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Reading smarter, not harder: navigating academia with dyslexia

Updated: Apr 16

Are you curious about achieving academic success with a reading challenge such as dyslexia? Dive into Sofie's insightful post, where she draws from personal experience to share all her invaluable tips!

Hey everyone! I hope you're enjoying the onset of spring as much as I am! With longer days and more sunshine, I'm savouring my first outdoor coffee at café Ysbreeker. This place has become my go-to for study sessions, offering a laid-back environment with free Wi-Fi and lovely surroundings. As I dive into this semester's syllabus, I wanted to share some study tips, especially for those facing reading challenges like dyslexia or just overall nervousness around studying.

Especially for people with dyslexia, reading extensive volumes of text can be a daunting task. I've come to terms with the fact that reading 60 pages in one sitting is an unrealistic expectation for me, especially if I aim to grasp the content fully. My dyslexia tends to make me skip words unintentionally or substitute them with visually similar ones. This often means that I miss out on the full meaning of the text unless I approach it strategically. While some may breeze through ten pages in an hour of thorough reading, it might take me far longer. In my case, after around 30 pages, mental fatigue sets in, and I need to take a break. This realization led me to adopt the mantra of "reading smarter, not harder"… As cringe as that may seem to some.

My successful academic journey despite dyslexia

How do I do it? Well, here are some strategies I’ve developed over time:

  1. Tailoring My Reading Approach I've learned to read in a way that aligns with my reading purpose. Texts can be approached with varying levels of intensity depending on your objectives. Think about why you're reading a particular text. Are you reading to get an overview before a lecture? To discuss it with your study group? To gather information for a research paper? Tailoring your reading method to your purpose can make your reading more efficient and active.

  2. The Purposeful Overviews Before reading, I always need a sense of what the text contains. I start by scanning the title, headings, abstract, table of contents, and conclusion. This is especially helpful when preparing for a class or trying to locate specific information. There are many days when overviews are all I have the time and capacity for. Preparing for class doesn’t always mean thoroughly reading every page. Skimming and purposeful overviews can be more beneficial for me than attempting to thoroughly read sixty pages and then only making it to fifteen. For the longest time, I was convinced thorough reading was the only right way to study – but it isn’t and many students (also non-dyslexic ones) make use of these tips. Attending the lectures will fill in any gaps you might have missed while skimming.

  3. The in-depth Dive For a deeper understanding, like when preparing for exams or writing assignments, I resort to thorough, intensive reading. However, I still practice the purposeful overviews before a deeper dive into texts. Knowing what’s to come helps me digest the content comprehensively and lets me stay focused longer. I also want to note that with dyslexia you have difficulties with reading but oftentimes a superpower in listening. I highly recommend making use of your computer’s build-in audio tools for readout content. I let the computer do the hard work and let the information seep in through my ears rather than my eyes. For those who use MacBook computers the thread to read content is as follows: System Preferences -> Accessibility -> Spoken content -> click “speak selection” -> add keyboard shortcut by clicking options. When highlighting sections of text click your shortcut, and your computer should start reading aloud, allowing you to focus on listening, learning, and taking notes.

  4. The power of your fellow students Asking for help to understand texts, note sharing or even confiding in someone about your difficulties can be such a relief. Throughout my studies, I have kept a shared note system with my fellow classmates where we split the reading load amongst us. This lifted weight off my shoulders while also deepening my connection to my classmates. One can also take it a step further and make a habit of sharing in-class notes – this is an excellent way to fill potential gaps left over from reading and lectures.

While these strategies have been helpful in maximising my reading efficiency, it's essential to understand that dyslexia brings its unique challenges. It's okay to acknowledge the moments when reading feels strenuous or even overwhelming. The truth is, not everyone can plough through hundreds of pages a day, and it's important that your mental health always comes first.

So, remember: reading smarter, not harder, is a journey of self-discovery. Embrace your unique reading style and don't forget to take breaks and self-care moments. Ultimately, it's not about digesting every single page; it's about absorbing the insights and knowledge that truly contribute to your personal growth.

All the best,




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