Whether you’re hitting the textbooks in philosophy class, reading long-winded emails from co-workers, or just reading the morning newspaper, chances are at one time or another you’ve wished you could read a little faster. Follow these instructions to train yourself in faster general reading, extreme speed reading, or skimming. Keep in mind the last two will not let you absorb as much information, but are still excellent tools to have.
Pick your approach depending on your goal.
The instructions in Learning to Read Faster are great for increasing the speed of your reading without losing too much comprehension, including someone who wants to become an extreme speed reader.
If you’re trying to cram for a test faster or browse magazines more quickly, take a look at the section on Skimming Text Faster.
If you want to learn to read books extremely quickly and don’t need to understand them fully, browse these tips first before moving on to Further Speedreading Exercises.
Learning to Read Faster
Stop imagining the spoken word. Even if you don’t mouth the words silently as you read them, chances are good you “subvocalize,” or imagine the words being spoken aloud. This is useful for difficult texts, but mostly just slows you down needlessly.
Stop yourself whenever you notice this happening. Being conscious of the habit can be enough to minimize it.
If you can’t stop, try quietly chanting something repetitive such as “1 2 3 4” or “A E I O U.” Stop if the chanting distracts you from reading.
Groups of words are harder to vocalize, so practice reading in blocks using the techniques below to help with this issue as well.
If you are physically moving your lips as you read, hold a finger against them while reading to stop this habit.
Take in groups of words. Instead of reading each word separately, train yourself to understand a group of words at once. This requires less eye movement, which in turn makes reading much faster.
Hold the book or screen a little farther from your eyes than you are used to as you read to take in more words at once.
Soften your gaze and relax your face. If you are too focused and tense, you won’t be able to see the words farther from your center of vision.
Follow along with a pencil or other object as you read, but hold it slightly above the text to make your eyes focus on a wider area.
Train yourself not to read the same passage twice. Most people frequently stop and skip back to words or sentences they just read to try to make sure they understood the meaning. This is usually unnecessary, but it can easily become a habit, and many times you will not even notice you’re doing it. Use an index card or pen to hide the words you’ve already read, training your eyes not to move backward.
Find a quiet, well lit environment. Even if you think you read better when you have music playing or when you’re in a crowded coffee house, you will understand the text much better if you reduce distractions to a bare minimum. Try to find a solitary, well lit place to read, and turn off the TV, radio, and cell phone.
If no solitary place is available, try using earplugs to block out any distractions around you.
Light is important even when reading on a computer screen.
Reading in bed makes many people sleepy. Try sitting up at a desk, with your book tilted at a 45º angle away from you.
Read when you’re alert and engaged. Some people function well in the morning, while others think better in the afternoon. Save important reading for those times of day.
Start a reading session by reading the important material first, when your eyes and brain aren’t tired out.
Ask questions to yourself as you read the text or the chapter headings, and search for answers as you read. This keeps you focused and avoids daydreaming or other mental distractions.
Adjust reading speed depending on the material. Even this one article probably contains advice you’ve already heard as well as some that’s completely new to you. A good reader slows down to understand something complex and speeds up through familiar sections.
Don’t be afraid to fall back on “bad habits” to understand a text better. If you are reading a difficult book and don’t have a time limit, feel free to reread sections or read them aloud in your head. In fact, you can use these tools to better effect now that you’re aware of them!
Further Speedreading Exercises
Understand types of reading. Speed reading is a set of techniques for blitzing through a book or article. You don’t skip any sections, but your comprehension will suffer. Skimming involves only reading the most important sections in order to gain a shallow understanding, and does not require a fast reading rate. Finally, you should read every word carefully if you want a deep understanding of a text.
Speed reading software and apps often claim not to affect your comprehension, but this is only true up to a certain reading speed: possibly around 500 words per minute, although research results are divided on the exact number.
Pick fun, easy reading material to train with. Something enjoyable and easy to comprehend will keep you focused and quick, which is great while you’re practicing.
Don’t practice on a book with many pictures and diagrams among the text, since that interrupts your pace and makes it hard to measure.
A book that remains open when lying flat makes it easier to perform some of these exercises.
Time your reading speed regularly. Not only will timing help you to know whether you’re improving, trying to beat your best speed is great motivation. Count the number of words on a page, or count the number in one line and multiply by the number of lines on the page to find this number. Set a timer for ten minutes and see how much you can read in that time while understanding the text.
Multiply the number of pages you read by the number of words per page and divide by the number of minutes spent reading to get your words per minute or wpm, a common measurement of reading speed.
Alternatively, you can search for an online “speed reading test,” although you will probably read at a different pace from a screen than from a printed page.
Read faster than you can understand. Many programs claim to increase your reading speed by training your reflexes first, then practicing until your brain can catch up. This can be effective, but be wary of exaggerated claims not backed up by research.
Run a pencil along a text at a rate of one second per line. Say “one one thousand” in a calm voice as you move the pencil and time it so you reach the end of a line at the same time you’re done with the phrase.
Spend two minutes trying to read at the pace of the pencil. Even if you can’t understand anything, keep focused on the text and keep your eyes moving for the entire two minutes.
Rest for a minute, then go even faster. Spend three minutes trying to read at the pace of a pen that moves across two lines every time you say “one one thousand”.
Practice these exercises every day or few days. Eventually you may be able to understand more of the text at this pace, and even if you don’t your regular reading speed may improve.
Reduce the number of eye movements. Moving your eyes several times per line is unnecessary. Here is an exercise you can practice to keep your eyes as still as possible while reading:
Take an index card and place it over a line of text. You can use a magazine printed in narrower columns if the index card doesn’t cover the entire line.
Make two Xs at the base of the index card, dividing each line into three roughly equal sections.
Read quickly as you move the index card down, trying to only focus your eyes just below each X. Focus below the first X and read the first half of the line, then move once to just below the second X and read the second half of the line.
Narrow the range of your eye movements. Pencil a light vertical line about two words from the left margin, and another one about the same distance from the right. Try to read quickly without moving your eyes further than those lines.
You can combine this with the “read faster than you can understand” exercise described earlier. Move a pen only between the two vertical lines as you try to read at a pace of 1 second a line or 1/2 second a line. Continue for two or three minutes even if you understand very little. Regular practice can improve your reading speed.
Calmly saying “one one thousand” is a good estimate of one second to get your pen rate correct. It doesn’t need to be exact.
Use speed reading software. Free online programs such as Spreeder can train your reading to high speeds by using electronic methods such as flashing a sequence of words on your screen in the same spot. Similar programs are available for your phone as well.
Be wary of paying for software like this before you’ve done your research.
While you can read at extreme rates using this kind of software, your comprehension will likely suffer.
Skimming Text Faster
Know when to skim. Skimming can be used to gain a shallow understanding of a text. It can be used to scan a newspaper for interesting material, or to get the important concepts out of a textbook in preparation for a test. It’s not a good replacement for thorough reading.
Read the titles of sections. Begin by only reading the chapter titles and any subheadings at the start of large sections. Read the headlines of each newspaper article or the table of contents in a magazine. This should give you a good idea which sections you need to or want to read more in depth and which sections you already know about.
Read the beginning and end of a section. Textbooks usually contain introductions and summaries of each chapter. For other texts, just read the first and last paragraph of a chapter or article.
You can read quickly if you’re familiar with the subject, but don’t try to speedread as fast as possible. You’re saving time by skipping most of the section, but you do need to understand what you’re reading.
For unfamiliar sections, skim the text in between. If you still wish to learn more, brush your eyes rapidly across the page rather than reading normally. Now that you know the gist of the section, you can pick out key nouns and verbs that give you a little extra information.
When you see a complex or interesting key word, stop and read that paragraph.
Diagrams are another signal that a section may be worth paying closer attention to.
If you still need detail, read the start of each paragraph in that section. The first one or two sentences of each paragraph will teach you a surprising amount of information.
Move through each section the same way. Read the beginning and end; skim the middle; and read the first sentence of each paragraph if you need detail. You don’t need to follow every step for every section. You can always move on to a new section if you feel you are familiar enough with the current topic.
Take frequent breaks. Your comprehension and focus will be better if you take a five-minute break every hour or half-hour. Taking breaks is also important to keep your eyes healthy and avoid eye strain.
Get enough sleep whenever you can to improve your reading speed and comprehension.
You may not want to read some things quickly, even if you can. If you’re reading poetry, for instance, every word matters.
Get your vision checked if you can’t improve your reading speed.
After a point, reading faster will always have a trade-off in less comprehension or worse memory of the text.
Beware of expensive speed reading products. Try the tips above before you spend money on a speed reading book or kit. Many of them offer similar advice and exercises.
Things You’ll Need
Mind set that you really would like to improve your reading
Earplugs (if noise is a big distraction)
Pen or pencil
Confidence that you can do it
How to Exercise Your Eyes
How to Take Lecture Notes
How to Read and Write in 1337
How to Read While Walking
How to Recognize the Signs of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
How to Re Read a Letter
How to Learn How People Learn
How to Improve Speed Reading Skills
How to Make a Habit of Reading
How to Learn Quickly when Reading
Sources and Citations
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