Read and Reap: Suck the Facts Out of Your Texts


Holy-frikkin-mooses. I just read three paragraphs in my Whirled History book, and I don’t have clue one on what it was about. How can I fish the beefy info chunks outta the steamy cesspool of facts that is my assignment?

If that’s your main pain, then consider this simple drill to make your mind into a magnet for important points in your reading.

First, mark up a (disposable) copy of your reading assignment. Take a red pen or marker and start eliminating non-essential words. Get all guvmint-censor/evil-english-teacher on it. Your goal is to mark out as much of each sentence as possible while still retaining the overall meaning. It should look like you tapped a vein and bled all over the paper.

Next, rephrase what’s left as needed to clarify the meaning and summarize the info. Again, try to minimize the number of words while keeping the meaning.

Finally, abbreviate words and phrases to eliminate excess letters. Imagine you’re sending a text message and you’ll be charged by the letter. How much can you boil out the non-essential and keep your meaning? Feel free to use texting shortcuts, like “gr8” for “great.”

Here’s a zample using a paragraph from

The American Revolution began in 1775 as open conflict between the united thirteen colonies and Great Britain. By the Treaty of Paris that ended the war in 1783, the colonies had won their independence. While no one event can be pointed to as the actual cause of the revolution, the war began as a disagreement over the way in which Great Britain treated the colonies versus the way the colonies felt they should be treated. Americans felt they deserved all the rights of Englishmen. The British, on the other hand, felt that the colonies were created to be used in the way that best suited the crown and parliament. This conflict is embodied in one of the rallying cries of the American Revolution: No Taxation Without Representation.

Now let’s put it through our power drill. You feed in the paragraph above, do your funky red marker magic, and here’s what comes out the other side. A leaner, meaner mass of rock-hard facts.

Amrcn Rev (1775 start) – war btwn 13 colonies and Gr8 Britain. Trty of Paris ends war n 1783 > Colonies indpndnt. No 1 evnt causd, but mainly disagrmnt abt how colonies shld b trtd by Brit. Amrcns wntd all rts of Englshmn. Brits felt they were 2b used 2 suit crown. Colonist’s cry “No Txtion w/o Rprsntation.”

What’s the point? How does this help? This exercise is a step-by-step analysis of what’s important in the paragraph. Repeatedly practicing this sort of procedure will train your brain to automatically look for the key words. You will have built a high-powered fact magnet between your ears.

Bonus: Now try to sum up the whole thing in one phrase as short as you can possibly get it. This time you aren’t trying to capture all the key information; rather, what was the purpose of the paragraph?

Who, what, and why of American Revolution.

Bingo! That’s what the author was wanting to get across when she penned this paragraph.

Again, this is an exercise that, when performed repeatedly, will train you to quickly in on what’s really important. Practice makes perfect, and although the exercise is fairly simple to perform, it takes LOTS of practice to achieve super mac-mastery. I personally really began doing these exercises in earnest at the start of my sophomore year in college. By the end of my first semester I could really tell the difference in my ability to spot key points in a passage while reading at a normal speed.




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