Speed reading is your best friend if you’re an English Lit student. Here are 5 useful tips to maximise your speed reading extravaganzas!
1. Create A Theme Chart
One of the best ways to squeeze as much juice as possible out of your already stretched reading schedule. You’ll be writing essays on many, many books. Some you’ll find fascinating, some…not so much. I won’t mention any names. Except Spenser’s Faerie Queene, created to torture English Lit students for the rest of time. Mic drop.
When it’s time to pen your essays, you’ll almost definitely structure them by theme, unless you’ve slightly lost it and gone full Joycean. Compiling a thematic cheat sheet during your first speed read will give you a head-start.
Instead of manically tearing through Mrs. Dalloway at 3am, trying to create a mosaic of motifs relating to female sexuality, you can coolly refer to your eternal life saver, the theme chart, where you have neatly listed any instances of Freudian vibes.
2. Note Down Page Numbers
Speed reading is all about having a plan of action, similar to an All You Can Eat buffet.
It’s impossible to get a good grade if your essay’s lacking an abundance of quotations from the text you’re analysing. Impossible. You also need to use quotes from critics, to back up/challenge your own scurrilous claims. Quotes. Quotes through the roof, my friend.
On top of this quote avalanche, you’re probably working on that seminar presentation. And that second essay. So a really nifty speed reading trick is to note down useful page numbers as you go, from which you can later quote. It’ll save you time and help structure your argument. Don’t go Donald Trump on me. Back up your claims with some legit quotes.
3. Have Lots Of Little Breaks
I don’t care what Hollywood movies about succeeding against the odds tell us. You cannot sit, fixed to one spot, for hours upon end and spin gold. You just can’t. You need to get up, move, scream, stare into the abyss, then return to work.
I could cite some scientific sources here, but I’m an English grad: I’ve done enough citing to know I never want to cite again. However, I can confirm that going for a walk or doing some star-jumps improves your circulation and wakes you up. Giving your mind a break from relentless blobs of text will make it sharper and more efficient when you return your nose to the book.
Speed reading is useless if you’re bringing a frazzled and fatigued mind to the table. Your brain needs fuel. Carve out time for regular snacks (not sugar highs, the good stuff: nuts, seeds, etc) and hydration to up the quality of your speed readathons.
4. Highlight Liberally
It’s one thing referring to your theme chart and quotation list at 5pm, when you’ve got reams of time and you’re serenely sipping your chamomile tea. But when it’s the next morning and you still haven’t finished that essay, those wild pink and green fluro stripes become a surprisingly useful road-map.
Organised charts are great, but you’re a stressed out student and they’re unlikely to be super thorough articles of perfection. You’ll miss stuff. Especially nearer the end of the book, when your flatmates bang on your door to invite you for drinks.
Merging speed reading with highlighting is a great move; you’ll gravitate towards the most essential lines and avoid procrastination as you hurry past. This method is particularly useful when speed reading denser tomes: you literally don’t have the time to loiter when another 300 pages of horror lie ahead.
5. Spend A Little Longer On Important Passages
It’s taboo to say, but…certain sections of novels kind of don’t matter. Take Frankenstein, for example. The pages upon which nothing much happens other than endless renderings of countryside are in the double digits. Some of them are beautiful word paintings, sure, but you don’t have enough time. That’s why you’re speed reading!
I know, you didn’t choose an English degree to eye-sprint through The Odyssey wielding your WHSmith highlighter like a machete, but sometimes you’ve gotta be cruel to be kind. You’ve got to neglect the fluff and focus on the pith.
Speed reading is an effective method, but some sections of text are so layered they require a little more unpacking. You know the ones: that moment in Romeo and Juliet when the star-crossed lovers meet, par exemple – that’s the reason you keep rewinding the fish-tank scene in the Baz Luhrmann movie, right? Moving on…