To Read Better, Read Something Twice
I am preparing for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), a test that obviously involves a lot of reading, and a lot of reading very complex materials. Ironically, as an English teacher, reading comprehension is the section I struggle with most — particularly science passages, which is additionally ironic because I was a neuroscience major.
However, recently I’ve had a breakthrough, getting significantly fewer questions wrong on the science passages. What’s worked for me is reading something twice, three times, or even more. In a lot of my reading, I skim, particularly if I’m not interested in the text, to begin with. On the second read, though, I’m forced to slow down to comprehend more, and I simply see a lot more than I did the first read around. I’ve performed significantly better on these passages as a result — which is something I wish I learned for earlier standardized tests like the SAT or the ACT.
Reading something twice does not just apply to LSAT passages — I’ve realized there are hidden benefits to reading something twice in anything. According to Srinivas Rao, who runs the Unmistakable Creative Podcast, reading something twice helps to remember more information, miss what you learned the first time around, actually take action on the information in the book and have the information last.
I find any book is more enjoyable upon the second read, as is reading any passage a second time. I understand more upon a second read, and we have all had the experience of reading a page, or several pages of a book and having absolutely no idea what we just read. I’m not saying a second read is a magic bullet or quick fix, but you certainly understand more of what you read the second time. Writer Vincent Mars says reading twice allows us to pay more attention to style, syntax, and how the writer tells a story instead of what happens.
I’ve stopped believing the value in a book is gone after a first read. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking “I know everything that happens — why should I read it again?” But that is precisely why we should read books twice. We catch details we didn’t catch before, but we also gain entirely new perspectives.
Again, I don’t want the second read of a book to sound like a magic bullet, but according to Rob Waugh at the Daily Mail, reading a book for the second time is scientifically shown to bring new appreciation to “both the object of consumption and their self.” Researchers from American University said the second read provides substantial emotional benefits. The authors said re-reading reignites emotions from the first read.
As a teacher, I know re-reading helps with early literacy development. A paper in the Center for Early Learning said repeated reading helped story comprehension and vocabulary for young children. The paper made sure to qualify books needed to be both interesting to children and agree appropriate.
Professor Patricia Meyer Spacks went on a personal journey rereading books throughout her life and says there’s a certain stigma against re-reading since it requires much more time than watching a movie again. It brings forth a lot of guilt because there are a lot of other books we feel like we should be reading. Throughout a re-reading, we have feelings of the second reading being the “same” or “different.”
What’s different is we change as readers between our first and second read. Not only do we change as readers, but we change as people. I loved re-reading Percy Jackson when I was in seventh grade. When I was 16, however, I thought “I actually read this stuff? This is so cringey.” Spacks echoes similar disappointments in re-reading The Catcher in the Rye, which told her how she evolved intellectually and how she individually changed since the last time she read The Catcher in the Rye.
Not everything we learn about ourselves on a second read can be a good thing since rereading can produce disenchantment with something we used to love. I see the second read as more for pleasure and to get something out of the reading. No one person knows everything about a religious text just by reading through it once — reading several times makes you see a verse with new perspectives.
The experience is never the same as the first time. Coming back to my LSAT reading passages, I never fully understand a passage the first time. Often, for more complex passages, I think “I have no idea what I just read.” On the second read, I think “wow — now I get it!” or “I still kind of have no idea what I just read.” In those cases, I’ll have to do a third read. Of course, there are times where I’ll read a third time and still not have a great grasp of what I just read, but the fact remains each time you read is a different experience you get something else out of — even if you just read immediately after.
“When we read a book for the first time the very process of laboriously moving our eyes…stands between us and artistic appreciation…But at a second, third, or fourth reading we do, in a sense, behave towards a book as we do towards a painting.” — Vladimir Nabokov
Originally published on Books Are Our Superpower on May 6, 2021.