How to read efficiently

For most people reading is boring. As I am going through my PhD, I have a lot of reading to do and at some point I told myself : “Does reading have to be so boring? I love learning but reading is just a pain.” Scientific papers in particular are known to be boring, that’s by design. They get straight to the point  which can be rough. Thus, I decided to find out a way to make reading more engaging. Note that, the method I will present is centered around reading knowledge and may not be appropriate for reading for one’s entertainment.

In school, we are taught to read “passively”, we simply read one word after the other. This way of reading is inefficient, it’s slow and boring. Hence, you will read things that you were not looking for and forget most of the text because you were not engaged in the process. 

What I call “active reading” is a much more engaged process where you do not enslave yourself to the text. Instead, you approach it strategically and use tactics to extract information non-linearly. Reading becomes a game where the goal is to get as much information as efficiently as possible. 

Active reading

First step, plan your attack of the text of your choice. Look at titles and subtitles of sections, try to make sense of what you are about to read and decide if the text is worth reading or not. Within each interesting section, look at the first sentence of each paragraph. It plays the role of title for the paragraph and will indicate you what it is about. This first step should take at most a minute per page. The goal of planning your attack is two-fold : prepare yourself mentally for what you are about to read and decide which part to read.

Second step, skim the text. If a paragraph looks interesting by its first sentence then look at the last one, it will often give conclusive information. If you want some more details, glance at the body of the paragraph and look for keywords. Finally, if a paragraph is really interesting, you can read more deeply into it to get more details. Trust yourself, if you think that bit of text got nothing for you don’t waste time on it. Notice that deep reading is the last thing you want to do because it’s slow.

Second step bis, most words are not very informative. The word “the” is one of the most common words and it’s mostly useless. Thus, you should not read every word but hunt for interesting keywords or linkwords such as “next” or ”hence”. If you still don’t understand the paragraph, only then should you read a full sentence. The goal is to avoid passively reading one word after the other as much as possible.

Third step, as you read you also want to keep notes. For each paragraph that seems noteworthy, read it actively first and then note afterwards. This helps you remember what you read. Simple bullet notes are preferable for speed. Although your notes might deserve some tidying after the reading. You can re-organise your bullet points or write a summary. This will not only clean up your notes for later use but also forces you to reconsider what you just read which will help you remember. But beware of perfectionism, there is no point in wasting too much time on notes.


Active reading is an exercise in efficiency. The goal is to make sure you don’t waste time reading something that you already know or are not interested in. By not reading every word but by being an active reader, the task becomes more engaging. If you also like to learn and find reading boring, try to implement this method and maybe improve it. 

PS : This method is still in development and this article maybe updated in the future. Comment down below if you have interesting tips on how to read more efficiently 😉 

Judicael Poumay (Ph.D.)