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The Art of Reading More Effectively and Efficiently



It might seem odd to have a blog post devoted entirely to reading more effectively. After all, if you’re reading this, chances are you can read. But reading effectively and efficiently is its own skill – one that we’re never really taught how to do.

Throughout our academic life, we’re programmed to believe that effective reading is measured by speed and breadth. The more we can read, the smarter we look. And the more broadly we can read, the more intelligent we seem.

Because of this obsession, we have with reading more, we miss out on a lot of valuable insights. Wisdom from across the ages, the lessons mastered by people who’ve overcome extraordinary challenges, and the chance to gain knowledge that challenges our beliefs. All because we’re never taught the ultimate meta-skill: the art of reading.

Reading more effectively and efficiently means developing a watertight process to capture ideasanalyze arguments, and ask the right questions. It means identifying the right books to read, understanding the different reading goals, and using evidence-based techniques to increase reading productivity.

In many ways, improving the way we read is the number one skill that can change our lives for the better.

The good news is that reading is a skill that can be improved through practice, dedication, and the adoption of the four levels of reading.

The Importance of Effective & Efficient Reading

“A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read” – Mark Twain

Books have an enormous impact on people’s life. They’ve acted as a personal mentor and as a vehicle for compounding knowledge.

🧠 Books help us Compound Knowledge

“Compound interest is the 8th Wonder of the World” – Albert Einstein

Just as money accumulates exponentially, so too does personal knowledge as it snowballs and branches out over time. In other words, the more we read and the better our reading processes are, the more our ideas, beliefs, and opinions begin to develop at an ever-increasing rate.

Not only does our brain begin effortlessly creating connections between seemingly disparate pieces of information, but cohesive and creative solutions to some of our most puzzling and perplexing problems gradually emerge. It’s a personal superpower that all of us have the opportunity to discover.

“To develop a complete mind: Study the science of art; Study the art of science. Learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else” – Da Vinci

The Reading Objective

Increasing our ability to read more effectively, as a means to unlock our own personal potential, begins by deciding on a reading goal.

🤪 Category 1: Reading to Entertain

In this category, we read books purely for enjoyment. It’s how we spend the majority of our time as readers. There are no rules and there’s no need to think too deeply or critically about what we’re reading. The goal is simple: we can relax and immerse ourselves in the story.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with reading to entertain ourselves.

It’s a healthy way to escape from everyday stress.

🗞 Category 2: Reading to Inform

In this second category, we read books to learn specific facts or information about something. These books are typically easy to navigate and simple in their layout and structure. This lets us consume them effortlessly and jump around to relevant sections without losing the gist of what’s being said. The goal is to learn without judgement.

For example, we’d read the newspaper, a tourist guide, or the Guinness World Records, all to inform. Although we may find aspects of each of them entertaining, we primarily read these things to develop a factual picture of current affairs, a particular location, or some other snippet of knowledge.

Again, for most of us, reading to inform isn’t too problematic.

📖 Category 3: Reading to Understand

It’s the final category of reading – reading to understand – that most of us (including me) tend to struggle with. It therefore deserves most of our attention when it comes to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of our reading.

The problem is that out of the three reading categories, reading to understand requires the greatest cognitive effort. It forces us to challenge our preconceptions, critically analyse the status quo, and directly confront ideas that we may not be immediately comfortable with. This is hard. It can be uncomfortable. But it’s the only way for us to level-up our thinking and personal growth.

Ultimately, this is a skill that few of us have mastered. But it’s at the very heart of meaningful productivity and improving the way we read. Therefore, we need a method that takes us from reading at an elementary level (like when we’re reading to entertain and inform) to reading at an analytical or syntopical level.

Let’s dive into how we can do this.

The Four Levels of Reading

While the three categories of reading help guide our reading goal, the four cumulative levels of reading help guide our reading style. These levels were again devised by Mortimer Adler and operate to help us understand a book at a far deeper level than what most of us are used to. As we move up the levels we’ll not only find ourselves more capable of grasping the author’s perspectives and forge deeper insights, but we’ll have a process that works with every single book we decide to read.

This is great stuff.

This is great stuff.

👶 Level 1: Elementary Reading

Elementary reading is the most basic level of reading, where the reader absorbs the information presented in the text without fully understanding it.

This first level of reading is the style of reading that everyone knows how to do, as it’s what we’re taught in school. As an elementary reader, we can easily understand the words on the page, follow the plot, and have a solid grasp of what the book is trying to say.

However, even at this elementary level, it’s easy to screw it up by trying to read too quickly.

Trying to improve reading speed before understanding the fundamentals of effective reading is only going to hinder our capacity to learn new information.

My advice – we should try and first improve our reading level. Then, once we’ve mastered the art of reading analytically, we can worry about reading faster (and we’ll talk more about this later).

“Every book should be read no more slowly than it deserves, and no more quickly than you can read it with satisfaction and comprehension” – Adler

🔎 Level 2: Inspectional Reading

This second level of reading requires marginally more skill than at the elementary reading level. Inspectional reading is useful when the reader needs to get an overview of the topic but does not have much time. It involves looking at the headings, subheadings, and summaries to determine the main ideas of the text.

There are two aspects to inspectional reading: systematic skimming and superficial reading.

Analytical reading involves discovering the book’s central meaning, evaluating the author’s arguments, and developing a thorough understanding of the book.

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested” – Francis Bacon

It involves engaging with the text in a deeper and more critical way. Analytical reading requires the reader to ask questions, make connections, and take notes. The reader must understand the text’s main ideas, arguments, and evidence and evaluate how they fit together to create a coherent whole.

In particular, this level requires us to actively read the book, and “the more active the reading the better” (Adler).

However, perhaps the most critical component of active reading is continually questioning what we’re being told. Specifically, there are three core questions that we should be asking when reading a book analytically:

The Holistic Stage: What is the book about as a whole?

We largely uncover the answer to this question during the systematic skimming and superficial reading within level 2. The main difference is that, in the holistic stage of level 3, we’re tasked with identifying the questions the author is asking and trying to solve. Put another way, what was it the author was trying to answer by writing this book?

Furthermore, our written summary of the book is going to be more comprehensive than a couple of sentences. Think about how the structure and ideas flow in general, helping to guide us to the given conclusion.

The Specific Stage: What is the book saying in detail and how is it being said?

While reading the book, we need to ensure we’ve fully understood the author’s approach and be comfortable with interpreting their thinking. We should take the time to identify the special keywords that the author has chosen, verify our understanding of them, and try to appreciate their perspective.

In each chapter, the author will also make certain claims and propositions, which we should restate in our own words and decide whether or not their argument is strong. We should carefully evaluate how these claims and propositions are connected, and check to see if they flow logically from one point to the next.

The Veracity Stage: Is the book true, whether in whole or in part?

In the veracity stage, our task is to constructively analyze. To show where the author has been uninformed, misinformed, illogical, or incomplete in their arguments, clearly explaining what the shortcomings are and how the author’s reasoning could be improved. If we can’t do that then our criticism is unlikely to be constructive or valid.

“The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks” – Adler

📚 Level 4: Syntopical Reading

The final level of reading is about our understanding of a subject more generally. Whereas analytical reading focuses on our comprehension of a specific book, syntopical reading helps shape our opinion and increase our overall fluency of the wider topic through understanding how different books relate to one another. This may sound a little abstract, but bear with me.

“The benefits [of syntopical reading] are so great that it is well worth the trouble of learning how to do it” – Adler

Through syntopical reading we’re connecting the best ideas on a subject, which acts as a powerful catalyst giving rise to creative solutions and real insight.

How to Read More

Only once we’ve mastered how to read effectively, by working up the four levels, should we think about reading efficiently.

Reading more exposes us to more opinions, helps us build connections between different ideas, and entrenches our existing knowledge. Think of effective reading as a well-constructed rocket, and efficient reading as a necessary upgrade to its performance. It just takes things up a notch.

There are three steps to reading more:

❤️ Step 1 – Love to Read

The first step of reading more is having the willingness to read more. And falling in love with the act of reading itself.

Read what you love until you love to read

In other words, don’t just pick up the classics because “that’s what clever people do”. Find the books written on topics that fascinate you and by those people you admire most. Just as we can fall in love with exercise by finding the sports we enjoy, we can fall in love with reading by finding the books we enjoy. The ‘fun factor’ is essential to productive reading.

Similarly, if you begin reading a book and you aren’t enjoying it, then there’s no obligation to continue. Just stop. We don’t need to finish a book just because we started it.

📱 Step 2 – Make it Easy to Access Books

Make it as easy as possible to pick up a book and read it.

Throughout the day you’ll find numerous opportunities to spend 5 or 10 minutes reading. So keep a book nearby. You don’t know when the next great reading opportunity will arise.

Other than that, try minimizing distractions. 

We provide books here on 9jabaz for you to download for free so that you can access them anywhere, anytime. Check the link below to download any book of your choice, ranging from school textbooks (mostly Nigerian school textbooks) to Christian books. This will help you to read more!

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👀 Step 3 – Work on Improving your Reading Techniques

The final, and least important aspect of effective and efficient reading, is technique. This is typically where most articles on reading begin but I’ve realised that this stuff is pointless unless everything else is in order.

If there’s one reading technique that’s going to help the most, it’s improving our consistency. Consistency really is king.

The final reading technique is speed reading. However, this comes with a word of warning: only speed read books that you don’t want to understand. Why is that? Well, when reading at speed we’re not going to have the time to think about what is being said or develop the insights necessary for true comprehension. 


In conclusion, improving reading skills is a lifelong process that requires dedication, effort, and commitment. By adopting the four levels of reading, readers can enhance their comprehension and understanding of written texts. Moreover, with practice, patience, and perseverance, the art of reading more efficiently and effectively can become a natural part of daily life.

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