read? What one book was so good, that after you finished it, you promised yourself that you were going to read it again?

One more question, how many books on your bookshelf do you have, that you told yourself you were going to reread because there was more you wanted to get out of it?

I will go first, my answer is 38 books. I currently have 38 books on my bookshelf, that were so good that I told myself I would read them again.

Since I average a little less than two books a week, that’s about six months of reading material that I have already read before.

There’s too much great work out there today, to spend six months rereading books I have already read. Instead of spending six months taking in new ideas, I have to spend six months going over what I should have already learned.

Reading comprehension, isn’t a word most of us have heard since taking college entrance exams. However, as I get older, I’m starting to see how important this skill is to have.

After my personal library got to the point where I needed to reread more than 30 books, I saw that it was time to change. The following is a very simple approach that I have used that has not only increased my comprehension many times over.

The Index Card Method for Increasing Your Reading Comprehension

Start this process, before you begin reading:

  1. Write out the purpose for reading the book on the top of a 3 x 5 index card.
  2. Review the outline, index, author bios, reviews, etc., for five to ten minutes.
  3. List the top five questions that you want the author to answer on the 3 x 5 index card.
  4. Use the notecard as a bookmark and review questions before each reading session.

Why Does This Work?
Chances are, that you probably not that amazed with this approach. Just stay with me here, as I explain to you why this works.

Take 60 seconds and take the test in this video. To get the most out of this post, take the test before reading another word.

Done watching? OK great. Now be honest with me, how many of you noticed? Even though I was writing a post on selective attention, I still didn’t notice.

This video is a great example of how our brain chooses to process some items and discard others, also known as selective attention. You have the choice to use the phenomenon to your advantage or disadvantage.

Imagine if you started watching that video after they asked you to count how many passes the white team made. You probably wouldn’t be able to record how many passes the white team made, how many passes the black team made, or the fact that a bear moon-walked across the video. In other words, watching that video would be of no use to you.

This is exactly how I used to pick up a book. Without asking myself what I should focus on, I would start reading page from page # 1. It wasn’t until after I was done, that I finally started to understand what the author was trying to tell me. The next part is the worst, knowing that there is much more to get out of the book, I would file it on my bookshelf, and tell myself I was going to read it again.

The first time I tried the index card method, I noticed an inner voice in my head. A voice that told me when to sit up straight and pay attention because an important part of the book is coming up. Just as important, this voice also let me know when to read a little faster because the current material just wasn’t that important. Not only will did I see an increase in comprehension by applying this method, I also found myself reading much faster because my brain knew it was OK to skim the non-essential.

What to Focus On
The questions that you write down on your notecard will vary from book to book. One tip is to be as specific as possible as to what area you want to improve. For example, say you’re reading a personal development book. Instead of asking yourself, “How can I apply this information?”, ask, “What habits can I form to help implement the author’s core message?”

Other questions that I find myself asking a lot include:

  1. What is the one thing that the author wants me to start doing?
  2. What is the one thing that the author wants me to stop doing?
  3. What will be my immediate action, once I put this book down?
  4. Are there any projects I need to begin, that will help me implement the ideas in this book?
  5. How can I apply what I have learned to become a better financial planner?

It Doesn’t have to be a Book
This method isn’t limited to just books. Brainstorm a few questions before the next blog post or newspaper article you read. I have even started implementing this approach to emails.

The goal is to create more, while consuming less.

Good luck!

Written on 10/08/2010 by RJ Weiss. RJ Weiss writes at A blog focused on helping you finance a remarkable life. Photo Credit: skippyjon

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