”One trouble with developing speed reading skills is that by the time you realize a book is boring, you’ve already finished it.” – Franklin P. Jones
We all spend hours reading each week. However, sometimes it is hard to keep up with this activity because of other responsibilities and activities. What if you could cut down your reading time without compromising the quality or quantity of your reading? Or if you could memorize more of the things you read in a better way? All this is quite achievable with speed reading. An elaborate series of skills and techniques, speed reading, can help you become a much more skilled reader.
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According to research, the average reading speed for the general population is around 120 words per minute (wpm), and that is while taking into account their ability to comprehend the text. The top readers, who form merely 1% of the populace, can read up to 400 wpm and not more than that.
With the help of speed reading, you can read seven or eight times quicker than the fastest readers. Certain speed reading courses enable participants to improve their reading speed by 400% in a single three-hour session! However, despite being effective, speed reading techniques aren’t very familiar with most, which is why they end up missing out on something great.
Myths about Reading
There are some myths and misconceptions regarding reading in general that cause people to refrain from practicing speed reading.
- Reading Quickly Hampers Retention: The reality is quite the opposite of this perception. Speed reading techniques enhance your retention and understanding of the text.
- Reading Has to be Linear: Non-linear storytelling has gained popularity in books as well as on the television and in movies. Often writers pen the ending first before working on the rest of the book.
- You Have to Read Word-for-Word: This myth is propagated during early school years when teachers insist that students read word-for-word. The habit that forms at a young age is hard to let go off.
Since most people’s reading habits are the polar opposite of what speed reading is about, they find it hard to make the switch. However, what may cause them to change their mind is reading about the benefits of speed reading.
Save Time on Reading: Read Twice As Fast As You Do Now
First of all, you will learn to read faster without missing out on anything. This alone means that you are going to spend less time reading. For people who have to read every single day, for work or study, reading faster can help save a lot of time. College students especially have to read a lot of cursory material in addition to their course textbooks. With speed reading, they can research quicker and hand in their assignments on time.
As you learn to read quickly, you can get more reading done on the go while riding the subway or on an airplane. Let’s say you spend an hour reading every day. You can easily cut that down to 30 minutes, saving you half an hour each day. Over the course of years, it equates to around 1 week (182 hours) saved!
These aside, there are many jobs where reading is a daily job. Paralegals, script consultants, movie studio executives, professors and similar professionals have a lot of reading to do, hundreds of pages every day. They can reduce the time taken for speed reading. This way, they will enhance their productivity and be able to get more work done.
The Benefits of Speed Reading
Apart from saving time, here are some other advantages of speed reading:
Improved Memory and Focus
The brain is a muscle and needs to work out. Speed reading provides the ideal exercise for your brain enabling you to improve your memory. Also, when reading dense bodies of text quickly, your focus will improve considerably.
Release Your Stress
Reading is a relaxing activity. If you read even a few pages of a good book after a long day’s work, you will feel relaxed, and your stress will be released. Also, your emotional wellbeing will improve.
Your logic is enhanced when your brain starts retaining and storing more information. You can link the information you acquire now to what you have learned before.
Better at Problem Solving
Your problem-solving skills will get better as you employ speed reading. Problem-solving is all about concentration and logic, two things you will acquire through speed reading techniques.
These are just some of the benefits of speed reading. Overall, you will start feeling better about yourself, and your self-confidence will improve greatly.
Speed Reading Techniques
So, if you’re sold on the idea of reading super-fast, it’s time we get to the business end of things. There are numerous techniques that can increase your reading speed to 1,000wpm. However, before you start reading, there are some preparatory steps you should undertake. This helps you in creating the perfect environment for speed reading.
- The first step is deciding why you want to read the book, newspaper, magazine or whatever it is you are reading. Unless you have a clearly defined purpose, it’s hard to find the motivation to read it.
- Get rid of everything that could distract you from your reading endeavor. This includes your phone (if you can live without it for a few hours), the TV and computer. Tell the people around you that you intend to get some reading done and would appreciate not being disturbed.
- Before opening the first page, read the back cover and anything about the book or author printed on the inside of the cover. This enables you to prepare mentally for the task ahead.
Once you have created the right environment and are in the mindset to start reading, start using the following techniques for speed reading.
Technique#1: Use a Pointer
Without something to guide your eyes, it becomes difficult to stay fixed at a particular spot on the page you are reading. All it takes is a blink of the eyes, a sneeze or any other minor distraction and your eyes go off the page. The matter gets worse when you don’t return to the point at which you were before going off. Therefore, you need to have something to locate the position. For this, using something like a pointer is the best option. You can use your finger as a pointer, which is the easiest option. You can also use a pencil or pen. Just following this simple tip can help increase your reading speed considerably.
Technique #2: Eliminate Sub-Vocalization
If you are not familiar with the concept of sub-vocalizing, it is merely hearing yourself read. This habit is formed because most people learn to read by speaking the words out aloud when they are young. As a result, their mind starts subconsciously vocalizing any piece of text they read. So, you hear that little voice in your head narrating the text as you read it out. Vocalizing does help with comprehension, but it is not a must by any means. If you manage to eliminate sub-vocalization, you can become a speed reader in no time at all. One way to do this is to move the pointer quicker than the pace at which you hear the words in your head.
Technique #3: Control Your Speed
Speed reading does not mean that you hit full throttle and skim through pages and pages of text. You need to monitor the speed at which you are reading. This is made possible by the use of a pointer. Over time, you will notice that the speed at which you move the pointer is corresponding to your reading speed. Therefore, if you move the pointer faster, you will read more rapidly. However, when you feel exhausted, you need to slow yourself down. When reading textbooks, you will come across many paragraphs where a point is being repeated just to drive it home. Rather than read through it every single time, it is better just to skim over it using your pointer.
Technique #4: Focus on Retention
Speed reading is not just about flying through a book without remembering little of it when you get to the end. There are people who boast about their speed reading skills. When you ask them about what they retained of the book they just read, it turns out to quite unimpressive. To keep the material, you need to know when to slow down your speed. This is hinted at in the previous technique as well. You need to have control over your reading speed so that when you come across a challenging topic or subject, you can retain it better.
Technique #5: Use Active Reading
The world’s speed reading champion can read 4,700 wpm. This means that that person can easily get through long novels in books in less than an hour. However, at that speed, there is precious little to learn and retain. Now, if you are reading Inferno or The Casual Vacancy, it is fine if you read quickly since their purpose is entertainment. However, when studying for an exam, you need to prepare your mind to be inquisitive and open to learning so that you can grasp the information in the text before you. It isn’t like if you read it, you will learn.
Technique #6: Practice Makes Perfect
Speed reading, like any other skill, has to be exercised from time to time. It isn’t as if you can become a speed reader overnight and start reading 1,000wpm from day one. You need to invest the time and effort required. The result at the end of it is worth your while as you develop the ability to read faster than 99.5% of the population. Not many people are aware of and practicing speed reading, so it is a unique skill you can acquire to open up new opportunities for you. To master it, you need to keep practicing.
Technique #7: Love What You Read
There is more published written material than there is time to read. So, you have to be selective. Of course, there are some books that you have to read, most of them about your academic or professional life. However, regardless of the reason for which you have picked out reading the material, it is crucial that you love it. Otherwise, you won’t find it interesting. Of course, with speed reading, you can get through boring books in no time at all. But that doesn’t mean you cannot find them interesting. It is all a matter of applying yourself and defining the purpose for which you are reading it.
Technique #8: Use Your Eye Span
One of the major drawbacks of reading word-to-word is that your eye only focuses on a single word at a time. The average eye span is 1.5 inches which means you can read up to four words on either side of a word. For instance, if there are ten words in a sentence, placing your eyes on the 5th word can help you see the sentence in a single glance. This will help you view the text as a block of words rather than in individual units. This is one of the major hindrances to speed reading that people face. Their perceptual gaze isn’t conducive to reading fast, which makes it difficult for them to enhance their reading speed.
These are eight of the most effective speed reading techniques. On the surface, they might appear to be complicated, but practice makes perfect. As you can keep following them, you will find speed reading becoming easier for you. So, if you desire to read 1,000wpm (or even more) without breaking a sweat, learning speed reading is the perfect solution for you.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2013 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.