Academic success in college often hinges on your ability to absorb and comprehend a lot of materials—often in not a lot of time. Though it varies by major, you are practically guaranteed to encounter assigned readings. You might find yourself whizzing through those passages, pleased with the efficiency with which you’re completing your homework . . . until you get to class the next day and realize you can’t remember a thing you read.
Well, we asked the author of SuperReading for Success to share some of his tips for improving your own reading comprehension. Here you’ll find an excerpt from his book regarding hand pacing, a way of guiding your eye during reading that improves retention. It might just make your pointer finger the most useful digit on your hand (unless you’re prone to obscenities, in which case, you might want to work on that too).
When I’m teaching the SuperReading course, I get everyone’s attention and then throw a soft object the length of the room. I then ask who watched the object. Everyone raises their hand. Then I ask whether they made a conscious decision to watch it or if it was more a reflex. Virtually everyone agrees it’s a reflex, as there’s little time to make a considered decision. Why is this important? Because I want you to understand that the tool you are about to learn is well thought out. It makes sense and works very, very well. It is one of the foundations of this program. So why did I ask about watching the object? I asked because it is natural for humans to pay attention to a moving object. All animals do. It’s natural because that moving object might be a predator come to eat us. Our ancestors had to watch out for all sorts of nasty beasts like lions and tigers and snakes and scorpions and who knows what. Those who paid attention to movement lived. There is a technical term for those people who did not pay attention to moving objects: lunch! We can use this natural reflex to our advantage.
If you are right-handed, raise your right hand. Lefthanders raise your left. Now point to the sky. That forefinger doing the pointing is your new reading tool! Use it to pace yourself as you read. Do this by moving it under the words you are reading in a smooth, fluid motion. Most children in societies with written languages often use their fingers to keep their place as they read. Most educators have been told to “correct” this tendency. Funny, but it turns out that using the hand is a natural, intuitive technique that works very well with the right tools. You’re now getting those tools.
Hand pacing is quite wonderful. When I ask graduates even years after they have finished the SuperReading course, hand pacing is always one of their top three tools. Without hand pacing, they say, their minds wander off and they waste untold hours of their precious time. It also stops them reading the same sentence again and again before they understand the meaning.
Put up several small cards around your computer and other places with the word “POINT!” written on them. Change them around every couple of days so they continue to catch your eye. When you are hand pacing, you may speed up or slow down, depending on the material you are reading. However, while reading, remember to keep your hand moving! Do not stop. At first, you may miss some things. That’s OK. Your brain is capable of processing at rates many times faster than you do now. It will also get lazy if you let it. Let your brain know that it must process what you read as you go. It is very capable of this, and will quickly learn how to remember what you have read. However, you must give it no alternative. If you miss something, let it go. You can pick it up later when you “review.”
From this point forward, you will track underneath the line you are reading and remember the basic rule of hand pacing: go as fast as you can while maintaining comprehension.