Whether you skim a blog post, peruse files for work, or browse through a book, you most likely do some type of reading every day. But slogging through dense passages of text can be time-consuming, mentally exhausting, and hard on your eyes. If you want to read faster while maintaining reading comprehension, check out these seven tips.
10 Tips for How to Read Faster (and Still Understand What You Read)
1. PREVIEW THE TEXT.
Viewing a film’s trailer before watching the movie gives you context and lets you know what to expect. Likewise, previewing a text before reading it prepares you to quickly gain an understanding of what you’re about to read. To preview a text, scan it from the beginning to the end, paying special attention to headings, subheadings, anything in bold or large font, and bullet points. To get a big-picture understanding, skim the introductory and concluding paragraphs. Try to identify transition sentences, examine any images or graphs, and figure out how the author structured the text.
2. STOP THE INNER MONOLOGUE
One’s inner monologue, also known as subvocalization, is an extremely common trait among readers. It is the process of speaking the words in your head as you read, and it is the biggest obstacle that gets in the way of you being able to increase your reading speed.
If you’re hearing voices in your head when you’re reading, don’t fret. As long as it is your voice, reading along with you, you’re fine. This is how teachers teach kids to read – say the words silently in your head as you read.
Do you recall the instructions, “Read in your head, as I read the passage aloud”, that was said fairly often in the classrooms? That is one of how this habit of having an inner monologue was ingrained into you as a young reader.
When you were initially taught to read, you were taught to sound out everything and read aloud. Once you were proficient enough at that, your teacher had you start saying the words in your head. This is how the habit originated, and most people continue reading this way. It does not adversely affect them in any way until they start wanting to read at a faster pace. If you are seeking to increase your reading speed, this is the first thing you must learn to overcome.
Why does this slow you down? The average reading speed is pretty much the same as the average talking speed. According to Forbes, the average adult reading speed is 300 words per minute.
The average talking speed is the same.
Since most people are in the habit of saying the words aloud in their heads as they read, they tend to read around the same pace as they talk. This means, your reading speed will only increase so much if you continue to keep up that inner monologue. If you want to continue to increase your reading speed, you need to eliminate it.
To do this, you need to understand one thing: It’s unnecessary. You do not need to say every word in your head to understand the material you are reading. It was when you are younger, but now you can input the meaning by just seeing the words. Your brain still processes the information.
For example, when you see a “YIELD” sign, do you stop to speak the word in your head? Of course not. You just look at it and process it automatically. This is what you need to be doing when you read your print material, such as books or paperwork.
If you have a hard time attempting this, try reading with instrumental music playing in headphones, or chewing on some gum. A distraction will keep your brainless focused on subvocalization, though you will still look at the words and process them.
Word-chunking closely parallels the idea of eliminating the inner monologue. This is the act of reading multiple words at once and is the key to reading faster. All of these reading tips tie together, yet word-chunking is probably the most active tool to use when you work to increase your reading speed.
A person can take in several words at a time, even though we are trained – as mentioned with the inner monologue – to read each word at a time and not miss a single article. Using your peripheral vision is one way to make this step easier, but we will get to that in the next section.
For now, focus on trying to read three words with one glance. Continue down the page like that, taking note of how much faster you complete the entire page of text. You are still able to process and comprehend what you read but spend far less time doing it.
Now, take that concept one step further. Take a pencil and lightly draw two vertical, parallel lines down your page, separating the text into three sections. Start at the top left of the page as usual and cover up everything below that line with your hand or a piece of paper.
Focus on reading the text in each section as one thing. Chunk the words together and read them at a glance as you would a road sign. Keep doing this down the page, moving the paper accordingly. You will notice that your speed was faster than before.
3. PLAN YOUR ATTACK.
Strategically approaching a text will make a big difference in how efficiently you can digest the material. First, think about your goals. What do you want to learn by reading the material? Jot down some questions you want to be able to answer by the end. Then, determine the author’s goal in writing the material, based on your preview. The author’s goal, for example, might be to describe the entire history of Ancient Rome, while your goal is simply to answer a question about Roman women’s role in politics.
If your goal is more limited in scope than the author’s, plan to only find and read the pertinent sections.
Similarly, vary your plan of attack based on the type of material you’re about to read. If you’re going to read a dense legal or scientific text, you should probably plan to read certain passages more slowly and carefully than you’d read a novel or magazine.
4. BE MINDFUL.
Reading quickly with good comprehension requires focus and concentration. Minimize external noise, distractions, and interruptions, and be mindful when your thoughts wander as you read. If you notice that you’re fantasizing about your next meal rather than focusing on the text, gently bring your mind back to the material. Many readers read a few sentences passively, without focus, then spend time going back and re-reading to make sure they understand them. According to author
Tim Ferriss, this habit, called regression, will significantly slow you down and make it harder to get a big-picture view of the text. If you carefully and attentively approach a text, you’ll quickly realize if you’re not understanding a section, saving you time in the long run.
5. DON’T READ EVERY WORD.
To increase your reading speed, pay attention to your eyes. Most people can scan in 1.5-inch chunks, which, depending on the font size and type of text, usually comprise three to five words each. Rather than reading each word individually, move your eyes in a scanning motion, jumping from a chunk (of three to five words) to the next chunk of words. Take advantage of your peripheral vision to speed up around the beginning and end of each line, focusing on blocks of words rather than the first and last words.
Pointing your finger or a pen at each chunk of words will help you learn to move your eyes quickly over the text. And it will encourage you not to subvocalize as you read. Subvocalization, or silently pronouncing each word in your head as you read, will slow you down and distract you from the author’s main point.
6. DON’T READ EVERY SECTION.
According to Dartmouth College’s Academic Skills Center, it’s an old-fashioned myth that students must read every section of a textbook or article. Unless you’re reading something extremely important, skip the sections that aren’t relevant to your purpose. Reading selectively will make it possible for you to digest the main points of many texts, rather than only having time to fully read a couple.
7. WRITE A SUMMARY.
Your job shouldn’t end when you read the last word on the page. After you finish reading, write a few sentences to summarize what you read, and answer any questions you had before you started reading. Did you learn what you were hoping to learn? By spending a few minutes after reading to think, synthesize the information, and write what you learned, you’ll solidify the material in your mind and have better recall later. If you’re a visual or verbal learner, draw a mind map summary or tell someone what you learned.
8. PRACTICE TIMED RUNS.
Approaching a text strategically, reading actively, and summarizing effectively takes practice. If you want to improve your reading speed, use a timer to test how many words (or pages) per minute you can read. As you’re able to read faster and faster, check in with yourself to make sure you’re happy with your level of comprehension.
9. SET A GOAL
Holding yourself accountable will better ensure you stick with your reading and your timer tests. Give yourself a goal of a certain number of pages to read each day/week/etc. and stick to it. When you reach it, treat yourself. Incentives never hurt anyone! You can also use a Marker when you find your vision slipping and sliding through the page as you read. There is no problem.
Simply place an index card below each line and slip it down as you read. This will ensure you stay reading one line at a time, rather than flitting your eyes about and taking nothing in.
Give yourself a goal of a certain number of pages to read each day/week/etc. and stick to it. When you reach it, treat yourself. Incentives never hurt anyone!
10. READ MORE
The adage, “Practice makes perfect,” is pretty darn accurate. Any professional, artist, musician, etc. practices their work regularly.
A reader should be doing the same thing. The more you read, the more you will be better at it. The better you are at reading, the more you will increase your reading speed.
Theodore Roosevelt read one book before breakfast, and then three or four more in the evening. He also read papers and other such pamphlet-style reading material. I’m not sure how long these books were, but I am going to assume they were of average length. Use his obsession as fuel for your own goal.
In summation, the next time you need to read something quickly, simply tell yourself to “Shut up and look at the page!”
Bonus: Simple Technique to Speed Up Your Comprehension
Reading faster can help you learn more stuff quicker. But sometimes reading faster isn’t enough. You want to be able to comprehend complicated concepts or ideas faster too. There’s a simple technique you can use to do just that.
Before you even begin reading, you can read more quickly.
- Be choosy and mindful of your intention.
- Avoid getting too at ease.
- a preview of the information
- Prioritize keywords.
- Try using the indenting technique.
- Stop using subvocalizations.
- Use your finger as a reference point.
- Try the white card magic trick.