Monthly Archives: November 2015

Slow Reading Makes You Smarter

books open random pages

“Why bother reading?” is a question I’m asked occasionally by students, and “reading makes you smarter” is my standard response. This week, I want to expand on this fact and give some evidence for reading being a major contributor not only to academic success, but to success in many other aspects of life as well.

Reading improves your IQ and EQ

Firstly, there’s convincing evidence by Mar et al., (2009) that people who read fiction have greater ability to understand others’ emotions, emphasise with them and view the world from their perspective. In other words, reading increases your emotional quotient (EQ).

Second, there’s convincing evidence that reading increases your vocabulary. Cunningham & Stanovich (2001) penned an excellent analysis that includes evidence from many other studies that a person’s vocabulary is increased fastest by reading, particularly reading books outside of school hours, than by learning lists of vocabulary on their own.

Improving your EQ has obvious benefits. But what are the advantages of increasing your vocabulary? Increased vocabulary has been shown to be linked with increased intelligence and socioeconomic status. Even if the link is correlative and not causative, people will still benefit from the perceived intelligence that an increased vocabulary brings about.

Furthermore, Olson, D. R. (1986) writes:

It is easy to show that sensitivity to the subtleties of language are crucial to some undertakings. A person who does not clearly see the difference between an expression of intention and a promise or between a mistake and an accident, or between a falsehood and a lie, should avoid a legal career or, for that matter, a theological one.

It has also been widely argued in the literature that reading can increase vocabulary faster than verbal interactions because our written vocabulary is so much more diverse than our spoken vocabulary.

What type of reading should I be doing?

Deep reading is the most effective way to increase your IQ and EQ.

Deep reading involves:

  • decreased physical activity while reading
  • zero distraction (or immunity to distraction: being ‘in the zone’)
  • reading for extensive periods of time: many hours in one sitting
  • processing the things you read in a meta-cognitive way, e.g. writing book reviews or making notes as you read

Deep reading is vigorous exercise from the brain. It increases our capacity for empathy in real life. Deep reading is slow, immersive, rich in sensory detail and emotional and moral complexity, and is very different from the kind of reading we do on the internet or even in school. Deep reading is a distinctive experience, different in kind from the mere decoding of words. Victor Nell reported in 1988 that deep readers read their favourite pages more slowly than average, and that deep reading is usually accompanied by a significant decrease in physiological activity. He even noted that deep reading sets the reader into a psychological state akin to a hypnotic trance.

“…deep reading sets the reader into a psychological state akin to a hypnotic trance.” – Victor Nell (1988)

Can I use an iPad or an e-reader?

Not for deep reading, no. Use an e-reader or an iPad for reading magazines and news articles only. Not only are electronic devices prone to distracting you (under the ruse of ‘multitasking’), but studies have shown that readers who read books on electronic devices:

While reading can be done on electronic devices, deep reading needs to be done from paper. Not only are printed books free of popup notifications and advertisements, they also kinder on your eyes (because they’re not backlit) and lend themselves better to being highlighted and annotated in the margins if required.

Read more about 10 reasons print books are better than e-books on Huffpost

I hate reading. Why do I hate reading?

Here’s a flowchart derived from Cunningham & Stanovich that explains why some people hate reading. Their premise is that people who hate reading have been introduced to books that are too difficult so the excessive focus on the meaning of individual words distracts people from the meaning of paragraphs or chapters as a whole.

flowchart for reading article
Adapted from Cunningham & Stanovich (2008)

It’s therefore important to choose books of an appropriate reading level.

So what should I read (or, ‘deep read’)?

Choose a genre that matches your interests and a medium that matches your reading level. The material you read should be not too easy and not too difficult. Here’s a rough guide to the difficulty level of different types of media.

reading materials help you to become more intelligent

Occasionally, try to expand your horizons by challenging yourself to read something you wouldn’t normally read. Here are some great ways to read outside your comfort zone:

  • swap books with a friend;
  • get books recommended to you by a teacher, tutor or a family member;
  • participate in a book club, in which you read a new book each month or fortnight.

How much should I read each day?

Aim to read 3,300,000 words per year. That equates to about one book per week, which puts you above 95% of the adult population.

In 2012, when I realised I wasn’t reading enough, I decided to read a book every two days. I posted all the reviews online as a way of holding myself accountable to reading them thoroughly and deeply. Reading this much was difficult and time-consuming at first, but, just like sports, I become faster and more proficient as I read more books.

number of hours of independent reading

Read one book per week and review it online to keep yourself accountable.


Get involved in deep reading by reading one book per week and posting the reviews online. Here’s your new reading process for the new year.

your new reading process for 2016

Read more about why reading is important here

Top Tips for University

Students attend a lecture at Macquarie University, Australia

You’ve graduated and you’re waiting for VCE examination results day on December 14th, 2015. In the meantime, you can rest, celebrate, and get ready for university.

When I completed my master’s degree at Cambridge University in 2010, I took note of the habits and traits that helped me to succeed in university. I didn’t maintain all of them all the time – rather, I fluctuated between doing these things and doing the exact opposite – but the process has taught me which character traits and mental attitudes are necessary for academic success in university. Here are my top ten tips for university. Each one of these tips is written carefully from my personal experience.

  1. If you have a strong opinion on something, be prepared for it to change COMPLETELY several times before graduation. That’s how we grow and learn.

  2. Always know where you’re going from now on. Always have a goal and you’ll never feel lost.

  3. Ask for help from professors or lecturers if you don’t understand something. (They will not reach out to you in university.)

  4. Read all the textbooks on the reading list. Read the whole books (not just the required chapters) if you have time.

  5. Textbooks are always more important than academic papers despite what your lecturers tell you. Read the textbooks first.

  6. Always make notes as you read.

  7. Arrive early to lectures to get the best seats and to make friends with like-minded, punctual and keen students before the lecturer arrives.

  8. Socialise carefully. Will joining this particular group/team help you to grow as a person? Some groups will help you grow; some will drag you down. Choose carefully!

  9. Don’t be too stubborn but don’t be too easily influenced, either. Be in the middle.

  10. Smile! 😃

Last-Minute Tips for the VCE Chemistry Exam

You’ll be sitting here tomorrow.

Only positively-charged fragments from mass spectrometers produce a peak on the spectrum. Uncharged free radical fragments are not detected because they lack a positive charge.

Weak acids with a lower Ka value are the weakest… this means that they ionise to a lesser extent when in aqueous solution, giving rise to a lower concentration of available H3O+(aq) and a higher pH.

The conversion of triglycerides (a type of ester) into biodiesel (another type of ester) is called transesterification.

The covalent bonds between deoxyribose and phosphate groups in DNA form a group of atoms called a phosphodiester group.

Ether bonds and glycosidc bonds are not the same. Ether bonds are C-O-C. Glycosidic bonds are a type of covalent bond that joins a carbohydrate (sugar) molecule to another group, which may or may not be another carbohydrate.

Amide groups and peptide groups are not the same, either. Amide groups are CONH. Peptide groups are CONH between amino acid residues in a polypeptide chain. Nylon, for example, has amide groups (CONH) which aren’t called peptide groups.

Ether: C-O-C
Ester: COO
Amine: NH2
Amide: CONH

The molar mass of any amino acid without its Z-group is 74 gmol-1.

The molar mass of glucose, fructose and galactose (all monosaccharides) is 180 gmol-1. By coincidence, aspirin is also 180 gmol-1.

The molar mass of sucrose is 342 gmol-1 because (180*2)-18=342.

In general, energy is required to break bonds. Energy is released when bonds are formed.

Use the formula C-(H/2) to find how many C=C are present in a fatty acid (only works for fatty acids).

Use the shortcut formula (Ka/[acid])^0.5 to find % ionisation of a weak acid.

Use -log(Ka) to find the exact pH at the end point of an indicator.

Use the quick titration formula for rapid multi-choice titration questions: c1v1/ratio1 = c2v2/ratio2

A hydrogen bond is an intermolecular bond that forms between O-H groups. The covalent bond between the O and the H is not a hydrogen bond.

Can you write the half-equation for the reaction occurring at the anode in an ethanol-oxygen fuel cell with an alkaline electrolyte? Tip: start by writing the known reactants and products then use KOHES(OH) to balance your equation.

The products of a titration determine the pH at the equivalence point. For example, the the pH at the equivalence point in a titration between CH3COOH(aq) and NaOH(aq) is around 8.5 because at equivalence point, only products are present: Na+(aq) and CH3COO(aq). The ethanoate ion (CH3COO(aq)) is a weak base, which makes the solution produced slightly basic.

If you have absolutely no clue in the multiple choice sections, pick C. In the last 4 years of VCE Chemistry examinations, C has been correct 50% more of the time than B.

The multiple choice questions really do get harder towards the end. I’ve done the statistics.

Use your reading time wisely. During reading time, read all the questions with the following idea in mind: “how would I do this question?” without actually doing the question.

Bring sharp pencils.

Sleep early tonight (before 9pm). At this stage, getting enough sleep is far more important than revising those tiny details that may or may not come up in the examination.

All the best tomorrow.

Test Yourself Here on the Hardest VCE Chemistry Questions Ever Asked

VCE Chemistry Hardest Multiple Choice Questions Ever Asked Great Revision Tool
Click the image to begin Quiz 1

Great revision tools are available here. All the questions in these quizzes are real VCAA Chemistry questions extracted from Section A of past Chemistry papers.

Quiz 1

Quiz 2

Quiz 3 (long)