Unless you’ve studied the principles of speed reading, or you were smart enough to figure it out on your own, chances are you are reading in a very inefficient manner. We’ve been taught to read one word at a time, and that’s a great starting point, but in order to triple your reading speed, you need to do things differently. Here are some basic tips that I’ve been using this week to get started and they’ve helped immensely!
Preview Your Material
Before beginning, you want your brain to start making as many connections to the material as possible. Think of your previewing as a warm up to get you going so that you can start reading as efficiently as possible. No matter what you are reading, whether its an email, a short story, or a piece of technical writing, you need to give your brain as much context as possible so that when you begin, you have a general idea of what it is that you are reading.
Read in Chunks
This is where it starts to get a bit more challenging, and this is one of the areas to practice. Most of us haven’t fully developed our peripheral vision when it comes to reading. We target on one word at a time. To read in chunks, you have to start using that peripheral vision, and with a little practice, you can quickly improve.
One good way to start is by using newspaper or magazine columns that are more narrow than a book. Instead of reading across the line, focus on the center, and see if you can comprehend the entire line just by looking at that one point. You can begin to practice expanding your peripheral vision by looking at the center word, and reading the word directly to the left of center, then read the word directly to the right of center, then move back to the left and read the next word out, etc. until you can read the entire line working your way to the outside just by concentrating on the center. You can start slow, then build up speed, start with shorter columns and work your way out to longer columns, and don’t worry about your comprehension. Once you get the hang of reading entire chunks of text, your brain will quickly pick up the pace to increase your comprehension.
Efficient Eye Movement
Once you start paying attention to your eye movement, you’ll realize that your eyes wander quite a bit. Maybe you miss something during your reading and go back. Maybe your eyes wander off and you have to come back to your place. Your eyes dart all over the page, moving in a highly inefficient manner. This slows you down immensely!
The ultimate goal for speed reading would be to read in a straight line down the page, with your eyes only focusing on the center, and no left to right movement. For most of us, its easier to make a couple movements across the page. I’ve found that for myself, when reading a book, I focus my eyes about a third of the page from the left, and then I move to a third of the page from the right, making just those two stops across the line. You can also work on expanding the number of lines that you can comprehend at one time. With just a bit of practice, I’ve gotten to where I can comfortably read about two lines at a time, making only two stops across.
There are a couple different ways you can move your eyes once you begin to read in chunks. When I read, I tend to make a Z pattern across the page: left to right, then sweep back down across to the left, and continue in that pattern. You could also do the reverse of this in more of an S pattern if you like.
One of the things that slows most readers down is reading every word to yourself. As I stated in my last post , when you subvocalize, you are limited to reading about as fast as you talk, which will normally fall at about 125-150 words per minute. To eliminate subvocalization, there are a couple different methods that you can try. One is to simply force yourself to read faster in chunks. Forcing yourself to read faster should make it impossible for you to read every individual word, and your brain will start to catch up. Another tip is to count “1,2,3,4” to yourself as you are reading.
Skip the Fluff
Learn what’s important when you are reading. In almost every sentence you come across, there will be words that can be bypassed that still allow you to grasp the general meaning of that sentence. On a broader level, you are most likely reading to achieve some sort of goal. Figuring out what you need to get out of your reading is important, so that you can skim over everything else. Some things that you read may require you to slow down a bit and take more time. Lighter readings may allow you to easily breeze through. Don’t be afraid to vary your speed when you are reading and skip over the things that aren’t as important.
This first week has consisted of me practicing and applying these basic principles. So far I’ve doubled my speed, which should be relatively easy for most new speed readers. Once again, my goal is to read at 3x my beginning speed, so that will be a total of about 900 wpm. It’s looking daunting so far, but I hope to make improvements with a couple free apps that I’ll be writing about next.