Muscle reading is a concept I taught in my study skills class. I first came across it in the text, Becoming a Master Student by Dave Ellis. Muscle reading is a great way to break down material and is made up of three phases, consisting of three steps each. I’d like to share this process, as it’s estimated that the average college student will read well over 10,000 pages of text in their undergraduate career. Perhaps muscle reading will help you to make all that reading a little easier to handle.
Phase One: Before You Read
The three steps in the “before” phase are: Preview, Outline, and Question. Start out by previewing your reading assignment. Look through the text, paying attention to bold words and headings. Then you’ll write a tentative outline using those key terms. Next, think of questions from this information that you’d like answered and write them down. Look for the answers to your questions in the reading. This beginning phase creates a framework for your reading and helps to put things into perspective.
Phase Two: While You Read
The steps of this phase are: Read, Underline, and Answer. This is where you’ll read the assignment, but it’s important that you read with a plan. Consider the notes you took in phase one and try to get an idea of what the material will be about. Putting things in context will help to make the meaning clear and to make it stick. Avoid reading in marathon sessions. Set reading goals and take regular breaks so that you can remain focused. You may even want to read outloud, as this ensures you’re taking an active role, making the information more likely to be retained.
Next, underline key terms or highlight important concepts. Don’t highlight too much or it will become a jumbled mess. Underlining also makes the reading process active. Being an active reader will help to avoid getting through half a chapter of material, only to realize that you have no idea what you just read. The final step in this phase is to answer the questions you wrote in phase one and any that come up as you read.
Phase Three: After You Read
The last phase is made up of three r’s: Recite, Review, and Review Again. Recite involves reading outloud, talking about the material, working it through. You can do this on your own or with someone else. Don’t worry about feeling silly. Talking the information out is another way of processing the information. The more ways you process what you learn, the better you’ll understand and remember it.
The first review should be done within the first 24 hours of reading the material. This is crucial to help move the information from your short-term to your long-term memory. So review early, then put the material away. Your next review should take place weekly. These can be short reviews in which you read over the highlights and outlines you’ve made or answer the questions you’ve written. These reviews will aid in your recall of the information.
These are the steps of muscle reading. This process will come easier with time and practice. Feel free to modify it to suit your personality and your learning style.