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Reading in Spurts to Increase Retention

To improve your reading comprehension and retention, you must improve your ability to pay attention and concentrate. You have to erase the board (clear your mind) to make room for new information. We must temporarily remove the adult distractions that bombard our minds daily, such as:

  • The mortgage payment is late.
  • My child still has that cough.
  • I should look for a better-paying job.
  • Where will we go on our next vacation?

The problem is that we can only erase the board for short periods of time. Sooner or later, our distractions and problems will reappear. Most people can only concentrate for relatively short periods. If you are average, 10 to 15 minutes is your maximum concentration span. If you are slightly above average, you may be able to concentrate for 15 to 20 minutes at a time before the distractions return.

Thus, you should read in short spurts. If you are able to concentrate for about 15 minutes but read for an entire hour, you will probably have pretty good recall of what was read in the first 15 minutes, but the final 45 minutes could become a nightmarish blur.

When you start to lose your concentration, stop reading briefly. Erase the board and start another focused reading segment with a clean slate.

Initially, you may wish to start with 10- or 15-minute reading segments. In between each segment, allow about 5 minutes of non-reading time. Make some marginal notes or simply have a cup of coffee. Take a short break, followed by another focused reading period. You'll probably find that you will be able to extend your focused reading time from 15 to 20 minutes and then, possibly, 25 minutes. You may eventually be able to read for 30 minutes at a time at the peak of your concentration.

Before each subsequent reading period, briefly review what you've read during the preceding 15-minute segment.

That is, review your notes and any underlined sentences, and then proceed to read for another concentrated 15-minute period.

Using this method forces you to begin and continue a reading assignment in small bits and pieces. For example, you may establish an hour of reading as your goal. Don't force feed yourself. Take it in small doses -- 15 minutes at a time. You'll find that you can digest this material more effectively than by a forced one hour of reading.