Tag Archives: Read

Read as if You’re Presenting: A Backdoor Argument for Oral Exams

In my experience, the best way to retain the material you’re reading is to be giving a presentation on said material. That might sound a little odd, but consider it for a moment. If you have to present on a topic, when you’re reading about that topic, you (should be) reading just a little bit closer and maybe a little bit harder such that when you’re up in front of a crowd, you’ll be more inclined to remember what you read.

It turns out, this anecdotal experience has been studied:

A recent study in the journal Memory & Cognition showed the effect that reading with intention and purpose can have. Two groups were given the same material to read—one was told they’d have a test at the end, while the others were told they’d have to teach someone the material.

In the end, both groups were given the same test. Surprisingly, the group that was told they’d have to teach the material (rather than be tested on it) performed much better:

When compared to learners expecting a test, learners expecting to teach recalled more material correctly, they organized their recall more effectively and they had better memory for especially important information.

Having a clear question in mind or a topic you’re focusing on can make all the difference in helping you to remember and recall information.

Intuitively, this should make sense. When some folks read “for the test,” they’re not necessarily reading with the intention that they’re going to remember the information after the test. Put differently, they’re almost always not reading the material for an oral exam. This reminds me of something I wrote a few years ago:

Presumably, the students could get through the entire semester and finish with an “A” in the class without having to say anything. I realize that a great deal of communication in today’s world is completed online and through writing, but isn’t our ability to communicating orally important, too? At least, shouldn’t there at least be some time spent on it?

In that post, I was suggesting that there be a rebalance from written exams to oral exams — in part — because in my experience, there’s a deficit in the oratory skills of students in university. Even if we ignore the epidemic of fear of public speaking, most students don’t get nearly as much time practicing their oratory skills as they do their writing skills.

As luck (?) would have it, should there be this shift from written exams to oral exams, not only would the education system be strengthening people’s ability to communicate, but there would also be an effect in having people better remember some of the things that they’re learning.


To be honest, when I sat down to write this post, I had no idea that I was going to be strengthening my argument for having more oral exams in university and that’s — in part — one of the arguments from the article I initially referenced:

Association is a peg upon which you hang a new idea, fact, or figure. When you know where the peg is located, it’s a lot easier to find what you’ve hung upon it. As you read and come across new ideas and thoughts, you’ll want to connect and associate these with familiar memories as a means of creating a bond between old and new. There are many different ways to create associations in your mind, from pairing new thoughts with familiar objects, to creating acronyms.

So, next time you sit down to read your saved article on Pocket, catch up on a book on your Kindle, or read the Sunday Times, consider that the best way to retain some of the things you’re about to read might be if you were to pretend you were going to be giving a presentation on the material.

Should We Be Reading Instead of Binge-Watching?

If you’ll recall from yesterday’s post, humans are wired for binge-watching. I wonder — are we spending too much time “vegging out” binge-watching when we’d be better off reading?

The map above comes from a post from Gizmodo earlier this month. It might be a bit hard to read the numbers, but it shows the average amount of time spent by each country reading. India comes out on top reading, on average, 10 hours and 42 minutes per week. The US, by comparison, reads a little more than half as much as India at 5 hours and and 42 minutes per week. Canada’s not much better at 5 hours and 48 minutes.

I wonder if this data is affected by the availability of TV or maybe more specifically, the cultural availability of TV. Let me explain: in countries like the US, watching TV isn’t just something that’s an option when you’re trying to figure out what to do when you come home from work or school, it’s the norm. People have whole rooms dedicated for just TV watching. I’d suspect that this isn’t the case in other parts of the world where space is a premium. If I think about a country like India where 4 times as many people than there are in the US, I wonder if going off and reading a book somewhere might be a more desirable activity than trying to watch TV with 4, 5, or 6 other people. In the US, there’s the joke about who gets to have the TV controller — the husband or the wife. I wonder what the equivalency would be when you’re fighting for the controller with 2 aunts and uncles, along with your cousins.

Regardless, as I alluded to in the second sentence, North Americans might be better off taking after the rest of the world by burying their heads in a good book. Or, maybe it’s time to hit the gym.

Why I’m Reading the Classics and You Should, Too

A few days ago, I saw a tweet from Arianna Huffington from one of the sites that I often frequent: Barking Up The Wrong Tree. The tweet was a quote that came from one of the posts that Eric Barker (the author of the site) wrote:

Those who can sit in a chair, undistracted for hours, mastering subjects and creating things will rule the world — while the rest of us frantically and futilely try to keep up with texts, tweets and other incessant interruptions.

I don’t know about you, but that was a bit of a wake-up call for me. I do my best to stay current with a number of twitter lists (not so much with the texts because I don’t currently use a cell phone). I didn’t realize how exhausting it can be trying to keep up with everything. I don’t know if you noticed, but two days ago ended a streak of 111 straight days of me writing a post for this site. That’s nothing compared to the 5000 that Seth Godin has written (though I don’t know if his were consecutive). In fact, yesterday was the first day in quite a long time that I didn’t tweet anything or post anything to Facebook. Even when I’ve got nothing to share to Facebook, I usually have posted a quote of the day and a picture of some sort. And Twitter, I’ve almost always got a tweet scheduled for a time when I know I won’t be near the computer. Not yesterday. Nothing. No posts. Nada. As I mentioned in one of my last few tweets, I was trying to take my own advice and rest.

In this restful time, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to sustain the same kind of relationship I have had with the online world. Yes, I’ve learned a great deal about a number of different topics from the way I’ve interacted with the internet, but I think it’s time to transition. Seeing Eric Barker’s quote also reminded me of someone else who shares a similar ideal: Shane Parrish.

Parrish is the author of Farnam Street and as you’ll see from glancing at his reading list, he reads — a lot. According to Parrish, the question he gets asked the most often is where he finds the time to read. Here’s part of his answer:

Where do I find the time?

Let’s look at this another way. Rather than say what I do, I’ll tell you what I don’t do.

What gets in the way of reading?

I don’t spend a lot of time watching TV. (The lone exception to this is during football season where I watch one game a week.)

I watch very few movies.

I don’t spend a lot of time commuting.

I don’t spend a lot of time shopping.

These choices are deliberate. I don’t even have cable TV. I watch NFL through gamepass, which also saves time (if you don’t watch games live you can watch the full game in under 30 minutes).

I live downtown; I can walk to the grocery store, purchase a bagful of groceries, and return home all within 15 minutes.

If you presume that the average person spends 3-4 hours a day watching TV, an hour or more commuting, and another 2-3 hours a week shopping, that’s 25 hours a week on the low end.

25 hours. That’s 1,500 minutes. That’s huge. If you read a page a minute, that’s 1,500 pages a week.

Eye-opening, eh?

With this newfound energy for introducing a healthy diet of reading books, what are the best books to read? Should I read the recent best-sellers, the classics, or some combination of both? It turns out, Parrish also answered this question in a post in August:

If something is still ‘in print’ today and it’s been around for a long time, we can assume there is a reason. The most likely reason is that there is something useful to the book. We can further assume that whatever is useful in the book will continue to be useful in the future.

If it’s useful in the past, useful now, and likely useful in the future, there is an argument to be made that we’re probably dealing with something simple – the basics. Anything fragile gets weeded out by time. … so you’re at least dealing with robust ideas … This is something we should be reading to maximize ROI for reading.

This isn’t perfect, of course. But it seems like a decent heuristic.

Most of what’s new and best-selling today will expire rapidly. If you’re reading things that ‘expire’, you get trapped into a Red Queen situation; you’re running faster and faster but staying in the same place. Or in this case you’re reading more and more but not getting much smarter.

You read more and more of the new stuff (e.g., best-sellers) but your knowledge doesn’t improve because you’re learning things with expiry dates … (narratives, studies based on small samples, or something that’s niche and specialized). When reading anything recent, it’s hard to distinguish if what you’re reading is fragile or not. And the base rate for fragility would be huge – almost everything printed today will prove to be fragile.

(The niche and specialized will improve your knowledge, for sure, but only within one particular domain, it won’t increase your broad based worldly wisdom. So these are useful but possibly not in the sense of maximizing knowledge accumulation. And you’d want to think about half-life of knowledge here too.)

Basic knowledge and ideas, however, don’t expire, which is why reading something like Seneca gets you out of the red queen. You learn more, you learn simple ideas, and those ideas don’t change over time so your knowledge actually increases.

So there you have it. A compelling case for reading the classics. I’m still planning on writing posts here on a variety of topics, but they may not be as frequent as they were before. Some will be of a more academic flavour, as I was just accepted by Research Blogging, some will continue in the same fashion as providing a new perspective, some will be observations, and some will be new ideas.

Women Read More Fiction: Is That Why They’re More Empathic?

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a rather informative tweet:


When I first saw that, I was a bit surprised. Statistics tells us that for every 100 females born, there are 105 males born. So, there should be more boys than girls and as a result, we might expect that more boys would be reading than girls. Of course, there are so many other factors involved, but from a volume standpoint, I’d think that more boys would read than girls. I thought I’d click-through and read the report, but it’s behind a wee bit of a paywall to the tune of $799. As a result, I won’t be able to (maybe you or someone you know can?) read over the statistics. Nonetheless, I had a different direction I’d like to take this post. Empathy.

I’ve written before about how reading fiction can boost empathy. This very important human skill needs to be cultivated and one of the ways to do that is to read fiction. In addition, we all know the ‘stereotype’ that women are more empathetic than men. However, when there’s data to back it up, I suppose that it’s not so much a ‘stereotype’ as a likelihood. So, in putting these pieces together, my thought was that maybe this empathy gap has grown because women are more likely to read fiction than men. Sounds plausible, right?

In doing research for this post, I came across something from the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley. That post was talking about whether women’s empathy is the result of nature or nurture. It cited a few studies supporting both sides of the debate. I wonder if we could then add the data point of women reading more fiction to the nurture side… or the nature side? Nature side, you ask confused? Well, in saying that women read more fiction leading to greater empathy, we’d have to test whether women reading more fiction leads to a greater empathy or if women having greater empathy prefer to read. If you know anyone doing empathy research, this might be an interesting study.

The Most Important Thing: Ask Good Questions

I’ve read — . And I continue to read — . And I probably will keep reading — . From this reading (and experience) I’ve learned quite a bit. I’ve read a variety of opinions on a variety of subjects. After all of this reading, patterns start to emerge. You start to see the same thing being written, but in a different context. Or, you start to see the same thing written, but with a different twist. There are lots of different ways that people have developed to help make us perform better, be better, or feel better about ourselves. One of the things that I’m surprised I don’t see written about more often is the powerful effect of asking good questions. To me, it as to be one of the most important things you can do.

Why? Well, because in some cases, it’s all you have.

There are different scenarios where we could discuss how asking good questions serves you well: job interviews, “ask the experts,” crisis response, etc. Instead of going down that road, I want to talk about why I think asking good questions (generally) is an important thing.

There’s the idea that if you ask a good question, you may impress (unintentionally) the person you’re talking to and as a result, you may seem smarter to them than you actually are or you may be memorable. While that’s all well and good and may be a motivating factor for some to ask good questions, I’m more interested in asking good questions because I think it’s one of the unique ways that we can contribute (to the world).

As I mentioned above, I’ve done a lot of reading. As a result of that reading, I have a unique perspective on whatever conversation I’m in because it’s unlikely that there will be someone else like me in the conversation who has interacted with all the different things that I have interacted with. And so because of this, the ideas or thoughts that I may have about a given subject will likely be different from the rest of the people in the conversation. I may see connections that no one else sees or that no one else considers (but may be obvious to me because of what I know). In that sense, it’s almost like it’s my duty or obligation to come up with an intelligent question that incorporates that perspective.

I want to make it clear that I’m not advocating asking questions for the sake of asking questions. The question should still be meaningful and add value to the discussion. I’ll give you an example.

This summer, I had the chance to ask a question of the former COO of Obama for America (as he had just been hired to the organization I was working for this ). Because of this person’s unique work experience, I thought he would be able to provide perspective on organizational structure. Specifically, whether or not a “Team of Teams” approach may work in the private sector. In my question, I also made reference to the (then) at Barclay’s and JP Morgan Chase. In asking the question, my plan wasn’t to impress the person answering the question nor was it my intention to impress the crowd. In fact, the question was read as (anonymous). Ironically, after the question was read, there was a bit of a gasp from the crowd and the person answering the question sort of laughed about starting off with an “easy” one.

Adding General Managers to the Organization Could Improve Ethical Decision-Making

I’ve mentioned that I’m working at for the summer. As I don’t currently live in , I take the to get to work. As I don’t yet have an iPhone or an iPad (with which to read something on), I’ve kept my subscription to . As I was reading , I got to an article from called, “

At first, I was a bit skeptical, but as I read on, it may me think of the post I recently wrote about . Here’s an excerpt from the Schumpeter [emphasis added]:

But is it wise to be so obsessed with speed? High-speed trading can lead to market meltdowns, as almost happened on May 6th 2010, unless automatic breaks are installed. And is taking one’s time so bad? Regulators are always warning people not to buy things in the heat of the moment. Procrastinators have a built-in cooling-off period. Businesses are forever saying that they need more creativity. Dithering can help. Ernest Hemingway told a fan who asked him how to write a novel that the first thing to do was to clean the fridge. Steven Johnson, a writer on innovation, argues that some of the best new products are “slow hunches”. Nestlé’s idea of selling coffee in small pods went nowhere for three decades; now it is worth billions.

These thoughts have been inspired by two (slowly savoured) works of management theory: an obscure article in the Academy of Management Journal by Brian Gunia of Johns Hopkins University; and a popular new book, “Wait: The Art and Science of Delay”, by Frank Partnoy of University of San Diego. Mr Gunia and his three co-authors demonstrated, in a series of experiments, that slowing down makes us more ethical. When confronted with a clear choice between right and wrong, people are five times more likely to do the right thing if they have time to think about it than if they are forced to make a snap decision. Organisations with a “fast pulse” (such as banks) are more likely to suffer from ethical problems than those that move more slowly. (The current LIBOR scandal engulfing Barclays in Britain supports this idea.) The authors suggest that companies should make greater use of “cooling-off periods” or introduce several levels of approval for important decisions.

I fine this rather on-point with what I was saying in the . By having more layers of approval (by way of the general managers), there would, undoubtedly, be more time factored into the process. As a result, this *may* result in less of the instances of poor decision-making that what we’ve seen recently with companies like Barclay’s and JP Morgan.