Scholar Skill: Read Like a Graduate Student

One of the first scholar skills i learned when I started my Masters Program at the National Intelligence University really changed my approach to research, analysis, and report writing.  The professor gave us a piece of advice that has helped me get through piles of books and power read through academic research.  It’s a simple set of tricks he labeled: Reading like a graduate student.


Step 1: Come to Terms with Reality

With academic, professional, and personal growth reading there is simply too much to read.  You do not have enough hours in the day to consume everything you want or even need to get to.  The intent of coming to terms with reality helps free you from the stress induced worry that will continue to waste valuable time that could be spent on more important tasks.  It also has the added bonus of reducing unnecessary stress hormones in your system which will help your reading time be more effective.

Step 2: Know what you Need

Every book or paper on your reading list is likely loaded with knowledge and wisdom you want.  But you have to focus on what you need first.  This should be a short list of topics you are working with.  Right now I am studying influence and team building, so when I pick up a magazine or book I know where to focus.  What you need can also be based on your research topic, syllabus, a problem you are having, or a personal interest/hobby.

Step 3: Get In and Get Out

Everything you read is loaded with information… a lot of which you just don’t need (right now).  Focus on the short list of topics and buzz through your reading material for keywords to identify sections worth reading.  Highlight them for later and move on.  With academic papers use the abstract to assess the whole paper for value, but don’t stop there or you risk missing valuable sections.  The same goes for a table of contents in a book.  If you don’t go page by page you might miss what you are looking for.  Focus on headings and subsections.

Step 4: Power Read

Once you have a book or paper on your radar and you know which parts you will be reading it’s time to power read.  Read the topic sentence of each paragraph, highlighting the ones with the most relevant information for your research.  Try not to get pulled into reading the whole paragraph… but if you do that’s not always a bad thing, you might have found something you need to read in depth.  As you read the topic sentences highlight or note the most valuable paragraphs.

Step 5: Read

The last step is to read the paragraphs you highlighted during your power reading for depth of understanding.

Break Down

Steps 1-2 are preparatory steps to  help you have the right mindset for engaging with a large reading requirement.

Step 3-4 are filtering activities used to focus your time into material that matters most to what you need to learn.

Step 5 is simply reading the most relevant material en masse to take large steps forward in your understanding of a topic.

Of course not everything should be read this way.  There is always a time and a place to read a book or article in its entirety, but reading like a graduate student helps get more relevant contact in front of you in a shorter period of time.

Did you find this article helpful to refine your scholar skills?  Come on over to our closed facebook discussion group to share your insights.  Or you can email me directly at  You can also sign up to receive The Friday Huddle, a short weekly email from me that gives you the tips, insights, and musings that have gotten me through the week.

Live Skillfully!


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