Power Reading — How to read any book efficiently and effectively

As I said in the original post, this is going to be based on “How to Double Your Power to Learn” by Eugene Schwartz.  I have looked into several “speed reading” courses over the last several years and this seems to be the simplest to learn yet very effective.  I will be explaining the approach he suggests, but I will be emphasizing the points that I think are the most important.  I would suggest that you get your own copy of the book so you can get the full experience.

There are basically 4 steps to effective reading:

  1. Isolating the major points,
  2. Eliminating the unnecessary details,
  3. Expressing the major points in a few words,
  4. Using the information so you remember it.

You have to look at reading a book more as a search for information than as a leisure activity.  You don’t just start at the first page and read through to the end.  You have to first decide what you want to learn from the book and then look for that information.

This method can be used for all types of written material…magazines, email, white papers…as well as lectures, webinars, and other audio and video presentations.

1.  Check the “Book” Signposts

The first step is to get a general overview of the book and the information it contains.  I will use  “How to Double Your Power to Learn” as an example, as well as some other texts that the author uses to illustrate certain points as we go.

First, we have to get a bird’s-eye view of the entire book by using several “signposts”:

a.  The Title

The title of “How to Double Your Power to Learn”, for example, tells us that we can expect to increase our ability to learn.  More specifically, the book will show us how to double our learning ability.  It doesn’t yet tell us how it will do this, or what steps we must take to increase our learning ability.  To do this, we must look deeper, specifically…

b.  The Table of Contents

This will give you an outline of the book, and give more information about what you can expect to learn when you read it.  This book is divided into 6 sections and 24 chapters.  The six sections are:

  • The Simple Strategy Of Power Learning. (What we are going to do and how we are going to do it.)
  • Digging Out the Facts – Reading.
  • Expressing the Facts – Writing and Conversing.
  • Mathematics Can Be Fun, If You Do It This Way.
  • Mastering Facts – The Art of Remembering and Review.
  • How to Breeze Through Tests.

Just looking at this list, you can see that there are 3 skills that the author thinks are important to effective learning…reading, writing, and mathematics…better known as the “3 R’s”.  Also, I can see that I will not be reading the last section because I am not really interested in how to take a test.  Studying that chapter would not be a good use of my time.

c.  Chapter Headings

We can then go on to the chapter headings within each section to get an idea as to how we will approach each topic.  For example, the section on writing contains 2 chapters…”Correct Spelling Made Easy” and “How to Write as Easily and Quickly As You Think”.  This tells us that the author will teach a 2-step approach to writing…how to spell correctly and how to string words together into sentences.

Now, I am fairly good at spelling, so I probably would not be as interested in that section as someone who is not good at spelling and would love to improve.  This is how we scope out the book and determine where our emphasis should lie.

d.  The Index

These are becoming less and less common, but if the book has an index it will contain a lot of information about specific topics within the book.  It is a very useful for picking out specific topics of interest or, after you have finished the book, will tell you where the important information is located for quick reference.

e.  The introduction (forward, preface)

This is a personal note to you from the author, and gives perspective into why he wrote the book, sources he may have used, what he is trying to teach, and possibly a little about his own history and how it ties in with the subject of the book.  In “How to Double Your Power to Learn” the introduction tells you, among other things, why learning power is so important and that it is within the reach of anyone.  In other words, the author is telling you that you made a good decision to read the book and that you, too, can benefit from its teaching and put it to use in your own life.

Now that you have an overview of the book and what you can expect to learn, it is time to move on to the individual chapters.  You now know how all the chapters fit together and how they relate to each other.  You know which parts of the book (if any) do not serve your purposes and therefore can be skimmed.

2.  Check the “Chapter” Signposts

We are now down to the chapter level.

In his book, the author uses 3 chapters from other books as examples.  I have pasted the chapter examples on separate pages, to reduce confusion and make it easier for you to go back and forth.  Each link is set to open in a new tab.

First Chapter Example
Second Chapter Example
Third Chapter Example

You cannot just read the chapters and expect to absorb and remember everything.  In fact, it is not necessary to remember everything, just the salient points.  There are 8 signposts that are used to dig out the necessary facts and allow use to create an outline of the chapter.:

a.  Chapter Title

Just as the book’s title tells us (or should tell us) what the book is about, the chapter title should give us a good idea as to what the chapter is about.

The title of the first example chapter  (The Four Kinds of Sentences) tells us that we will learn how many types of sentences there are and the definition of each.  The title of the third example chapter (Five Roads to Cost Reduction) tells us that we should look for information on 5 ways to reduce costs.

The title of the second chapter is not so explicit.  It tells us that we are going to learn about the Greeks, beginning with their background.  To learn more about this we need to go on to the second signpost…

b.  The Section Headings

These break down the chapter into its component parts, and gives us more information about the subject of the chapter.  If you read them quickly, without the rest of the text, you will get a skeletal outline of the chapter.

In the third chapter this is easy.  The section headings tell you exactly the 5 areas where costs can be reduced (Raw Material, Capital Equipment, Manufacturing Costs, Sales Expenses and G & A Expense).

The third chapter does have 2 section headings but again, they are quite vague:  Aegean Civilization and The Setting of Greek Civilization.

The first chapter has no section headings at all.  We then go to the third signpost…

c.  Paragraph heads or bold print

These boil down the content of the chapter to a few words or a phrase and give the main topic of the paragraph.

In the first example chapter, the author has told us exactly what the 4 types of sentences are (Declarative, Interrogative, Exclamatory, Imperative).  We have only now to see what the definitions are of each.

The second and third chapter examples do not have paragraph heads or bold print, so we move on to the next signpost…

d.  The Introductory Paragraph

This introduces the topic of the chapter and gives us an idea of what to expect to learn.  In the second example, the introduction starts by telling us how important the Greeks were and then goes on to confirm that they were influenced by both the Agean civilization and by their (the Greeks’) geography.

In the first example, the introductory paragraph doesn’t give us any new information and the third example doesn’t have an introductory paragraph.

The next signpost to examine is…

e.  The Summary or Closing Paragraphs

These are the author’s last word on the subject and usually summarize the main points of the chapter.  They tell us what to look for when we actually read the chapter.

There are no summary paragraphs in either the first or second example chapters.

In the third example, the closing paragraph repeats the 5 areas in which costs can be reduced.  This tells us that this is the vital information of the chapter and that now we only need to find out how to reduce expenses in each of these areas.

Up to now we have been doing what the author calls “pre-reading”.  We haven’t actually read any of the chapters.   For the first and third chapters we know exactly what we are looking for…in the first chapter example we need to find out the definition of each of the sentence types and for the third chapter example we need to find out specifically how to save costs in each of the 5 areas.

For the second chapter, however, we must go deeper, because we are still not certain what information the chapter contains.  Therefore, for this chapter we must go on to the next signpost…

f.  The first sentence of each paragraph

The first sentence should introduce the topic of the paragraph.  So, we should be able to outline the chapter by stringing together the first sentences of all paragraphs.  It is not that easy, though, because some paragraphs contain vital information and some contain examples, illustrations, or filler, which is not necessary.  Therefore we have to pick out the important paragraphs and isolate the first sentence of each.

What we are looking for is the contributions of the Agean civilization and the Greek geography to the background of the Greek civilization.  We will only look at paragraphs that meet the following 2 criteria:

  1. They must address one of these issues (not some side issue), and
  2. They must bring up a new topic, rather than expand on a topic introduced in a previous chapter

The following is taken directly from the book, because the author does a good job of explaining this point:

Sentence 2: Mentions Crete as the centre of Aegean civilization.  Leave it in.
Sentence 3: Shows high civilization, based on metals, that Crete contributed to Greeks. Leave it in.
Sentence 4: Just dates of Minoan culture. No contribution to Greeks.  Throw it out.
Sentence 5: More Minoan periods. Out
Sentence 6: Says nothing but that our knowledge of Crete is incomplete. No contribution here. Probably a side issue. Throw it out.
Sentence 7: Another scientific side issue. Out.
Sentence 8: Now we get to basic contributions from the Minoans – buildings, engineering, artistry. Leave it in.
Sentence 9: Details about Minoan art. We already have art in the sentence above. Leave it out.
Sentence 10: Discuss Minoan seafaring, politics, war – all picked up by Greeks later on. Leave it in.
Sentence 11: Side issue. Interesting but not important
Sentence 12: Identifies other centres of Aegean civilization. Now we know there were two – Crete and Mycenae. And we know that they both made essentially the same contributions. A good find. Leave it in.
Sentence 13: Talks about invaders, not Aegean’s. Not on topic we want. Throw it out.
Sentence 14: Identifies forces of nature as first great geographical influence of Greeks. Leave it in.
Sentence 15: Detail under natural forces (soil conditions) Leave it out.
Sentence 16: Mere comment on effect of natural forces. Covered already by sentence 14 above. Out
Sentence 17: New effect of geographical setting – navigation water. Important. Leave it in.
Sentence 18: A third main effect – political decentralization. Leave it in.
Sentence 19: A detail about the political centralization mentioned in the paragraph above – the name of the city-state. Not a main point. Throw it out.

So we have narrowed the number of important paragraphs from 18 to 8.

We have to summarize the 2 section headings and the first sentences from the 8 important paragraphs and we know the following (also taken directly from the book):


Aegean Civilization
Located at Crete, Troy and Mycenae. All made the same contributions.
Contributions were in metals, building, engineering, art, politics, seafaring, warfare.

The Setting of Greek Civilization
Greek civilization was shaped by
(1) the forces of nature;
(2) by the easily navigable waters surrounding Greece; and
(3) by the Greek terrain, which made for political decentralization.

At this point we can outline each chapter and know what we are looking for.  If necessary, there are 2 more signposts that we can use:

g.  Illustrations

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.  An example of this is a map of Greece which confirmed what was said about the geography and showed the easily navigable waters that surround the country.  Another example would be mind maps, which probably didn’t exist 50 years ago when this book was written but are more and more popular today.

h.  Marginal titles

These are not very popular today, but sometimes you see headings included as a type of sidebar, in the margin of a book.  These can trace the subjects of the paragraphs, as well.

3.  Get the Guts out of the Chapter

Create an Outline

We have now gone through each chapter and isolated the main points for each.  We can now put them into an outline:

First example chapter:


1. Declarative sentence.
2. Interrogative sentence.
3. Exclamatory Sentence.
4. Imperative Sentence.

 Second example chapter:


Aegean Civilization

Located at Crete, Troy and Mycenae. All made the same contributions.
Contributions were in metals, building, engineering, politics, seafaring, warfare.

The Setting of Greek Civilization.

Greek civilization was shaped by:

1. The forces of nature.
2. The easily navigable waters surrounding Greece.
3. The Greek terrain, which made for political decentralization.

Third example chapter:


1. Raw Materials.
2. Capital Equipment.
3. Manufacturing Costs.
4. Sales Expense.
5. General and Administrative Expense.

Flesh out the outline

Now, what we have to do is flesh out the outline.  We must find out what the author has to say about each subject.  The way we do this is by asking questions (who, what, why, where, when and how) and then read the text to find the answers.  Start by turning each item in the outline into a question:

First example chapter:

What is a declarative sentence?
What is an interrogative sentence?
What is an exclamatory sentence?
What is an imperative sentence?

Second example chapter:

In this chapter outline, a lot of the questions have already been answered:

What were the background influences over the Greek civilization?  Answer:  The  Aegean civilization and the Greeks’ geographical setting.

Where was the Agean civilization?  Answer:  Crete, Troy and Mycenae.

What were the Agean’s contributions to the Greek Civilization?   Answer:  In metals, building, engineering, politics, seafaring, warfare.

What did the Ageans contribute in Metals?  In building? In engineering? In politics? In seafaring? In warfare?  To get the answers to these questions, we need to keep reading.

What geographical factors shaped the Greek civilization?  Answer:  forces of nature, navigable waters, rough terrain.

How did the forces of nature shape the Greek civilization?

How did the navigable waters shape the Greek civilization?

How did the rough terrain shape the Greek civilization?

We must read deeper into the chapter to answer these questions.

Third example chapter

This is another easy one.  We start with the chapter title:

What are the 5 roads to cost reduction?  Answer:  raw materials, capital equipment, manufacturing costs, sales expense, and general and administrative expenses.

We go on to question each type of expense:

How can I cut raw materials costs?

How can I cut capital equipment costs?

How can I cut manufacturing costs?

How can I cut sales costs?

How can I cut general and administrative costs?

We must look these answers up in the chapter.


So, now we have finished our Pre-reading.  We have done the following:

1.  Check the signposts,
2.  Summarize the main ideas of the chapter, and
3.  Turn the main ideas into questions

Now we get to the actual reading part.  We go through each chapter and underline the words that answer each of the questions.  This is done quickly.  We will be skimming most of each paragraph and only slowing down when we find the answers to the questions.

4.  Time to Power Read

The author tells us that there are 5 ways to speed up our reading of the chapters:

  1. Don’t follow the words with a pencil or your finger.  Keep your hands in your lap or holding the book until it is time to turn the page.
  2. Don’t move your lips as you read.  This slows you down because you can read faster than you can speak.
  3. Don’t move your head from side to side.  Only move your eyes.
  4. Read aggressively.  When you find an idea, rip it from the page.
  5. Get into the habit of skimming through most of the text, looking for the important nuggets and reading them only.  As the author says:  “Make every reading assignment a search for main thoughts through a forest of useless words.”  Only about 10% of the text is of value.

This must be practiced to be perfected.  When you read, try to move over the words quickly with your questions in mind.  Look for key words that relate to the questions and tell you to slow down and grab an answer.  Don’t skip over any of the words, though.  Let them flit through your mind as you read, and you will find that you do remember some of them…that they stick to the more important ideas.

The reason for this is that if you are just reading and trying to memorize what you read there is no structure.  We don’t know what the main idea of the chapter is.  But, once you separate out and organize the main thoughts, you develop a framework in your mind and the details fit themselves in even though you are not consciously reading them and trying to remember them.

The specific method of reading goes like this:

Look at each sentence to determine if it contains the answer to a question.  If not, move on.  If it does, stop and underline the important information.  The physical act of searching out information and underlining important phrases engages your mind and keeps it from wandering.

Every time you find an answer, do the following:

  1. Read it carefully,
  2. Make sure you understand it, and
  3. Underline the words you will use to remember it.

Remember, this is only for the specific answer to a question.  You will probably only have 4 or 5 marks on a page.  Be very choosy about the words you underline.

The First Example Chapter

In the first example chapter,  the answer to the first question is found here:

“A declarative sentence makes a statement. It is followed by a period.”

Here’s how it should look when you have finished reading it:

“A declarative sentence makes a statement. It is followed by a

You have underlined the answer to the question and have eliminated the rest of the text.  You would continue like this for the remaining questions.

The second example chapter

Remember, in this chapter we only have 8 paragraphs that we decided were important.  Power read those 8 and just skim the rest of them.

For example, one of the questions is:

How did the navigable waters shape the Greek civilization?

The answer can be found in Paragraph 17.  We would underline it as follows:

“The Greek homeland, however, had one great geographical
advantage: its situation encouraged navigation, even by the rather timid.
The irregular coasts of the mainland and the islands provide sheltered
anchorages; destructive storms seldom occurred during the long summer,
the great season of navigation; and the vessels could go for hundreds of
miles without ever losing sight of land.

Travel in ships propelled by sail or oars or a combination of the
two was cheaper, swifter and more comfortable than up-hill and down-dale
journey overland. The Greeks, consequently, built up an active
maritime trade.”

This tells us that the navigable waters encouraged an active maritime trade.  That is how they shaped the Greek civilization.  All the rest may be interesting, but it is not vital in answering the question.

The third example chapter

This is another easy one.  All we have to do is find out what specific costs can be reduced in each category.

One of the questions was:

How can I cut general and administrative costs?

The answer lies in paragraph 24 (I have underlined the important words):

“The fifth avenue of cost reduction consists of analysis of general
and administrative expenses. In the normal company these cover such
items as salaries of executives and office employees, office expense,
interest, property depreciation, taxes, insurance, donations, legal fees,
consultants, investigation of possible mergers, economic services and
other general business expense.”

We have isolated the 11 areas in which G&A Expense can be reduced.

Just do the same for each of the other 4 types of expense.

Now, we have skimmed the chapter, stopping and grabbing the information we need to answer the questions.  We now go on to the last step, which is to build a written outline which will enable us to remember the important information in each chapter.

5.  Create a Finished Outline

To finish the last step, the author suggests that you use a loose-leaf notebook.  Put in dividers and let each book you read have one section.

  1. Take one sheet of loose-leaf paper that is not in the notebook to use for a rough draft.
  2. Close the book, and write down the main thoughts from the chapter and the information you learned.  You will not remember everything…this is just your first attempt at remembering the information.
  3. Open the book and check what you have written, making any necessary corrections.
  4. Turn that paper over and again write the outline, this time using a piece of paper in the notebook.
  5. Check it again.  If there are only a couple of errors, just correct them.  If there are many errors, rewrite the outline on a fresh sheet of paper.
  6. After you have been able to recreate the outline fairly accurately, close the book.  You are finished.

Here are the finished chapters as presented in “How to Double Your Power to Learn”:

The Finished Outline for the First Example Chapter


1. Declarative – makes a statement.
2. Interrogative – asks something.
3. Exclamatory – shows surprise or excitement.
4. Imperative – gives a command.

The Finished Outline for the Second Example Chapter

The Greeks, I. The Background

1.  Aegean Civilization.

Centred at Crete, Troy, Mycenae.

Contributions were:

    • Copper and bronze basis for high civilization.
    • Advanced engineering techniques produced fortifications and palaces.
    • Rules by kings
    • Empire building through trade and warfare by sea.

2.  Geographical Influences:

  • Poor soil and climate forced Greeks to seek their fortunes overseas.
  • Easy navigability made sea transportation easier and more profitable
    than land.
  • Rough terrain encouraged individual city-states.

The Finished Outline for the Third Example Chapter


1. Cut raw materials cost by:

a. Precise purchasing specifications.
b. Inspection of incoming materials.
c. Elimination of manufacturing difficulties due to raw materials.
d. Substitution or elimination of unnecessary materials.
e. Financial control of sources.

2. Cut capital equipment costs by:

a. Reducing costs of depreciation, replacement, maintenance and interest.
b. Holding down inventories.
c. Sharpening accounting procedures.

3. Cut manufacturing costs by:

a. Better labour management.
b. Analysis of indirect costs.
c. Design of new equipment.
d. Better working conditions.
e. Improved materials handling.
f. Operations research.

4. Cut sales costs by cutting costs of:

a. Warehousing.
b. Transportation.
c. Advertising.
d. Packaging.
e. Direct sales costs.
f. New specialist costs.

5. Cut general and administrative costs:

a. Administrative salaries.
b. Office expense.
c. Interest.
d. Insurance.
e. Donations
f. Legal fees.
g. Consultants and other economic services.

 So, after you have asked and answered the questions, created the outline and committed it to memory…not by reading it over and over but by writing it out until you don’t make any mistakes…you have to use the information from time to time in order to retain it permanently.

For example, if you were to power read this book (“How to Double Your Power to Learn”), you would have to actually start power reading books.  It would be a bit slow at first, but after you get better at it you will be able to do it faster and faster, and with greater comprehension.

You may think of other techniques that work for you.  Then you would really be taking ownership of the material because you would be personalizing it.

I am going to start power reading some other books.  Probably one every other week to start.  If you join me you will be able to see how others do the same thing and will learn faster.  Also, it will keep you from letting it slip, as we are all apt to do.

There are more tips on how to do this better.  I will be either adding to this page or creating another.  If I create another I will link to it here.

I will also be posting about the other sections of the book…the writing and math parts.  I will probably start with the math section, because that, also, is a special interest of mine.  I hope you will join me.


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