How Can I Get the Most Out of My Reading?

Intentional reading and note-taking can be achieved by scanning, intensive reading, and reading by topic.

Have you ever wondered how you can achieve intentional reading?

Do you find it difficult to build a habit of reading? Are you struggling to remember what you have read?

While reading books comes with a lot of benefits, we understand how difficult it is to read every day and to remember what we have learned.

If you are experiencing the same issue, intentional reading will be very helpful for you. Intentional reading allows you to find your motivation in reading, take better notes, and retain the information you need to know.

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What is Intentional Learning?

The gist of purposeful and intentional learning is to understand why you want to read and learn something. Understanding the “why” will help you actively look for information that can resolve your questions and achieve your goal, which helps you maximize the gain from your reading.

The Benefits of Intentional Learning

If you are wondering why you need to learn purposefully, here are some reasons:

Gain motivation in reading and learning

Most people find it difficult to build a habit of reading because they lack the motivation to do so. Many also find it very difficult to stay focused when reading.

However, once you have identified the reason why you want to learn, you will actively look for ways to achieve your goal and fulfill your desire to learn.

Fueled by this motivating factor, you will find it much easier to get into the habit of reading, looking for information that you need to know, and remembering the information.

Achieve deeper learning

Nowadays, with the popularity of short videos, short articles, and podcasts, it is so easy for us to quickly glimpse through the information without retaining it. We also didn’t get the time to dig deeper into and do some further research on the topic.

With intentional learning, you will know exactly what you want to look for, and you will get to spend more time understanding things you have read. In other words, intentional learning will spark your desire to learn so that you don’t just stay on knowing the surface knowledge.

Increase knowledge retention

One of the problems of mindless reading is that you won’t remember what you have read. Because you haven’t thought about why you wanted to learn that piece of information, your brain won’t make the effort to retain the information thinking that it isn’t important to you.

When you read to answer your questions in mind, and when you apply the knowledge to your work, you will easily remember the knowledge you have learned as your brain identifies the information as something useful and frequently used.

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The Preparatory Step for Intentional Reading

The key difference between your normal reading and intentional reading is that you will take some time before you start reading to think about the purpose of your learning.

1. Identify the Key Issues

To initiate the process of purposeful learning, you need to identify your learning needs. This includes asking questions like:

  • What are the problems I am facing in my learning journey or at work?
  • Are there any issues that I need to resolve?
  • What are some problems that persist?

2. Determine the Scope and Priority of Learning

Once you have identified the questions you have in mind when reading, you will then have to identify the urgency of each question to determine the scope and priority of your reading.

To do so, you will have to:

  • List out all the questions you have, with the most urgent and important one being on the top of the list, followed by the less urgent and important questions
  • Identify the resources you have in resolving these questions. Match the resources to the specific question you have in mind by writing them next to each question.

By doing so, you will be in control of your learning process, including the things that you are going to read, and the sequence that you are reading it. With this clear plan in mind, you can start your reading now!

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Three Ways of Reading and Note-taking

Once you have identified your goal, you can choose a way of reading that suits your needs. Here are three ways of reading that you can use when reading a text:

  1. Scanning: for quickly summarising the useful points in a book in response to the questions you have identified.
  2. Intensive Reading: for thoroughly understanding the book.
  3. Reading by Topic: for gaining knowledge and insight into a specific issue.

Different ways of learning may apply to different situations. For example, if you are hoping to write on a certain topic, you may have to choose Method 3: Reading by Topic to learn more about the area you wish to write on.

Alternatively, if you are hoping to quickly gain insights as to certain questions you have in mind, you may want to adopt Method 1: Scanning to skim through the book and get what you need.

Now let’s go into how we can take notes under these three methods.

Method 1: Scanning

This is a method that helps you quickly grasp the key points in the book, and in particular, the gist of the book that caters to your needs. As a form of intentional learning, it requires you to identify the things you want to learn from the book before scanning the book to obtain the answers.

1. Ascertain your learning purpose

To ascertain your learning purpose, you can write down:

  • the questions and issues you have in mind
  • the extent to which you wish to solve these questions and issues

2. FInd out whether the resources you have to suit your needs

Next, you will have to check whether the text you are going to read suits your needs. This includes considering:

  • Whether the content of the book covers your questions
  • The author of the book and his/her background

By looking into the content page and summary of the book, you will have a better idea of what the book is going to cover.

Understanding the background of the author will also help you understand his/her perspective, and the direction and key messages of the book. This will help you identify whether the book can answer the questions you have in mind.

3. Identify 16 key sentences and words in the book.

Next, as you start reading, try to highlight 16 sentences and words in the book that relate to the questions in your mind.

Setting a limit on the number of sentences and words to highlight helps you to identify the sentences and keywords that are truly important and conducive to answering your questions.

4. Derive 3 key points from the key sentences and words identified

Once you have a list of key sentences and keywords highlighted, you will be able to summarise them into 3 key points that can answer the questions you have identified in Step 1.

5. Generate a summary of the book and a conclusion to your question

Upon identifying the 3 key points, it’s time to think about the ultimate answer to the question derived from the book. This is where you can write a one-paragraph summary of the book that links to your learning purpose.

Method 2: Intensive Reading

The key to intensive reading is to thoroughly understand the book. How fast you read a certain chapter, however, should depend on how closely related that chapter is to your learning purpose, and how familiar you are with the information that chapter conveys.

1. Ascertain your learning purpose

Like Method 1: Scanning, you will have to first identify the reason why you would like to read the text to achieve intentional reading.

2. Understand the structure of the book

Because our goal here is to thoroughly understand the book, we will have to first understand the flow of the book and what it covers.

This can be done by drawing a mindmap or writing an outline based on the table of contents of the book.

3. Adjust your speed of reading as you read

When you start reading, ask yourself two questions when you reach every new section:

  • How relevant is this to my learning purpose?
  • How familiar I am with the content in this section?

Your reading speed should depend on the above two questions:

  • If the content is irrelevant to your learning purpose, you can quickly skim through the section or just skip it.
  • Where the content is relevant but you are already very familiar with it, you can skim through it to see if there is anything new that you haven’t sighted before or are not familiar with.
  • If the content is relevant and you are not familiar with it, you can focus on these sections. If possible, you may read and re-read the chapter until you understand the message conveyed.

4. Take notes during your intensive reading

As you start intensive reading for the section that relates to your goal and that you are not familiar with, you will have to start taking detailed notes in this section to help you better understand the content.

You may also find it useful to do some further research in the area to help you better grasp and understand the knowledge.

Putting more time into the important sections will help you effectively learn and maximize your gain in your reading time.

Method 3: Reading by Topic

Reading by topic is most helpful if you are hoping to do specific research into certain questions. This is usually the case when you have clear topics and questions in mind. For example, when you have a research topic for your school and work projects.

1. Build a learning structure

Instead of focusing on the structure of the book, your learning structure under this method of intentional reading will be based solely on your learning needs.

Say when you have a research topic, you can generate some sub-topics and list them out under the structure.

2. Fill in your structure

Next, you can start filling in your learning structure based on the knowledge you gained from your text.

Under this method, you are suggested to read at least 3 books on the topic to help you gather insights from different authors and to better understand the topic.

You can continue reading until you have filled in your entire learning structure and answered all the questions you have in your structure.

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Indeed, there is no “best” way of reading. The three suggested methods of intentional reading above can be used in different situations. The structure of your notes will vary depending on your purpose of reading.

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