I'm a slow reader, and if you're someone like me, chances are you've often wondered how you can read faster and better.
Whether you're reading a novel for leisure or a document for work, slogging through lengthy passages can strain your eyes and exhaust your mind. Taking in information faster and without much effort can be very helpful, given the sheer amount of news, books, articles, and emails we sift through every day.
In this article, we're going to explore some of the techniques of speed reading that can improve your reading speed and make you a faster, more efficient reader.
Speed reading is the name given to various techniques that can be used to improve your reading pace and efficiency, allowing you to save a considerable amount of time and substantially increase the amount of knowledge you can accumulate and retain.
Try focusing on chunking text together into meaningful groups instead of focusing on individual words. Position your eyes a little farther from the text, ignore the filler words, and try grasping the concept a group of words is trying to convey.
The goal here is to reduce the number of stops your eyes perform while reading a given passage of text. Thankfully, our brains are already accustomed to chunking words together and this happens several times a day when we read signposts, common phrases, labels, or instructions.
Begin your practice by grouping two to three words while reading and jump to higher levels once you feel comfortable. For now, start by trying to read three words with one glance and continue down the page.
Subvocalization is a common bad reading habit. It means subconsciously speaking or pronouncing each word in your head as you read, requiring more time and energy to get through the page.
Most of us subvocalize, as we're taught to read aloud during the early years of our education, and this habit is often deeply ingrained, making it a challenge for us to read without pronouncing the words in our head.
Subvocalization is one of the biggest obstacles to reading fast. When you pronounce every word in your head, your reading cannot outpace your speaking speed, which is usually very slow for all of us (we can speak only 125-150 words per minute).
To break this habit, try muting your inner voice and minimize unintentional mouthing of words. Listening to classical, instrumental music can stop you from subconsciously pronouncing words. You can also stick your tongue to the roof of your mouth, hum while reading, or chew gum to preoccupy your mouth and give it something to do while you read so you can disengage the speech mechanism in your brain.
Once you learn to stop yourself from silently speaking every word you read and just let it enter your mind, you'll experience a significant increase in your reading speed.
Regression or Back-skipping means going back to reread a section of text you've just read to make sure you fully understood its meaning, and it's a huge time-waster.
A lot of times we read passively, without focus, and then spend more time going back to what we've just read once our mind wanders to make sure we fully understand what we've read. This slows us down and takes up a lot of extra energy.
Regression mostly occurs due to a lapse in concentration and improving your focus while reading can help minimize this habit. A helpful way to break this habit is to read actively instead of passively, asking yourself questions about what you're reading, and focusing on comprehending the current passage.
You can also use a bookmark or a blank page to hide the text you've read to stop yourself from backtracking unintentionally. Once you've kicked the habit, you can ditch the visual aid.
The pointer method or hand pacing is the technique of placing your index finger or another pointer such as a pen under each line and dragging it down the page in a continuous, flowing motion.
Our eyes have a natural tendency to detect and follow moving objects, and this simple technique can considerably improve your reading pace by enhancing your visual coordination, improving your flow, and even helping you minimize subvocalization as well as regression.
Previewing is the practice of zooming through a text you're about to read to give you some context and help you understand what you're about to read. While previewing, pay special attention to headings, images, subheadings, bullet points, numbered lists, bold or italic text, and skim through the introductory and concluding paragraphs of the chapter.
Once you actually begin reading the text after the preview, comprehension will be easier and you'll feel less need to read critical passages twice as you'll already know of sections that are important and require more focus.
Many people find it difficult to concentrate on reading because of everyday distractions and interruptions such as background noise from a TV or a conversation, the constant smartphone notifications, the sound of traffic from the street, or a noisy neighbor.
To be able to read faster, you need to create the optimum environment for speed reading. This should be a quiet spot that will help you concentrate and is free of external distractions and disturbances.
After you've chosen a spot, put your phone away or on do not disturb, sit in a proper and comfortable posture and be mindful of when your mind begins to wander to things such as your next meal or that embarrassing gaffe you made in a meeting years ago.
For more on this topic, read our article on How to remain focused while reading.
The above tips and techniques can help you read faster, but it might not be practical to use them all the time.
For reading novels, history, internet articles, news, product descriptions, or the dozens of texts & emails we get every day, speed reading is super helpful and can tremendously improve your reading speed.
However, even for the smartest of us, it's nevertheless a fact that the faster we read, the less we take in, and the less we retain in terms of specific details. So, it might not be the best idea to speed read a complicated research paper, a legally binding contract, a technical document, or the course material for your upcoming exam.