The average adult reads about 250 words per minute. This is much slower than most people are capable of reading. Using a few simple but effective techniques, it is possible to increase your reading speed to 500 words per minute or faster. The five techniques presented below will allow you to double your reading speed (or more) with a minimal amount of effort.
Get into the right physical and mental space
Have you ever tried to read a textbook or technical document while watching TV or at a loud coffee shop. It is not easy is it? The constant distractions wreak havoc on your focus and can easily double or triple the amount of time it takes to read something. When you also consider the dramatic decrease in comprehension that occurs when reading with external distractions, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense now does it? If you are serious about reading quickly and comprehending what you read, make sure that you read in an environment free of external distractions.
This also applies to internal distractions as well. How many times have you found your mind wandering in the middle of a paragraph? An easy way to counter internal distractions is to make sure that you are in a relaxed and focused state of mind. This corresponds to the alpha brainwave state. For an easy process that you can use to get yourself into alpha state, click here.
Subvocalization is when you say the words to yourself in your head as you read them. It is that inner voice that reads along with you and is one of the leading causes of slow reading. Think about it; if you are silently saying the words to yourself as you read, then your reading speed is limited by how fast your can talk. (Most people comfortably speak at about 150 words per minute; auctioneers generally speak 250-400 words per minute). If you are serious about speed reading, then reducing subvocalization is an absolute must! There are two techniques that I have found useful in helping to minimize subvocalization. The first is to just be aware that you are doing it and make a conscious effort not to subvocalize. This is challenging and definitely takes practice so be patient. The second technique is to force yourself to read much faster than you normally would so your inner voice can not keep up. An awesome free application that you can use for this is AccelaReader, which uses Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) to increase reading speed and minimize subvocalization.
Use a visual guide
If you watch somebody’s eyes while they read normally, you will notice that their eyes backtrack and make tiny bounces back and forth along the page. This “jerky” motion of the eyes, which is known as saccadic movements, greatly reduces reading speeds. The easiest way to eliminate this inefficient eye motion is to use your finger or a pen to guide your eyes as you read. This simple technique alone can double your reading speed.
To use your finger as a visual guide, place your finger directly below the word that you are reading. Move your finger smoothly across the page as you read and focus your eyes right above your finger. When you get to the end of a line, just move your finger to the beginning of the next line. You can control your reading speed by controlling the speed of your visual guide.
Using a visual guide also helps eliminate regression, which is the unnecessary rereading of words or sentences. In addition to dramatically reducing reading speeds, regression can also reduce comprehension because it interferes with the normal flow and meaning of the words.
Read in chunks of 3-4 Words
Almost everyone learned to read word-by-word but this is not an efficient method of reading. Not only does reading one word at a time greatly reduce your reading speed, it also interferes with comprehension. This is because the meaning of a concept is conveyed by groups of words and not disconnected individual words. For example, when reading the words “up ……….. the ………….. creek ………… without ……… a ………….. paddle” one word at a time, your brain must focus on the meaning of each word individually and then piece them all together. On the other hand, it is much easier for your brain to understand the meaning of “up the creek” “without a paddle” when the words are read in chunks.
The application AccelaReader mentioned above is a great resource to help train yourself to read in chunks of 3 or more words. It works by pasting the text you want to read into a textbox. You can then set your reading speed in words per minute and how many words you want displayed at once. The website spreeder.com has a similar application as well as useful articles on speed reading.
Use your peripheral vision
Even when you are looking straight ahead, your peripheral vision allows you to see off to either side. You can use this to your advantage to help you read faster. If you start at the first word of line of text and end on the last word, you are spending time reading the margins (where there is no text) with your peripheral vision. To counter this, you can use your visual guide to begin three words from the beginning of a line and finish three words from the end of a line.
Speed reading is a skill that can be mastered with a little practice. These 5 simple techniques will get you started. Good luck and happy reading!