How to effectively read and learn from a book?

Learning is a continued process. Process of continuous studying, remembering, applying and repeating the same on and again. From an infant to old, everyone has to learn in order to live in the world. The choice and methods of learning may be different but the only thing that matters at last is what we have contributed to society.

Learning is the only thing that has brought mankind to the point it is now. From the discovery of fire to the inventions of super computers – everything has been a continuous process of learning. The ones with top knowledge have always lead the world and those with no wisdom have failed behind. All those experiences gained from the continued process of learning are compiled in you know where, in the books. For thousands of years, books have been important sources of information, enlightenment and wisdom, and will always be. The process of learning may change from folk tales to printed books and then again to digital/e-books, but the only thing that will stay forever is the essence of learning that comes from words and characters.

Book Reading

Book reading has always been considered an art and those who excel at it, are better learners and ultimately tend to lead their part. In the following article, I shall be outlining some of the tested ideas on reading and understanding books in a better way.

This is a well-researched article and contains opinions and ideas from various resources like top authors, some people I know, research papers etc. Since it is written with a personal frame of opinion, and after all – is equivalent to a chapter from any book it’s highly suggested to generate ideas after you are finished with it. You are welcome to help other readers by commenting down your opinions – good or bad. One more thing – it’s targeted to students and people from education & teaching fields. If you are unable to find anything for your needs – do refer to this Quora thread.


  • Before you begin, make sure that you like reading books. If you don’t, try any other medium of learning. No idea can be forced down on anyone – especially if that is related to learning.
  • The book you are going to read is error free. Falsified information, typos and grammatical mistakes can ruin your learning experience. If you are looking to buy a book, even offline, Google about it online – read customer reviews and then decide whether to buy the book or not.

Different books call for different reading styles. On essays, casual hobby readings or newspaper articles, the singular important thing is the attitude; you must like it in order to want to memorize the key points.

BT Yang
PhD / Radiantech
  • Again make sure that the book if the best of its class in the market. Compare for different authors/publications if looking for a book on a specific subject/topic – and decide which one is more celebrated. You can again take expert opinions or search for Google.

Let’s read the book. Shall we?

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one.”

George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

Open the book and have the believe that you are reading the best book in the world. Now it’s time to get going and nothing is going to stop you from grasping it all inside out. Don’t plan anything yet. Just start reading the book lightheartedly and finish a chapter – whichever you may find comfortable – in one reading. If the chapter is large, try to break that into pieces. Let’s call each piece a section. Don’t try too hard to remember anything or learn. Just complete the section. Whatever comes instantaneously – let that be soaked in by your brain.

Read again – read better

In order to learn better you will have to read again. But this time you will have to read for real. Take a pen or pencil and a notepad. By using pen or pencil, you will be underlining important stuffs and more – while the notebook will be your guide for your exams or just common reference. Both are necessary and I highly recommend using both, even if you are reading an ebook. Taking notes is the most important part of any learning, take note of it.

Yes, Pen or Pencil

Using the pen or pencil, underline the only parts which you had trouble understanding on first instance of reading. Do it while reading all the paragraphs. Once it’s done to the end of the chapter, revert back to the beginning and do some note making. Try making questions from the content in the section/chapter and note those questions in the notepad. List those questions by numbers like 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, …3.7, … etc., where in x.y, x is the Chapter number and y is the question number in the list. Now, using a pencil or pen, write these question numbers next to the paragraph or sentences which answer the question(s) – or in other words, from where the question was derived. Highlighting or annotating the paragraphs in such a way increases your own focus on the content by around ten times.

Symbols of Reading


Next come the symbols of reading. These are very important tools to distinguish what is important and what’s not. Just like indicating questions by 1.1, …, 3.7,…, etc., you can use certain letter or symbols to indicate importance of any paragraph or sentence. For example, you can use ‘asterisk’ * to indicate importance of a paragraph – like * means important, ** means very important, *** means most important etc. You should use letters like:

  • D = Discuss letter
  • R = Read again / Repeat
  • G = Google it
  • Q = Ask teacher / mentor
  • Smiley face 🙂 = Interesting
  • P = Person to know about, etc.

Once done this, you are logically ready to answer any questions related to that chapter anytime. Try to understand the underlined and indicated sentences/paragraphs and also try to understand – again and again till satisfied. Repeat the process for every chapter of the book until the book is completed.

Always have the book near yourself and whenever you get some ‘me-time’ utilize that into the book as well if possible. Skip less important things and don’t think much about unnecessary stuff. The more time you will give to the book – the better and faster you’ll learn. It’s also advised to take help of other references like similar books, articles and blogs to feed yourself with more ideas. This will not just strengthen the theory but will also help you feel more confident as you’d be knowing a little more than the usual book material.

Some people, especially students, like to read aloud. If you are comfortable with reading aloud – use it as an additional step but make sure you are alone while doing that.

Do you know?

You will forget half of what you read
You will forget half of what you read after 2 weeks and 90% after 2 months.

That’s why study notes are important. Regularly open your notepad and have a go over it. Revising the notes will help recover the concept by up to 20 times more than usual.

More to follow soon.

Gaurav Tiwari

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7 comments add your comment

  1. Such an amazing article. Dear Gaurav, you have researched your content well and it truly show how master you are of your game. Splendind! I will let me students know about this. Cheers.

  2. Such an amazing article. Dear Gaurav, you have researched your content well and it truly show how master you are of your game. Splendind! I will let me students know about this. Cheers.

    • From Quora:


      First and foremost, practise some relaxation sequences, with slow but deep diaphragmatic breathing routines, so as to help center your mind from distracting thoughts, but more importantly, to help create a resourceful and superior state of mind, with a physiologically relaxed body to go along with it.


      Decide on your ultimate application, and whether you want a global overview or detailed information from your reading, as well as how much time you are prepared to invest, as your decision will determine your reading pace.


      Learn and apply the seemingly popular SQ5R reading strategy.

      With an SQ5R, a quick scan of the tapestry of contents, preface, index and appendix, and even the bibliography, all at the back, and also the end-of-book summary, if available, will often give you some inklings about the book’s contents.

      That’s why, to me, the SQ5R helps immeasurably in this respect.[Google for it on the net. Many thanks to psychologist Francis Robinson of Ohio State University, who originated the concept back in the 1940’s]


      Learn to recognise all the Text Organisational Patterns and their Signal Words, often used by authors in the more intellectually intensive reading materials

      With pattern recognition, your mind moves at warp speeds, since it knows where – and what – to focus on within the book terrain.


      Use a pen or pencil as a pacer, to control the visual sweep of the saccadic movement of your eyeballs, as attested by most fast readers.


      Apply Pareto’s Principle, to help you segregate “core material” from “elaborative material”.

      – “core material” = concepts; theories; principles; definitions; terminologies; nomenclatures; etc.

      – “elaborative material” = illustrations; examples, anecdotes, etc.;

      It’s always good to adopt the Index Card Strategy to help you learn and master “core material” quickly;


      Learn to spot Key Ideas, and salient points, using the knowledge gained in (3) and (4).

      One quick way to achieve productive results in your reading navigation is constantly asking:

      – what is the author talking about here? or

      – what is the essence here?

      – what the key ideas and salient points here? or

      – what is important and relevant here, in terms of my predefined objectives or desired outcomes?

      [To use the Tomahawk cruise missile analogy, homing on to a predefined, long-distance target, your mind goes automatically into active search mode!]

      8. MAKING NOTES:

      Don’t hesitate to make Marginal Annotations, or intellectual graffiti as I like to call it sometimes, by making notes in the white spaces of text passages, with personal relevancy to call-to-action.

      Always express them in terms of:

      A2T (Actions-to Take)/T2D (Things-to-Do)/Q2P (Questions-to-Ponder).

      All the foregoing tactical initiatives as outlined in (4)(5)(6)(7) and (8) are intended to make your reading endeavour a truly active – and interactive – process, thus helping you to stay physically engaged and intellectually stimulated.

      It’s like what I often call, having an “intellectual intercourse” with the author and the text.


      Upon completion of your reading endeavour:

      Recap and Summarise, preferably with an idea map or cluster diagram or graphic organiser, so as to consolidate and synthesise quickly what you have just read.


      In conjunction with 9):

      Think and Reflect:

      – Where do I go from here?

      – What’s(are) my Next Step(s)?

      – [Refer to (8)] How can I use these readings to add/compound/multiply value in my academic pursuit/in my life/in my work/in my business/for my client(s)?

      Your real life application of whatever you have found useful from your reading comes from here.

      A word of expert advice:

      Read only what you need, so as to fulfill your ultimate application and time urgency.

      So in a nut shell, you actually don’t have to finish the whole book!

      It’s also pertinent for me to point out that, the fire test of your personal or professional reading actually comes from what you eventually do with the ideas and insights generated from what you have read.

      Godspeed! Enjoy your reading and assimilation!

  3. I can’t say the best way to read the book, but I will share my experiences about how I read the book. Before reading the book it is very essential to know about the author, contents and take aways from the book. Best way is to google about the book and know by yourself. It will definitely give you an intense motivation to read the book. Once you start to read,one may feel deviated from the topic and starts to think about something else connected to the book. It is then we have to look back about the things which inspired to read the book. And once your done with reading for that day, take some time to note down the important things about the content you have read(summarise it). It will not only help you in reading it effectively but will motivate you for further reading and completing the book.

  4. Book reading is an art and you have explained that beautifully.
    Thank you Gaurav Tiwari.

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