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  • Writer's pictureMichael Stewart

Maximise Your Learning Potential: The Ultimate Technique for Rapidly Absorbing Textbooks

It's a lot easier than you might think.

I imagine most people approach reading a textbook the same way they would read a novel, by starting at the first page of the first chapter and working their way through to the end. Isn’t that the only way you can read a book I hear you say? Well, no, it isn’t, and it’s a particularly bad way of reading a textbook, at least it is if your aim is to remember any of it.

I'm going to show you a different way of reading a textbook, a manual, course work, or any non-fiction book that you want or need to remember. This is an especially useful technique if you are preparing for an exam, or just need to read up and quickly become conversant with a particular subject that is new to you.

So, grab your textbook and let’s get started.

Step 1.

The first thing you’re going to do is open your book and simply flip through each page. Go to the beginning of the first chapter, turn each page and look to see what's on each page. Don’t try to read anything, just reflect on how the pages are structured and note any pictures or graphs. This is going to give you a sense of how long the chapter is and how many words there are compared to images or graphs. Also take note if anything at all jumps out at you. That’s it, step one completed.

Step 2.

Now go to the end of the chapter and see if there is any sort of a quiz or set of questions to test you on what you have just read. This is a format used in many textbooks. If there are any questions there, read them thoroughly before you read the chapter itself. Why would it be a good idea to read the questions in the quiz before you read the chapter? In reading the questions you're discovering what the author thought were the most important points they wanted you to remember from the chapter. So, now when you go back and actually read the chapter, you are reading with a much more focused attention.

Step 3.

Before you read the chapter, have another flick through and see if you notice any bold print being used. If there is, read the bold print. Do not read all the sentences around the bold print, just read the bold print. The bold print is there for a reason, it’s the information the author wants you to notice and remember. You can view the bold print as the title, subtitle or topic headings the author has broken down for you within the chapter and reading these will help you understand how the information fits together, before you actually read it.

Step 4.

Wait for it…before you finally read the chapter, you are going to do one more thing. Read the first and last sentence in each paragraph. Yes really. This might seem like overkill, but if the book is well written by a good author, the first sentence of the paragraph gives you an indication as to what the rest of the paragraph is about and usually the last sentence of the paragraph helps you sum it up. Remember, at this point you are not reading the text for comprehension, you are reading for exposure. You are not going to understand the subject yet because you haven't been able to connect the dots, but by now you're going to have a map of the dots in your head. Your brain is now ready and conditioned to accept the new information.

Step 5.

Now read the chapter in the normal way, taking notes as you go. However, unlike reading it for the first time, if you follow this formula you'll only need to go through the chapter once and your brain will be conditioned to recall all the key points. After you’ve followed this process for chapter one, just rinse and repeat for all subsequent chapters. It’s easy.

I know you are thinking that’s a lot of effort compared to just scanning through the text once, putting your book away and going back to your video game. That’s true, it does take a little more effort, but it works, and you can be confident the new information will be firmly retained in your head for when you need it, rather than simply hoping and praying that it's going to stay in your head, which of course it won’t. Yes, it is slower than reading through the text once, but it is a thousand times more effective.

This is a systemic approach to learning. Remember the mantra, ‘Repetition is the Mother of Learning’. By following this formula, you are giving yourself multiple repeats of the information. You're getting a quick overview of what the whole text looks like and you're finding out what the author thought was the most important stuff to understand before you even start reading the words. This is called a reticular activating system, which is a very fancy way of saying your internal radar has been switched on, which then helps you notice and retain more information.

Perhaps a good analogy for this might be where you make an unusual decision to wear brown shoes one morning, and you then strangely notice how many people are wearing brown shoes throughout that day. This is because your awareness (your reticular activating system) has increased. This is exactly the same subconscious thought process you want to activate before you start to read each chapter of your textbook.

I hope you have found this short article useful. I’m certainly no expert in this field, but I have used this method of learning and it’s truly amazing how well it works. If you want to find out more I encourage you to look up and follow a true master in learning faster and easier - Matt DiMaio - on his YouTube channel where you will find a deeper dive into this and other amazing mind learning techniques.

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