Have you ever wished you could read more books without increasing your reading time?
Then speed reading is what you are looking for. With the right techniques and regular practice, it will allow you to rock your TBR (to-be-read) list and boost your personal development on the same occasion.
Sounds too good to be true, right?
As you will see, more than reading methods, the speed reading techniques listed below consist in getting rid of bad reading habits that slow you down. Only the fact of becoming aware of these will already help you read more efficiently.
Speed reading techniques
Read in blocks
When we learned to read, we were taught to focus on every single word. This might be an effective technique to acquire initial reading skills, however, one drawback is that it slows you down.
Instead, you should try to read in blocks (you can increase the number of words in a block as you get better) and also to spend as little time as possible on each word chunk. The trick is to see the text as an image rather than an accumulation of letters/words.
Sub-vocalizing means silently pronouncing the words you are reading or even moving your lips as you read. As we can think much quicker than we speak, this habit will obviously limit your reading speed.
Reading in blocks, as suggested in the first tip, humming while you read, or listening to classical music, can help you stop pronouncing the words in your head.
Beware of skip-back
Have you ever caught yourself re-reading a sentence/paragraph because you were under the impression that you had missed something? Skip-back is a common reason for slow reading. Bouncing back and forth in the text will cost you many minutes of reading. Try to avoid visual regressions – usually, information is reiterated in the text anyway.
Using a sheet of paper to hide the text you have already read is an effective technique to prevent you from skipping back.
Use a guide
Even though the technique might sound childish at first, it’s essential that you start using a guide, if you want to increase your reading speed. It could be your finger, a pen or a highlighter to guide your eye and maintain your reading speed. A guide will also help you to stay focused and avoid re-reading.
Train your eyes
Did you know that moving your eyes back and forth along a line accounts for about 10 percent of your reading time? Training your eyes to do the right movements and to move faster will have a huge impact on your reading speed. E.g., take a sentence, scan it as quickly as possible, and see what you understood. You might be surprised at how much information you can register despite the high speed. Also, keep in mind that you are training a muscle and that it needs practice.
If you are like me before I discovered speed reading techniques, you probably directly dive into a new book starting on page 1. In some cases, you’ve read the back cover, but that’s about all the preliminary reading you’ve done.
Here are some reading preparation steps that will help you increase your reading efficiency and, most importantly, enhance your reading comprehension.
Everywhere, we read about the importance of setting goals – well, this also applies to efficient reading. Define your goal(s) before you start reading: Are you reading to learn about a specific topic? To find specific information? Or just for pleasure? Knowing what you are looking for or even writing it down can be a great help to focus on and look for essential information.
Flick through the book
Before you dive into the book, take some time to flick through it to get familiarized with its structure: skim through the table of contents; check how the content is split, how many pages the book has, if it contains illustrations, etc. This will also be an opportunity to identify sections that you don’t need to read, either because you already know the information or because it’s not what you are looking for.
If you are reading a shorter text such as an article, it can be helpful to read the first and last sentences of each paragraph and only skim through the middle to get the gist of what is said.
Don’t neglect your reading environment as it can have a great impact on your ability to relax and concentrate.
If possible, make sure you read in a quiet environment. Switch off your devices (yes, even your phone!). Also, choose a spot where the lighting is adequate for reading.
When reading, especially when you practice speed reading, concentration is key. Only if you are completely focused on reading, will you be able to read fast with a high level of comprehension. Some people like to listen to classical music or white noise to enhance their concentration. When I was studying, I used to enjoy sitting in a place with background noise when I had to concentrate. Today, I prefer being somewhere silent.
Be mentally alert
As speed reading requires a high level of concentration, it’s important that you are mentally alert and somewhat energized when reading. I quickly found out that it’s very difficult to speed read when I’m too tired.
All the reading skills in the world will be useless if you don’t have the right mindset. The key is to always challenge yourself and be consistent in your practice.
If you want to be successful at speed reading, it’s essential that you let go of negative beliefs you might have. Stop thinking that you are a slow reader or that you will need years of practice to become a fast reader. Try to push yourself and read faster than you think is possible. You will be amazed by what your brain can achieve.
Regular practice is key to acquire and maintain speed reading skills. Ideally, you should start practicing with easier texts and progressively move on to more complex content as you start mastering the skill. At the beginning, I’d recommend shorter training sessions, as speeding reading is very demanding in terms of concentration.
Speed reading apps
Using an application can be a fun way to improve your reading skills. Here are a few that I have tested.
Word Runner for Kindle eReaders
Word Runner is a Kindle-integrated speed reading app. It displays the text of the book you are reading word by word in the middle of your screen. You can very easily slow down or accelerate the pace between 50 to 900 words per minute (an average reader achieves a pace of about 250 words/min.), pause or skip back, if needed.
In my opinion, the feature is nice to have and can help you practice speed reading or maybe skim through a book. I have only tried it for a chapter or two, but I can’t really imagine using it to read a whole book yet.
Spreeder is an online text processor in which you can paste a text you want to read. Similarly to Word Runner, it will show the words one at a time at the center of your screen. In this case, I’d rather recommend it to read articles or other short texts as you have to paste the content into the text processor to use the features.
Speed reading: the best!
Just to clarify: I’m not saying this is the best app, “Speed reading: the best!” is the actual name of the application.
This one, which you can download from the Google Playstore or Apple App Store, is slightly different from the two previous ones. Instead of helping you to actually read texts, it offers a series of exercises, such as searching words in a text, memorizing numbers, etc., that will help you train your memory, ability to focus, and eventually increase your reading speed.
I haven’t been using this app long enough to confirm if this training will actually help you increase your reading speed. However, the exercises are fun and motivating (you can even beat your own scores) and will certainly help you improve your memory and concentration skills.
In addition to reading faster and more efficiently, speed reading brings several benefits. Among other things, it’s a great way of keeping your brain fit, and it will also help you increase your reading comprehension and enhance your memory.
Speed reading is an amazing tool to read more books and gather a lot of knowledge. However, you should decide when it makes sense to use speed reading techniques. Obviously, if you read a poem or a well-written novel, the purpose is to enjoy the style and writing.
If you would like to know more about speed reading and learning techniques, I can recommend the book Accelerated Learning: An Effective Guide On How To Learn fast, Improve Your Memory And Reading Speed by Kate D. Sharpe. Even though the content is quite repetitive, it’s a good introduction to speed reading and accelerated learning.