Does your reading load feel like you are swimming through hardening cement?
Are time and volume already closing in around you?
Here are some solid ideas to make the most of your reading time to avoid feeling overwhelmed and
instead develop critical background knowledge to forge new paths of thinking and insight that will
gain you marks.
Brain Whisper Strategy #2: Deep reading matters.
Make each reading of any of your texts, meaningful. Make the most of your invested time by
ensuring the quality of your focus. Without this you may be wasting your time and jeopardizing not
just potential marks but critical growth in your brain. And that matters.
Time is of the essence now that you are in Year 11 and Year 12 with a workload that is only going to
become greater. Do the right thing by yourself by investing in each study session, no matter how
short. If you are going to pick up a book or tablet or read anything that will contribute to your
academic year, do so without distraction. A little bit with full attention is superior to a lot with only
partial focus and one eye on social media/text messages.
Deep reading is an active process to be thoughtful and intentionally deliberate in reading to enhance
one’s comprehension and enjoyment of a text.
The Stanford Centre for Teaching and Learning defines deep reading “as an approach that uses
higher-order cognitive skills such as the ability to analyze, synthesize, solve problems and reflect on
pre-existing knowledge in order to understand the author’s message”.
Deep reading processes require considerable attention, time, and effort to get a result, significantly
superior to scanning or skimming.
How we choose to read will affect what we read and it will determine how we think and feel and
behave. How we choose to read affects the brain reading circuitry.
Ponder this: the quality of attention we apply to reading is the basis of the quality of our
thought. It is worth reading this sentence again.
With every reading we want to hone our discernment, enhance our analogical reasoning and build a
base of knowledge that will support us, forever. Our brain changes with every reading of any book or
article, so too, the choice of medium matters.
Too many students think that they can skim read, scan or read a summary or synopsis of a text and
be able to understand the complexities of a piece of work sufficiently to write an essay or solve a
problem. This is a fool hardy way to approach anything that matters, especially in the senior years.
The Risks of Skimming/Reading Too Quickly:
By trying to read too quickly or skimming, one risks much. It is a gamble that time may
dictate is not worth it.
Results in little retention.
Introspection is sacrificed along with other ideas which help to create memory and support
Creates false confidence and a notion that ‘winging it’, even once, will be enough to be
successful in a major exam or assessment.
Neuroscience Fact: Digital reading has changed the way we read by encouraging non-linear methods
with scrolling, skimming, jumping, and clicking on hyperlinks. Despite what we might like to believe,
the brain still processes attention demanding tasks in a linear way – multitasking remains a myth.
This manner of reading on digital technology is flowing over to how we read physical books because
the screen and its demands are changing our reading brain circuitry. For example, the act of scrolling
on a screen causes an interruption to the brain’s ability to process information into short-term
memory which is a vital step in deep reading. Scrolling is a greater distraction than turning a page
because it forces the reader’s eye to search for a new starting point each time.
A phenomenon called ‘screen inferiority’ exists for learners of all ages who work predominantly on
screens. This results in research show that screen learners performed worse and were more
overconfident about their success. We absorb less information in a way that is less meaningful,
short term memory is not able to be turned into long term memory for successful recall at a later
date. To boot, we falsely believe that we have achieved a positive result when the opposite is true –
an outcome of overconfidence.
Reading deeply, the first time, in handling a text will support this.
An example: I advise my students to read their Shakespeare plays in short bursts – 15 mins – then
take a short break to allow their brain to consider, reflect, absorb, analyze, debate what they have
just read. Shakespeare cannot be devoured and digested in three large gulps; instead, it is to be
savoured in bite sized portions allowing for the flavours and contexts of our world four centuries
past to be appreciated and understood.
Taking the time to read the foot notes is imperative for full understanding. If we don’t read the
footnotes, we can mistakenly assume we have the right understanding when what we have done is
adopt current meaning to Shakespeare’s English of the time, although we do not use that style of
language today. This leads to a greater lessening of appreciation of Shakespeare’s wonderful
language and a potential misunderstanding of the depth of meaning, as Shakespeare intended.
To avoid the footnotes is to only half-read Shakespeare.
The footnotes offer legitimate ‘insider trading’ knowledge of what was meant in Shakespeare’s
Why would we give up that scoop of information, miss original meaning and risk marks in an exam?
And as in true form, be prepared. Shakespeare often leaves us with more questions than are
resolved at the end of a play. He makes us think and it is here that we may also question how little,
or how much, human beings have changed in character and values over the centuries.
Themes and concepts take time to develop, which is why starting early in the prescribed reading list
is essential. You can reduce your study time by reading more deeply in the first instance.
It is worth remembering that anything you do trains the brain, both now and into the future.
Make it matter.
Investing in purposeful reading, deep reading, has a short and long term ‘return on investment’.
Done without distraction, with application, will save time studying closer to the exam period and
give you greater confidence in all your subjects.
“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through,
but rather how many can get through to you.”
Mortimer J. Adler
Jill Sweatman is known as the BRAIN WHISPERER ™
She is a Neuroscience Specialist in Education, Learning & Development.
Jill offers many free resources on her website www.jillsweatman.com and is available for
presentations, parent consultation and private student tutoring. Feel free to email her at
To download Jill’s latest eBook – ‘Tips for Homeschooling’, click here https://bit.ly/3mVGCnG
Delgado, P., & Salmerón, L. (2021). The inattentive on-screen reading: Reading medium affects
attention and reading comprehension under time pressure. Learning and instruction, 71, 101396.
Lauterman, Tirza & Ackerman, Rakefet. (2014). Overcoming screen inferiority in learning and
calibration. Computers in Human Behavior. 35. 10.1016/j.chb.2014.02.046.