Make Muscle Reading Work for You

Edited by Vanessa Alexandra Avisado, Robbi, Eng, Lynn and 4 others

You can make muscle reading work for you if you're willing to learn everything you need to know to bring your textbook to life. Just like a master musician, there's a lot more you can do than merely reproduce the notes of a composer. Why not add yourself to the composition? Better yet, create music yourself. This same magic can also happen with your textbook.

Do You Need to Learn Muscle Reading?

Imagine yourself sitting at your desk, your book open in your hands, and so are your eyes - it definitely looks like you're reading. Then, your head jerks up, you blink, and it dawns on you that you've been scanning the same paragraph for the last 10 minutes, yet you can't remember anything you've just read.


Another common scenario you may relate to is this: You're having a tough day. You've been on your feet since 6 a.m. to get your kids ready for school. A co-worker called in sick and you weren't able to eat your lunch because you were trying to do both your job and hers. You picked up the kids from school and went shopping for dinner. Dinner was late and your kids were grumpy. You were finally able to get to your books around 8:30 p.m. and begin wading through something like "The Equity Method Of Accounting For Common Stock Investments." You tell yourself out loud that you are preparing for the future, trying to sound as convincing as possible, while you jump two paragraphs and go straight to the third. Suddenly, everything around you seems different, including you. You find your head resting on your elbow, which is also resting on - The Equity Method Of Accounting. You glance at the clock and shocked to see that it's almost midnight. Three hours that just went down the drain!

The only difference between a sleeping pill and your textbook is that the latter does not have a warning on the label about operating heavy machinery. "Muscle Reading" is a technique that will prevent your mind from taking mental mini-vacations, and will decrease the number of naps you take when you should be studying, even after a long, hard day. But more than that, it's a way to lessen your struggles and frustration by increasing your skill and energy. Once you've mastered this technique, you'll be able to spend less time reading, and get more out of it.

Don't start your happy dance yet. Muscle Reading doesn't let you off the hook. You'll still be challenged by your education. Initially, Muscle Reading may even seem like a lot of work, and you'll have to wait a bit for the wonderful payoff that will last you a lifetime. Effective textbook reading is a time-consuming, active, sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat business. That's exactly the reason why it's named as such.

How Muscle Reading Works

Your textbooks contain information you want, and more importantly - need. Knowledge and valuable information can be found on those pages, provided you know how to find it. Sometimes, the information you need isn't obvious, and extracting it requires the right skill and energy. Muscle reading is a three-phase technique that can be used to acquire the information you need. Each of these phases include three steps, that can be summarized in three brief sentences you can easily memorize. The three steps you can apply to each of the three phases are:

  • Pry out questions
  • Root up answers
  • Recite, review, and review again.

Try To Visualize Doing Each Of These Things:

Visualization is an effective tool. It's used in healing, success and studying. It's the idea that through visualization, convincing yourself it's true, can make it so.

  1. 1
    Visualize yourself pulling questions from a particular text. These are the questions you want answered based from the quick survey you filled out regarding your assignment. Make a mental picture of yourself scanning, spotting the question, and reaching into the text so you can pull it out. Imagine yourself saying you've got it, and you have your question now.
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  2. 2
    Next, root up the answers to your questions and get your muscles involved while doing it. Flex and feel the ends of your fingers digging into the text to root up your answers to those questions.
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  3. 3
    Recite, review and review again
    Imagine yourself reciting what you've just learned, even making a speech on that material. You can hear yourself singing, or actually sing it, as you wave your arms dramatically on "stage", as you present this to your audience. Enjoy it. This is your repeat performance.
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You may think that muscle reading takes too long to learn, and initially you may even feel it's slowing you down, which is natural. But remember that mastery comes with time and practice. If you're truly pressed for time though, you can always give yourself several options. For example, try the following techniques to read just one part, one article, or one chapter of your assignment.

Before You Read



Before starting, browse through the entire assignment. If you're starting a new book, look over the table of contents first and flip through them page by page. It doesn't matter if your assignment is just a couple of pages of the book, you can still benefit from a brief preview of the table of contents. Don't take any more than 15 minutes to do this. This is a great way to get started when an assignment looks too big or difficult to handle.

This is the easier way to connect to the material. While previewing, find out if you can see familiar ideas or facts to help you link to new information from previously learned material. Search for ideas that may spark your imagination or pique your interest. Ask yourself how the material relates to your long-range goals. Are there drawings, diagrams, tables, charts, photos, etc., that register quickly? Good, because these will become your reference points once you actually start reading. Just before you begin reading, take a moment to reflect on what you already know about the subject, even if you think you know nothing. This method will help your brain to prepare and accept the information to follow.


Time spent doing this may vary. There are assignments like poetry or fiction that you can skip. For complex material, you need to take time to understand the structure of what you're going to read. If your textbook provides chapter outlines, take time to study them. If it does not provide any outlines, sketch a short one in the margin of your book or at the start of your notes. As you read and take notes, you can add more notes to your outline.

Paragraph headlines and section titles can also serve as major and minor topics for your outline. If the reading notes you're assigned don't have these, you can outline the material as you continue reading. This way, your outline also organizes your thoughts about your assignment actively. It's important that you use whatever outline works best for you, because it can make even the most complex information easier to understand.


First, you need to ask yourself what you want out of this assignment before you start reading. The preview may suggest some questions. You can turn chapter headings or section titles into questions like, "Transference and Suggestion". Ask yourself, what are transference and suggestion? How can transference relate to suggestion? Try and make your own quiz and make believe you're teaching this topic to your classmates.

You can make the questions as creative and playful as you want. It doesn't matter if you don't get an answer to every question you ask. Your goal is to get your brain engaged with the assignment. Fatigue and boredom will disappear when you're busy trying to find answers. You'll even feel a burst of energy when you find one. Your greatest rewards are understanding and being able to recall the information you've just read, while saving time.

While You Read



You've previewed your assignment, organized it in your head, and formulated all the possible questions. FINALLY! You can start reading. While you're reading, be conscious of where you are and what you're doing. Once you feel your attention starting to wander, bring yourself back to the present. One trick to stick to the here and now is to put a checkmark on a piece of paper every time you catch your attention wandering.

  • If a personal problem is keeping you from focusing, write it down with a commitment to do something about it at the soonest possible time.
  • Avoid marathon reading sessions.
  • Don't forget to schedule your breaks and set a reasonable goal for your session. *You can even reward yourself with a fun activity for a few minutes every hour or two. Some students have been doing this for a long time, and they can even stay focused up for to three hours without breaks.


Remember these tips while reading:

  • Visualize the material, read it out loud, and get a feel for your subject.
  • Remember, just because your book is open and your eyes are moving across the page, doesn't necessarily you're reading effectively.
  • Textbook reading requires energy, even if you're sitting down. Sit up straight, don't slouch, and sit on the edge of your chair.
  • NEVER READ IN BED - except for fun.


Deface your books. Don't be afraid to mark them up. Have fun coloring and writing in them. As much as possible, indulge yourself as you never have, the way you did with your grade school textbooks. Keeping your textbooks clean and neat will not help you get what you need from them. Marks and underlining are signals for reviewing. Underlining and highlighting can save you a tremendous amount of time while studying for exams.

Your kinesthetic sense is all about how you connect with your books using all five senses. When you get physical with your books, it builds strong neural pathways in your brain that stimulates memory. Don't underline too soon; wait until you've finished a section or concept to make sure you know what's important. Use colored highlighters because they work better than pens. Underline sparingly, usually just 10 percent of the text. If you overdo it, you are defeating the purpose, which is noting the salient points.


As you're reading, get the answers to your queries and jot them down. Fill out your outline. Write down new questions, and if you don't get answers to them, write them down as well so you can get back at them later. You can use these in the classroom or ask your professors at the appropriate time.

After You Read



Either talk to yourself or talk to someone else. When you're done reading your assignment, make a speech about it. Your friends may even be better sounding boards. Form a study group and practice teaching each other about the subject. This is a great idea, especially when you're pressed for time. You may be far better versed in the part you read and taught, and if your friend missed out on an important point, it's possible you may have missed it too. So talk about your reading whenever you find the opportunity.


Do this within 24 hours of reading the material. This will move the information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory. It may save your hours later on. Make sure you look over your notes while doing this and clear up everything you don't understand. This can be brief; about 15 minutes reviewing a reading assignment can be worth the same as two hours. This type of time investment will save you long hours during exam preparations.

Review Again

Now you can review again. The final step to mastering muscle reading is the weekly or even monthly review of all the material you've read. This can be very short, about five minutes per assignment. Just go over your notes, read the highlighted sections, and recite two or three of the more complicated passages aloud. Keep your review sessions short, but do them often.

A Little Story

Beware of the Mumpsimus Condition. According to the Webster's Dictionary, it means an error obstinately clung to. This word comes from the story of an old priest, who for three decades conducted services using the word mumpsimus instead of the right Latin word sumpsimus. Then finally, one day, his error was pointed out to him and he replied by saying that he will never trade his mumpsimus for the new sumpsimus. So mumpsimus is a blind adherence to a principle or concept. It's a mistake you continuously repeat, even if you already know that it is a mistake.

Another example of mumpsimus is someone who has already read all the muscle reading techniques above, saw their value, and yet insists on using his old, ineffective methods. Then again, there's nothing to feel guilty about because mumpsimus is just a temporary condition. How do you cure it? Simply say sumpsimus.

Tips and Warnings for Muscle Reading

  1. 1
    Reading fast
    When you're in a hurry, scan your assignments and read the headings, subheadings, charts, lists, graphs, and summary paragraphs. The summaries are very important because they are the gist of the entire text. Practice reading faster with simple material first so you can pay closer attention to the technique you're going to using. You can start with a novel for example, before you move on to more difficult reading.
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  2. 2
    Read with a dictionary
    Whether it's an e-dictionary or your good, old paperback, it doesn't matter. The first thing you do is construct a word stack. Every time you find an unfamiliar word, jot it down and write the meaning of it later on. You can always go back to it once you encounter it again in your text. Another thing you can do is build your word stack even when you don't have your dictionary with you. Jot down unfamiliar words during lectures, for example, and write down the meaning of it later when you get your hands on your dictionary.
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  3. 3
    Finally, you can look for other options for learning words
    You can circle or highlight the words and try to guess the meaning of them. Check and see later on how many of your guesses turned out to be correct. You can come up with other techniques as well.
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Trying to make muscle reading work for you can't be accomplished overnight. You have to spend some time and stay committed to learning it initially. It may look long, tiring, and cumbersome, but once you've mastered the skill, studying and acing those quizzes and exams will be a breeze. Remember, learning is perennial. So continue to learn and continue to grow.

Questions and Answers

How can I do an overall presentation on muscle reading?

I have an assignment on this topic. I have about 8 minutes to do my presentation.

Use facts from this article and demonstrate by having others in the class participate in practicing muscle reading. This way you will add an activity to your presentation.

Hi, I'm trying to research further what muscle reading is, so I can do my homework assignment?

I need to do my homework assignment.

Muscle reading is explained in the article on this page.

I am having hard time understanding the muscle reading technique.

I am doing an assignment on how muscle reading works, and I don't understand it well.. I have tried: I read the paper before I asked you questions. I think it was caused by: I am not sure really

VisiHow QnA. This section is not written yet. Want to join in? Click EDIT to write this answer.

What is the main idea? I can't translate into Mongolian?

Get your muscles involved. Flex. Feel the ends of your fingers digging into the text to root up the answers to your questions. Get your muscles involved. Flex. Feel the ends of your fingers digging into the text to root up the answers to your questions.

VisiHow QnA. This section is not written yet. Want to join in? Click EDIT to write this answer.

If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.


Article Info

Categories : Communications & Education

Recent edits by: Nuance, Maria Quinney, shai

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