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Reading Done Right: How to Keep Up With the News

In this article, Ananth Veluvali explores how extempers can read the news efficiently and comprehensively.

Reading in extemp is a tricky balancing act. A strategic extemper must find ways to keep up with continually-changing contemporary events, while also leaving themselves space to breathe. Indeed, if extempers never followed the news, they’d struggle to perform well at tournaments. Conversely, if extempers truly followed every item in the news, they’d never have a life outside of this activity!

So, how can extempers walk the fine line between reading too little and reading too much? The answer lies in maximizing your time! As an extemper, you must develop frameworks to identify the most important events in the news and spend your attention exploring those topics. Fortunately, we’ve identified a stategy for maximizing your reading potential, and we’ve bolded the most important highlights.

Before starting any reading session, you must first realize what are the biggest events in the news. Are wildfires in California only worsening, is peace in Sudan looking less likely, can Democrats pull together a midterm victory after their loss in Virginia? These are the types of questions you’ll likely have to ask yourself as an extemper. If you’d like to successfully ask those types of questions yourself, it’s important to skim through the headlines in the news. My suggestion would be to look at the biggest headlines from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post or other newspapers that provide regular coverage of American and global events.

In particular, you should be on the lookout for headlines that seem to be recurring week-to-week. For example, if the New York Times seems to regularly cover democratic issues in Myanmar, it’s probably a big issue – and one that you should read up on! Equally, you need to be exploring headlines that have the potential to have a major impact. If you’re an international extemper and the Washington Post just reported that (as a hypothetical) France’s political system collapsed, you should be making sure that you know why!

Once you’ve identified the biggest issues in the news, it’s time to start exploring them! Skim the articles with important headlines, keeping a close eye for interesting statistics or capitalized words (those tend to be important organizations or people that are involved with the topic).

Ideally, skimming a few articles per topic would provide you with enough knowledge to be comfortable to answer a question about said topic. If it isn’t, you might need to work on improving your skimming skills! (Speaking of, if you are all interested in an article about that, let us know!)

However, some topics are just more confusing or aren’t done justice by skimming a few articles. This is typically true for big, multi-week developments (like Biden’s infrastructure bill or global climate negotiations). For these, read the full article and think tank reports (if available)! Again, pay particular attention to important statistics or proper nouns, and don’t be afraid to re-read sections if they’re confusing.

After your reading session, it’s important to solidify your knowledge. Make sure you quiz yourself on these topics. Ask about the who, what, and why behind various news-related developments. You should also write down some practice questions and think about if you could answer those questions (just think of points, don’t generate a full speech). If you can’t, it may be worth exploring that topic further!

It could also be useful to utilize weekly practice quizzes that test your understanding of the news. We run a weekly practice quiz on our site you can check out every Monday, and sites like the New York Times and Slate also have excellent quizzes! If you notice yourself getting more than 30 percent of the questions on these quizzes wrong, you might to read more.

All in all, this routine is much more efficient than consuming as much news as possible — and it will likely make you absorb information more quickly. Aim to read for a few hours each week and try to discuss these topics with friends to really solidify your knowledge. I hope that helps, and good luck!

By Ananth Veluvali

Founder, the Extemper's Bible.

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