The Art of Speed Reading: How To Read Faster

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Reading is a favorite pursuit of many but it can be daunting when faced with lengthier novels and assigned academic reading.

How is it possible that some people are able to read volumes of work faster than others? Is there truly an art to speed-reading?

How To Read Faster

This article will explore techniques that instruct readers on how they can perfect this sought after skill. Reading more allows you to learn more and reading faster allows you to save time.

First, let’s talk about some of the immediate benefits of speed-reading to you as a reader and/or writer.

1. Faster reading skills will help you read more books and therefore allow you to review more books or simply more reading entertainment.
2. Faster reading skills will help you to read more books which in turn helps you write more books.
3. Faster reading skills will help you to research faster. Research, after all, is a lot of reading and note-taking.
4. Faster reading skills will help you to read emails, comments and social mentions in less time. You can respond faster to your friends, family and fans.
5. Faster reading skills help you save time. Time is the most valuable currency we have. And remember, time is a finite resource.

reading books to each other

Read Faster Without Losing Comprehension

Now, let us begin on this journey that will help you to become a great speed reader.

Our first train stop is a WikiHow article entitled How to Learn Speed Reading that can be found by visiting the link. This article gives a step by step guide to increasing your productivity while reading. But, I have summarized it here.

The first step proposed is to stop visualizing the spoken word and focus on blocks of text. The second step is to hold the book or screen at a distance as you read to absorb more text at once. Once you have mastered these steps, progress by hiding words you’ve already read so you won’t be tempted to re-read them to understand the context better.

A key part of the efficient reading experience is to read without distractions in a space that is quiet and well lit. Posture is essential when it comes to reading. Reading while being in the bed can make you feel more tired.

Additionally, you should try to read at a time when you’re most awake and focused. Concentrate on the most crucial aspects of the text first and ask yourself insightful questions about what you’re reading to stop yourself from daydreaming or becoming distracted by your thoughts.

Even when practicing these techniques, you should try to understand the different types of reading and practice good reading techniques such as carefully reading instead of skimming to understand more difficult parts of the book you’re reading.

When you’re practicing these steps, try reading an easy and light book first so you won’t have to think so deeply about the material.

You should time your reading speed by perhaps setting a timer and seeing how much reading you can do in a set amount of time. When you encounter a text such as a magazine or newspaper, look at the section headings and headlines to see what you want to read and what you already understand.

Another article written by the Student Counseling Service at the University of Chicago that can be found here presents some techniques that have already been mentioned but also suggests using a pen to guide your eyes as you read.

You can begin reading at your normal pace and mark where you left off before re-reading the same passage for a minute at a faster speed than before. Reiterate this step by reading three times faster than your slowest speed and then asking yourself how much you remember from the passage.

The counseling service recommended practicing this process for 10 minutes a day for two weeks to become more comfortable with the art of speed reading, increase your reading speed, and improve your understanding of the text.

A speed reading expert, Dr. Richard L. Feldman, from Columbia University wrote a 10-step article entitled “Speed Reading: 10 Tips to Improve Reading Speed and Reading Comprehension”. Read can read the full article by clicking on the link.

His 10 steps are as follows:

1. Read earlier in the day when you are most awake and can maintain focus on important material.
2. Organize your reading materials by their degree of importance and then read the material in the order of importance. This will help improve your reading speed.
3. Skim for main ideas in nonfiction books by scanning the table of contents and beginnings and ends of each paragraph. Understanding the book’s structure will help you to know which parts to skim and which parts require more careful reading.
4. Turn headings and subheadings into questions to ponder and then examine the text to find the answers to these questions.
5. Use a bookstand and have your book angled at 45 degrees to avoid straining your eyes.
6. Write short notes after reading letters and then refer to these notes when you’re ready to reply to the sender.
7. Avoid highlighting key portions of the text as this will not improve comprehension of the book.
8. Preview the text before beginning reading.
9. Adjust your reading speed to the type of reading material and purpose for reading.
10. Enroll in a speed reading class taught by an expert on the subject.

Speed Reading Techniques

Glendale Community College wrote a five method primer on self-pacing while speed-reading. The primer can be found on their website. The five methods are:

  • The Hand
  • The Card
  • The Sweep
  • The Hop
  • The Zig-Zag

The Hand is a method that has the reader place their right hand on the page and move it straight down the page so you move your eyes down as you read. Do this at a slow and even pace.

The Card technique has you use a card or a folded piece of paper above the line you are trying to read and draw it down the page slowly and evenly and try to read the passage before covering up the words. Slide the card down faster than you can go.

The Sweep has you use your hand to draw your eyes across the page. Cup your right hand and keep your fingers together. Using light and smooth motion, sweep fingers from left to right underlining the line with the tip of your finger. Use your whole arm to move and balance on your arm.

The Hop has you lift your fingers and make two bounces on each line. Each time you bounce, you hopefully will read sets of three or four words. This makes it easier for you to keep a steady pace as you read.

The Zig-Zag has you take your hand and cut diagonally across the page for three lines and then back to the text. Scan the entire page and pick out the main ideas.

Speed Reading 101

According to a 2012 Forbes article that published the results of a speed-reading test sponsored by Staples as part of an e-book promotion, the typical speeds at which we read and understand at different points in our educational development are as follows:

  • Third-grade students – 150 words per minute
  • Eighth-grade students – 250 words per minute
  • Average college student – 450 words per minute
  • Average high-level executive – 575 words per minute
  • Average college professor – 675 words per minute
  • Speed readers – 1,500 words per minute
  • World speed reading champion – 4,700 words per minute
  • Average adult – 300 words per minute

The article’s author then put these rates into context by applying them to typical reading materials of very successful business people.

For newspapers and blogs, at the average adult speed of 300 WPM you would spend 33 minutes a day on that part of your reading routine.

For magazines with an average length between 60 and 150 pages, you would spend 75 minutes reading one magazine and successful individuals normally read about five magazines per day. For them, the reading time over the course of a month would be 50 minutes a day.

For books with an estimated word count of 100,000 words and the goal to read one book a month, that comes to 11 minutes a day at the average adult reading speed.

Factoring all of this in, you could easily spend at least two hours a day reading at the rate of 300 WPM. For more of the author’s insights on this topic, visit this Forbes link.

The Staples speed-reading test can be found here. Take the test, it’s fun.

One reader of this article gave her tips for speed-reading which included reading in phrases rather than word by word and learning to skim the article for its core concepts.

The layout of the article would also impact how fast you are able to read it.

Another insightful commenter mentioned that absorbing more useful content could be obtained by listening to the news as you drive to become well-informed and able to reference important stories.

You could also listen to audiobooks to cram more content into a busy week.

One reader mentioned that there should be some scholarly analysis into how reading speed correlates with typing rates as many individuals spend a good part of their day typing.

She compared the speed of listening to a book on tape versus reading it in print and then compared this to how fast that text could then be transcribed by writing or typing.

She found that reading and typing at the same time averaged out at between three and four times faster than the typical speaking rate of a book-on-tape reader.

An interesting article that criticized the outlandish claims of some speed reading instructors and courses was published on the website of the Skeptic’s Dictionary.

One of these speed reading instructors, Howard Berg, author of Speed Reading the Easy Way, claims that he is able to read 25,000 words per minute which is about 80-90 pages a minute.

A professor at UC Berkeley, Anne Cunningham, examined test results that measured eye movements while reading that determined that the maximum amount of words a person can read accurately is about 300 per minute.

People who claim to read 10,000 words per minute are really just skimming the material. Well, I agree with Anne. I am a proponent of speed reading but not at the cost of not really reading anything. Would you?

The author of the Skeptic’s Dictionary article believes that a better way to increase reading speed would be to enroll in a community college course that would improve study skills, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. It would certainly cost less than a speed reading course such as the Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics course.

The Evelyn Wood speed reading course is a very well-known program with techniques that have been practiced by US presidents including John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter.

John F. Kennedy had Evelyn Wood instructors teach top-level staff members how to increase their reading speed as did Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter took the course and was able to reach a 1,200 word per minute reading rate with a high comprehension rate.

The techniques of the Wood program which was acquired by Encyclopaedia Britannica were explored in a comprehensive book entitled “Remember Everything You Read: The Evelyn Wood 7 Day Speed Reading and Learning Program.”

One technique mentioned was the visual-vertical approach which involves eliminating vocalization of words and replacing it with a visual perception of the material that entails sweeping the eyes vertically down the page.

The book stated that the full emotional impact and intellectual understanding of most passages in books are enhanced with the visual-vertical approach to reading.

elederly lady speed reading

Another technique is the multiple reading process or layering technique which involves seeing and accepting words and phrases out of their expected order. The layering technique is a five-step process which includes:

1. Overview

a. Quickly skimming the book to determine its organization, structure, and tone b. See what the cover and jacket state about the contents and author
c. Examine the preface and introduction if there is one
d. Flip through the pages at about one second per page

2. Preview

a. Read at about four seconds per page to draft an outline of the details of the book.
b. Divide the chapter you are reading into sections if it is a nonfiction text. If the work is fictitious, you can preview the book by identifying main characters, setting, time period, and general direction of the plot.
c. Look for key facts and concepts paying close attention to the introduction, summaries, and questions posed by the author.

3. Read

Preview the first subsection in a nonfiction book and read that section at your fastest comfortable reading speed and make notations to pinpoint important or difficult material to study later on. This will help you to remain actively engaged with the book.

4. Postview

Review the entire reading assignment and think about the relationship of each part of the book to the whole.

5. Review

Regularly try to remember what you’ve read and see how it relates to other course materials. 

It is evident now that there are a variety of techniques for reading faster and with practice perhaps you could also become a great speed reader. Try to remember though that speed reading should not replace savoring the experience of a good book.

The various ways to speed read could certainly apply however to lengthy assigned readings for academic courses.

Hopefully, this article has allowed you to understand the methods of speed reading and helped you to determine whether speed reading is a skill that you wish to perfect.



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What do you think about speed-reading techniques? Do you consider yourself to be a slow reader or speed-reader? Please leave your thoughts and input in the Comments below.


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