Levels of Reading I—Fundamental Reading
Today, we shift away from how to read more and begin to focus on how to retain more with the help of Adler’s classic, How to Read a Book, which offers a taxonomy of reading levels. In this lesson, we are going to introduce the four levels of reading and discuss the first two in more detail.
The Four Levels of Reading
The four levels of reading (and their main purposes) are:
1. elementary (literacy)
2. inspectional (skimming)
3. analytical (understanding)
4. syntopical (synthesis)
So, for today, let’s look closer at elementary and inspectional reading.
“Learning to read is probably the most difficult and revolutionary thing that happens to the human brain, and if you don’t believe that, watch an illiterate adult try to do it.”
Elementary reading is essentially literacy. Once you can correctly interpret letters, you have achieved some degree of sufficiency of this level. I assume you have, so let’s move on.
Uses of elementary reading:
• interpreting what text says
• passive reading (e.g. following a simple plot)
Inspectional reading knocks elementary reading up a notch. Adler defines it as “systematic skimming”—it is understanding the outline and structure of a book in a short period of time. This lets you know if the text is worthy of reading slower. Here are the most useful of Adler’s suggestions on how to perform inspectional reading.
1. Quickly read the title page, preface, and the publisher’s blurb. What superficial information can you glean on the subject matter? Judge (or at least consider) the book by its cover.
2. Examine the table of contents or the section headings to get an idea of the structure, key topics, and areas of focus.
3. Turn to what you think are key chapters. For nonfiction, the chapter title and first and last paragraphs often provide summaries of the main points (but be careful of spoilers if you’re reading fiction!).
Uses of inspectional reading:
• understanding the structure of a book
• getting the gist of a book
• getting a feeling for whether a book should be read more deeply
Tomorrow, we will discuss analytical and syntopical reading (with a focus on analytical).
1. Elementary reading is the simple consumption of the written word. It is passive reading and useful for simply understanding what’s going on.
2. Inspectional reading provides you with an idea of what a book is about in a limited amount of time. It’s useful to form initial impressions of a book or to quickly get a general overview.
Grab a book you haven’t read. Read it inspectionally for no more than five minutes. Focus on identifying:
• How it is written (a chronological narrative, a thematic text)?
• What is it about?
• Does the author espouse an argument?
• How much information does the signposting (that is, the contents, the headings, etc.) give me?
• How much of this do I think I would need to read to understand the main premise?
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