I’m not one for making big New Year’s Resolutions as I am a continual goal setter and look at life plans and goals on a weekly or at least monthly basis, so I don’t need one day a year to pretend I’m actually going to change the year, I just always do that. However, there is one that I can’t encourage others enough to look more seriously at and that is about reading. I hope I can inspire a few people to put this on their own goal sheets for the year. Thank you everyone for a wonderful 2008, may your 2009 be even better!
One of the most important things in my life was discovering speed reading. I had read about blazing speed readers and how people were reading books in just a few minutes and I never took it seriously, not even for a second for many years. After all, I took me a few minutes to read a page so those types of claims were just ridiculous to me. However, eventually listening to various speakers, browsing articles and having the internet at my fingertips led me to be one step more curious than I ever had been. So, I decided to do just a little research into speed reading. That was just 3 years ago now.
Well, that little bit of research paid off dearly for me as it’s made a HUGE impact in my life and is now one of my favorite past times, to sit down, read and learn from a great book. I didn’t learn to devour a book in minutes but I did learn that you can easily increase your reading speed with little practice and that often it’s a person’s reading speed that keeps them from having interest in books in the first place. That was certainly my story. So, I’m not claiming to be an expert and I’m not even that fast of a reader but I have tripled my reading speed, I’ve not lost any reading comprehension and I actually enjoy reading books now and I’ve learned a great deal from them that I was missing out on for many years of my life.
What is Speed Reading
The whole premise of speed reading is to learn to interpret words visually as groups or sets of words instead of individual words or even sounds like we are all taught to traditionally read. The school systems teaches children to read out loud, sound out words and process words audibly by teaching this method. What it fails to do is then teach children once they know the words to start to visualize the words and absorb content at a much higher rate.
The brain can depict any visual image in a fraction of a second into many, many colors, objects, sites and moods in that since glance. Speed reading takes advantage of the minds ability to do this by learning to see blocks of words instead of individual words sequentially. The eye and brain can easily see more than just on word at a time and so this is the key to speed reading. It’s NOT about simply moving the eyes faster and scanning by the words in the same sequence but faster.
Speed Reading Myths Broken
- Speed reading is NOT about simply training to move your eyes faster
- Reading is not entirely linear
- You don’t have to lose comprehension in order to read faster
- Speed reading doesn’t take long to learn
- The benefits of speed reading last, they don’t simply fade away
- Anyone can learn to read faster
- Making notes while reading increasing comprehension
- Speed reading can increase your enjoyment of reading
7 Steps for Learning to Speed Read
1. Get Comfortable and Crack the Book
Keep your area you read in free of distractions and setup so that you are comfortable with good light available and no distractions. It’s a good idea to have your book laid out flat in front of you so that the pages are easy to flip and so you are looking straight on at the text. You don’t want each page to have a different perspective of text as this will slow down your brain’s ability to process what it sees. Crack the cover open throughout the book so that it lays flat and you can face it straight on and flip the pages quickly. Page flipping if you get very fast can be the biggest area to improve on. I am nowhere near there yet so won’t add tips for improving that skill.
2. Trace the Lines at a Consistent and Fast Speed
The eyes move naturally by what are called saccades, which are rapid movement of focus from one point to the next. To read quicker, you must learn to reduce these saccades to a more fluid smooth movement so the brain can absorb more text faster. Moving your finger or a pen as a guide will dramatically prevent regression, which is when the eye glances backwards momentarily. This guide in place when moved smoothly and quickly can eliminate those unwelcome saccades and allows you to read faster.
3. Overcoming Sub-vocalization
The biggest problem I had increasing my reading speed was to overcome sub-vocalization. Here are some of the methods I used and learned about to overcome that:
- Practice at a rate much higher than you can possible sub-vocalize (>500wpm)
- Move your hand or fingers over the words at a consistent just faster than you can sound things out and don’t EVER stop your hand to “hear” the words
- Read every line backwards so that the words don’t make sense back to back (vocalizing is easier to break using this since the language is broken)
- Count OUT LOUD from 1-100 over and over while reading (this will be very difficult at first but soon easy to do and it kills sub-vocalization quickly)
As soon as I was able to eliminate by sub-vocalization, my speed increased significantly. At this same point, I found myself able to be more “in” the book and my mind stopped wandering as often and I never had to go back and reread content. It seems that I was reading much slower than my mind was able to process and so my subconscious would put my imagination to work, I’d start thinking or dreaming of other things and suddenly I would realize I had read several pages without consciously knowing what I had read. This all stopped as soon as I was reading fast enough to keep my mind active and working quick enough to stay busy with processing the text I saw. Now, the faster I read the easier and easier it is to stay attentive to the text and the more enjoyable it is, as I never have to reread anything or go back and remind myself of what I just read. It’s actually increased my comprehension in this regard.
4. Use More of Your Peripheral Vision
This is one of the steps that makes the biggest difference for speed reading. You must learn to use your peripheral vision when reason and so the best technique to do that is to force yourself to start reading the lines part way in and continuing with the next line before you quite get to the end. Start by jumping lines while skipping just a word or two at the start and end of each line and practice reading this way for 15-20 minutes. You will notice at first it is difficult to understand the whole text but you will quickly discover you are still getting the whole message and you can slowly burn away the desire to read each word directly. As you progress with this and get more comfortable, move your start and end points further and further in so you are only reading the middle area directly and your peripheral vision is picking up the rest. Practice with this is essential but it does not take long. A few days practice and you will quickly see your ability to skip reading each and every word.
If you have troubles reading without looking at these words, you can also train your mind to help interpret them but covering them with your hand or a piece of paper. Overlay it over the margins to hide a few words at each side of the text and read through it. This will develop your interpretive skills in the mind so that reading in the peripheral vision will “feel” more natural.
Next, reverse this technique by glancing only at the first and last word of each line while reading for 15-20 minutes of practice. If you have wide columns, you may need to use 3 points of focus but ideally you can train your mind and eyes to see everything per line with just a few focus points. Continue to practice this for several days to train your peripheral vision.
5. Before Reading Anything, Always Speed First
Anytime you site down to read, read at a rate much higher than you can comprehend anything (50% or 100% faster than you are comfortable at) for about 5 pages, or just a couple minutes. This will trigger your mind to focus on the reading and peripheral view again and actually heighten your reading centers in the mind. Then, you can continue to read at a rate just slightly faster than you are comfortable at so you still get the comprehension. If you are reading a book or novel and don’t want to miss any content, always go back and re-read a few pages at this high rate first.
By pushing the mind at this higher rate, you will actually make it MUCH easier to slow back down to a rate still above your normal reading speed yet it will feel easier and you will develop more speed at a much quicker rate than if you start slower.
6. Skip the Boring Parts
Don’t waste time reading content that you don’t find interesting. Get out of the habit of needing to read everything just in case there is one important detail you might miss otherwise. Making the most of your reading time is also about reading things you actually enjoy and have interest in. If you are reading a section that you could care less about, then skip past it. Don’t spend another second on it. Scan to the next area, title or chapter that draws your attention and move on. Every book has a huge amount of content you are going to forgot anyway and often it’s of little value so allow yourself to read the areas of most value to you and be willing and wanting to skip things of little value. If you are reading content that you don’t find interesting at all and it doesn’t seem to have any areas of interest, then stop wasting your time and don’t keep on reading any further.
7. Control Your Time
Finally, you need to be careful with how you practice. Don’t read for many hours without breaks. Stop every 1/2 hour or so and change your eye’s focus by looking around the room and changing your depth focus. Stretch keep a drink of water on hand or snack as a break.
The other point about controlling your time is to plan the timing of your progress for reading faster with some constraints and goals. Set a goal to read a specific number of pages when you sit down and to read at a particular rate. Measure your progress by knowing how many average words per page you have and how quickly you are reading it. Track your progress and use time constraints and timing to be the expectations for your reading goals. This time measure makes it even quicker to improve your skills.
Thinking Faster to Read Faster
Learning to read faster also requires that you learn to think faster about that information you’re taking in. It’s possible that you can greatly increase your reading speed without any noticeable effort or mental strain. This depends on how quickly you process what you are reading and it entirely depends how quickly you can think and process the data you read.
When I first started learning to read faster, I was able to go from about 175 wpm to about 300 wpm without any mental strain whatsoever. However, increasing my reading speed beyond that took much longer and I would feel quite mentally tired after an hour of higher speed reading. That is why it is recommended to practice in short sessions, perhaps about 15-20 minutes each day to condition your mind. The more often you do it, the better instead of trying to read for long sessions not as often. Once I did this more and more, I was able to increase my speed up to 400 and now over 500 and I no longer feel the mental strain to read at these paces. Push that any higher however, and I again can easily tire by the extra thinking required to read at that higher speed. I continue to increase my speed however and it gets more and more natural every time. As you progress here, your comprehension skills will follow so that you can read at higher and higher rates without losing your comprehension skills. They will always be slightly behind as you increase your speed, but overall, they will increase quickly at the same time and continue to follow any progress you make in speed.
Scanning and Keywords
Keywords are the words that carry the meaning in the text. If all you read are the keywords and skip everything else, you can still get the meaning of the text. These keywords can be recognized with practice at very high speed so that as you read each line and reduce your focus points, you will always learn to make those focus points your keywords. This will drastically speed up your reading. Keywords can eventually be used to read not only lines faster, but multiple lines at a time so you still get the full context and meaning of the text, without necessarily reading each line one at a time sequentially.
Scanning is the process of scanning ONLY for keywords at a much higher rate. You can scan a full page of text in just a few seconds to get some context and meaning from seeing various keywords. This allows you to fame the content for easier comprehension and lets you make a decision how much of the text you really want to read. You can use scanning to browse over areas of little interest.
And finally, notes are the best way to make the most of a speed reading session by improving your comprehension in the long term. After all, why would you read something if you don’t want to get some lasting value from it. Whether its a training manual, fiction or non-fiction, you can gain a lot by spending just a few minutes per each 1/2 hour of reading to review, mark and write a few simple notes about the content you consumed.
Perhaps you want to mark specific pages or pieces of text, you might want to make a mind map, a list of important points, or just some of your favorite quotes from the book. I put a simple line in the margin beside any text that I might want to reread. I might have 20-30 of these in a typical book so can flip through the book again and remind myself of all the stuff I liked from it in about 2-5 minutes. That is how I create the content for writing book reviews then afterward for this site. Whatever it is you want to use, take just a moment to write those down, they will immensely help you to improve your comprehension and enjoy your reading even more. These notes also make it easy to come back another day and pick up where you left off. Combining a quick review of some previous notes and by reading a few pages again at high speed, you can easily pick up right where you left off, at an even FASTER pace.
Speed reading is something that requires practice, for most people its easy to double or even triple your speed in a matter of hours by using these techniques and it’s possible to increase those speeds well over 1000 wpm. Some speed readers are literally capable of reading in pages per minute speeds, not words per minute. Continue to practice, measure where you are at and you too, will find yourself quickly reading faster and enjoying it more!
Speed Reading Resources
Here are a few online resources I’ve found, used or been pointed out by readers. Here are a couple for testing your current speed:
And here are some more great reference sites for learning more about reading faster.
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