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Reading speed...

Hello everyone. Since it seems that a good majority of you are actually current English grad students, I thought I’d get your take on this. How many of you consider yourselves slow readers, and how does that affect you?


I’ve always been a slow reader; sometimes it takes me so long to concentrate and absorb what I’m reading that I’ve even wondered if I should get checked out for ADHD. But really, I’ve generally managed. I did terribly in college as far as reading for class went: I feel like I never finished reading everything that was assigned. But, I read what I had to, and I felt like much of my failure to get all the reading done was because of bad time management and bad prioritization. In any case, I felt I was ok and was sure I’d do better in grad school with my time and priorities. I wasn’t too worried, until last weekend, when I took the GRE subject test in literature. 


I don’t know my score yet obviously, but I really think I bombed it completely and utterly. For one thing, I felt like I was completely taken aback by the content of the test – it was SO much harder than any of the practice tests, and the prep materials I used seemed completely off. (The practice tests gave the impression that there were going to be a lot of quick and easy ID questions but actually, most of the test involved a longish passage accompanied by four-six reading comp questions. Also, the actual content was very different from what the test prep materials indicated. But all this is another topic for another forum, I guess). The real issue is, I couldn’t believe how much trouble I had with the time constraints. This is so embarrassing, but I think I left between 20-30 questions blank. The last 45 minutes or so, when I realized how behind I was, I started freaking out and could hardly focus.   Ironically, before the test, I felt like the reading comp questions were my forte and what I really needed to study for was the ID questions given my lousy memory w/ names, titles, etc. I’ve never had problems with reading comp, and I truly feel that if I’d had the time I needed, I could have done fine. It wasn’t a matter of not being able to understand what I read – it was that I didn’t have the time to read the passages as I needed to.   Which got me to thinking, maybe it’s not enough that you’re a careful and insightful reader. To succeed in grad school and thereafter, maybe you need to be a fast reader too? Or at least, not a slow reader? This is so depressing. I know that the Lit GRE test isn’t the end-all and be-all but I was flabbergasted at how much I struggled with it, and now I’m in this little existential crisis– wondering if I can really go through with this. 


So I wonder, what’s your take? Your honest opinion would be much appreciated.  Or, if you have some advice about how to improve reading speed, that too would be very appreciated.  :(  Thanks so much.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 11th, 2008 08:01 pm (UTC)
decantering and I were actually discussing a similar issue. For starters, the reading on any standardized exam is NOTHING like the actual reading process. For me, reading is physical and situational: I read few pages, perhaps more if I'm reading fiction, set it down, go for a walk, down some tea, jolt down notes, then return to the text. I need time to process and absorb what I read.

Some differences to note:
Perhaps this merely suggests that I'm taking the wrong classes, but I read very different for class than for my own research. For a class reading, I'm looking mainly for questions, for theme, for ideas that tie in with the class which might contribute to the discussion. It might be no coincidence that every article/book I'm using in my papers this quarter were unrelated to any of my class readings.

For my own research, I move between skimming and reading. I can't read every article on a subject when I'm looking at, say, 32 of them. I skim through for the main arguments, and only slow down to read carefully if I deem it pertinent. However, when I plan to actually use a literary text or a work of lit crit/theory, I read it extremely carefully, and often several times over. I'm a strong believer that theory is little more than insightful, provocative close reading, but it always must stay tethered to the text. In that case, it might take me several days go through through a 20-page article or chapter in a novel, whereas I frequently polish off a 300-page novel within a few hours.
Nov. 11th, 2008 08:02 pm (UTC)
The questions is, of the questions answered, are you confident in your responses?
I didn't answer 31 questions on my first test, and I have a feeling I did alright.
The test last week, though, blindsided me. I think I left about 45 questions unanswered.
Don't forget that the scoring system is strange, and you can still get a good score without answering all the questions.
Nov. 11th, 2008 08:03 pm (UTC)
Ugh, I hate the GRE so much. The thing is, it's all about breadth, not depth. The opposite is true for grad school. As long as you know how long something is going to take you and you budget your time accordingly, and you *are* a careful and insightful reader, don't worry about how you're shaping up against everyone else.
Nov. 11th, 2008 08:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your insights, guys. It was just such a discouraging experience, and I couldn’t help but question myself. It just felt so foreign, and the last time I felt like that coming out of a test was after a calc. exam in high school! Thanks again.
Nov. 11th, 2008 11:30 pm (UTC)
I guess I'm going to be the minority report here: I found that I learned a lot from studying for the Lit. GRE. No, it didn't give me any great depth, but I already had that in my chosen area. What I needed was enough of a context for when a particular work came up in a piece of theory--that's what I've found really valuable, because there's no way one could possibly ever read everything that's been referenced in theory articles and books. But if you just know a little bit about it generally, you can orient yourself and evaluate the article. I also hear that breadth is more important when you start looking for a job and might be expected to teach introductory courses.

But wait until you get your scores. I can't remember exactly the number of questions I failed to answer or got wrong on the GRE, but it was a lot, and I still ended up with a nearly perfect score. If it turns out that you didn't do as well as you wanted, take the opportunity to really give it a go next time: not just studying for the test, but giving yourself a foundation in the subject. I guarantee it will seem less like busywork.

I sympathize with the reading issues, though: I've always considered myself a fast reader, but it seems like I spend hours trying to read a couple pages of theory. It's getting better, but it took some time to get back up to an acceptable reading pace.
Nov. 12th, 2008 06:27 am (UTC)
"I found that I learned a lot from studying for the Lit. GRE."

*nods* I agree. I hated the pressure of the impending test, but I found the forced studying to be extremely helpful. I also ended up discovering, upon the imposed re-reading (and to my dismay) that I enjoyed several periods that I had previously professed to dislike. It really helped, for me, to have a broader sense of historical context, and get a feel for the "canon" (however we might want to contest its definitions or use).
Nov. 12th, 2008 04:08 pm (UTC)
Also, I have to say, I had the same thing happen. There were a few periods that I never would have considred that I actually found myself enjoying. And then there were other periods I realized I just couldn't stand and hope to stay away from as much as possible.
Nov. 12th, 2008 04:04 pm (UTC)
You know, as much as I hated the test, I have to agree with this too. It wasn’t the studying process itself that I hated; the main challenge for me was working a relatively high-stress full-time job and trying to study for this at the same time. I just felt like I had no work-life balance and had very little time with my husband, friends, etc. But if I’d had more time, I think I very well could have enjoyed it more – just getting back to basics and getting that foundation, like you said. I really felt like I needed it. Whether or not I have to take this stupid test again, I’m planning on going back through this at a more leisurely pace and re-reading stuff.

ANd ditto the theory stuff. I just remember a 15-page Judith Butler article I had to read in college and thinking, oh, I'll just do it over my 30 minute lunch break. Ha!
Nov. 11th, 2008 11:44 pm (UTC)
Just remember that grad school is NOT like the Lit GRE - even if the work you do prepping for it can be helpful for grad school, as Shannon suggests, you'll have much more time when you're in grad school itself.
And just as a little support, your Lit GRE score will not be the most influential factor in your application - far from it. Some schools even reject it out of hand, like Columbia, which says on their website, I believe that they find it to be a poor indicator of success in graduate school. Good luck!
Nov. 12th, 2008 12:27 am (UTC)
I do think that being able to read quickly, or at least efficiently (which is a slightly different animal), is an invaluable tool in graduate school. There will be a lot of times when being able to extract the key argument in an article/novel/story/poem with minimal time to prepare is necessary.

HOWEVER, this doesn't mean that that the GRE Lit. test is the be-all-end-all. I think that what I point out above is one of the important skills that it tests, aside from the fact that it forces everyone to review the basics of the canon and theory to study for it.

What the GRE doesn't factor in, though, are some the most important components of success in graduate school -- the ability to manage one's workload, and sheer persistence. If you read slowly, then you'll just have to end up budgeting more time for your work. It also sounds like you're probably reading each and every word of every reading, and you might want to try and develop some selective reading/skimming skills. One of the most important skills you can master is the ability to quickly decide what is worth your time, and how much of your time it is worth.

I won't lie, though; I read very quickly, and it was a huge advantage. I have friends who read very slowly, however, and they have been successful by always anticipating and planning how much time they will need for a given assignment or project, and being diligent about it. There are some ways that being able to read quickly has turned me into a slacker, too, so it's kind of a double-edged sword.

Edited at 2008-11-12 12:28 am (UTC)
Nov. 12th, 2008 04:05 pm (UTC)
Once again, thanks everyone. It’s really awesome to be able to hear your perspectives on something like this, and I’m encouraged!
Nov. 13th, 2008 05:31 pm (UTC)
I thought the GRE Subject Test was pretty rough too, and I am a quick reader so I got through all of the questions. The deluge of reading comprehension made me slow down quite a bit, and being aware that I was slowing down made me worry a bit. Looking back, however, I wonder if maybe I wasn't careful enough. Like people have said, you can get an ace score without answering the questions, but if you guess too loosely you can answer every question and do more damage to your score than if you'd shown more restraint. I left only about 10 questions blank that I was totally baffled on, but there were quite a few I was highly uncertain on that I guessed on anyways because I could (at least, I thought) eliminate two choices. As a result, I think my score is going to be either really good, or really atrocious.

Obviously it is good to give everything a pass over at least once, and the final question on the test was a beautiful little gimme by Ambrose Bierce, but don't worry about it too much. I am doing my best to put it out of my mind and move on to the rest of the app, because I know that in comparison to everything else, this test is pretty meaningless.
Nov. 14th, 2008 05:37 am (UTC)
I did this same technique on the Lit exam last year, too! I figured if I could eliminate just ONE wrong answer, I would make my best guess. I didn't get to the last 4 or 5 questions, and out of the rest of them I only left less than 10 blank (I really wanted to fill in those bubbles!) and I ended up with a 91%isle, which I was ecstatic with! I felt relatively good about the exam after I took it, but I knew for sure that many many of the questions I answered were "educated guesses" and there were quite a few questions that I knew little to next-to-nothing about. So that plan worked for me, and I hope/bet that it worked for you, too!
Dec. 7th, 2008 12:39 pm (UTC)
Good call e_k_p, the November 8th scores are up and I just found out I scored in the 84% percentile, which I am pretty pleased about. Good luck, everybody.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )