Mark Twain quipped, “Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.” When it comes to your health and safety, or the health and safety of others in your care, you want to be a careful reader—but being careful doesn’t necessarily mean being a slow reader. In fact, if we read too slowly, our minds might wander and our focus and concentration suffer.
- Let your purpose for reading (read medical research, get an update, learn a new skill, read for fun) determine your reading speed and level of comprehension. To remember in depth what you read, aim for 90-100% comprehension; for fun, 50-70%, or just to be aware that the material exists if you might need it again, 30-50% comprehension.
- Learn the vocabulary ahead of time. You might find that when you read and already know the medical terms, concepts, and procedures, you naturally read faster.
- Skim each chapter in a detailed medical book twice before you read it. Skim the first time to identify any negative words; this is because people tend to read negatives as positives (put a pencil check in the margins next to the negative words, such as don’t, can’t, won’t, no, and not). When you just look for the negatives, they’ll tend to jump out at you. Skim a second time to get the gist of the material and to see what the material covers and how the various sections relate to each other.
- After you’ve skimmed twice, read at whatever speed you need to in order to understand the material.
To condition yourself to move faster on a page, set some time limits for yourself and skim large amounts of material—fun stuff—for practice. Then when you return to your important reading, you still might not read at lightning speed, but you’ll probably read a little faster than before, and by following the guidelines above, you’ll be a more effective reader.