There has been a long debate on the internet about whether or not speed reading should be trusted. With the advancement in technology and applications, there have entered many new software and applications that claim to increase your reading speed. People feel they are in dire need of such help since there are thousands of books to be read and articles to be understood. In the times we live in, we have so much content around us that we don’t really understand what to filter out. We don’t have a procedure in place to avoid unwanted content and speed-read what’s really important to us.
First, it is paramount to understand that speed reading should not happen at the cost of comprehension. Some people may have a specific reading requirement where they don’t need full comprehension but in most cases, sound comprehension is vital in reading. Next, I can assure you that a thoughtful speed reading does work. However, it requires a lot of practice and patience.
Before we get to the techniques of speed reading, let’s ask ourselves 4 basic questions
1. What is your goal behind reading?
Different people have different goals for reading. Some read books for pleasure. Some read to fully understand the nuances of a book and style of the author. Few people read research papers and academic papers. Know what your goal is.
2. How much comprehension your reading requires?
In most cases, all kinds of readings require comprehension but sometimes, when you are proofreading for a friend or you just want to know the gist of a book, you don’t have to comprehend the entire piece of writing. You must ask yourself this question before you start reading any piece of writing.
3. For how long you want to retain the information that you gain from reading?
There is a lot of information available in books or the internet that doesn’t require space in your brain. You can just consume it and then discard it if it is not relevant. Before reading any piece of writing, you must ask yourself for how long you want to retain the information.
4. What do you want to gain from speed reading?
In the end, you must ask yourself why you want to speed read. Is it the novels on your shelf or is it the research papers you always wanted to finish? Is it for gaining more information?
Once you have asked all these questions to yourself, you have done one-fourth of the job. From here we can move on to learn real techniques that help in increasing your speed from 200-400 words per minute to 600-800 words per minute and more.
A lot of people who have solid reading skills fail to believe in the concept of speed reading. However, the fact is Evelyn Wood, an American educator started teaching speed reading techniques in the 1950s and since then many people have successfully adhered them to not compromise on speed and comprehension both. While many people’s suspicion is valid, it is only after following a concrete process consistently, one can reach to the conclusion. It also varies from person to person as each individual has different grasping abilities.
It is also crucial to first understand how your brain really comprehends a writing piece. Your eyes first find a fixation point while you read. Further, it moves to another fixation point and this is known as a saccade. A saccade is an extremely fast movement, mostly in one direction while reading. Some people argue that you don’t need fixation for comprehension.
They also believe that our brain is strong enough to understand things that we don’t actively focus on with our eyes. This argument helps if you are someone who really wants to learn speed reading. It is more like an experiment that you can try and implement. You can put a timer on to see if you can comprehend well without fixation on each word.
It should be noted that comprehension also depends on the writing style of an author. Some books have many redundant or repetitive paragraphs while others are very specific and pinpointed. The former can be read fast, easily as a lot of parts in the book can be skimmed.
How to read faster – 5 Speed Reading Techniques
1. Reduce Subvocalization
Without compromising with comprehension, try to reduce the number of words you say to yourself while reading
The process of saying words to yourself inside your head is known as subvocalization. It is really common to move the throat while reading. A lot of people don’t even realize that they are subvocalizing while reading. Experts of speed reading claim that subvocalization or saying words in your head wastes a lot of your time. As discussed above, our brain is perfectly capable of comprehending without fixation or subvocalization.
Some experts advise chewing gum while reading. Others just expect you to be mindful of your moves while you read. While subvocalization may not be avoided entirely, it can be minimized. Some researchers claim that complete abrogation of subvocalization reduces comprehension. It is advisable to minimize subvocalization instead of completely getting rid of it. Visualize words while reading instead of saying them loud inside of you.
2. Use Meta Guide
Use a pencil, highlighter, finger or marker to track the words.
While reading our eyes tend to get distracted a lot. It takes time to bring them back in focus. This whole process waste more time than we realize. Experts suggest that using your finger as a visual guide can help in controlling your eye movement.
Moving your eyes with the help of a finger, pen, marker or highlighter is known as meta guide. Running a pen down the text in one direction also helps you read faster. This process needs a lot of practice before you can completely get acquainted with it. Once you start reading like this with ease, you will realize your reading speed increases relatively.
3. Hide the Text You Have Already Read
In order to not get distracted, use paper to cover the text you have already read.
Hiding the text that you have already read, helps in telling the brain to not focus on the same lines again and again. Our brain tends to move back to lines that it has already comprehended. To avoid this, you can use a paper to hide what you have already read. Let’s note that regressions can also happen if your brain didn’t understand something perfectly. Even in those cases, the brain tends to go back to older text.
Develop a habit of skimming through repetitive or redundant text.
As per your goal of reading, you should decide whether or not, you want to skim the text. Skimming is the process of reading only relevant texts of a book and skipping redundant text.
With practice, people become extremely good at skimming text. Sometimes, people only read the summary and table of contents. Some people also read the first and last line of a paragraph to get the gist of the entire paragraph. While skimming is an extremely important and efficient tool, it shouldn’t be used everywhere. If you are reading some important research papers or you are a student, you may want to read the entire text instead of skimming.
5. Read Group of Words Together
Learn to skim words that often come together.
Some words go together, examples are – it is going to be, Statue of Liberty, etc. These group of words doesn’t need fixation one word at a time. Our brain is trained to treat these words as a single word instead of many. This technique is very simple, yet it takes time to fully implement it. You have to time yourself and push yourself beyond your limit to make this a habit.
The aforementioned techniques are very common and simple, all you have to do is train yourself. You have to push yourself beyond your regular speed and challenge your brain. Beyond these techniques, there are some small points that you must consider before you implement these techniques.
3 Tips to Develop Speed Reading Techniques
Not all books and all paragraphs can be treated in the same manner. Depending on your purpose for writing and author, you can change your style and be flexible. For instance, some parts of a book can be read faster while some can be read with your regular speed. All you have to do is make the right judgment for yourself.
2. Time Yourself
If you don’t time yourself then you will never be mindful of your reading abilities. It is extremely important to first recognize your average speed and then push yourself. Once you start pushing your eyes and your brain to read faster, it automatically adjusts. At first, you may also lose some comprehension but then your brain will make it a habit to skim through the unimportant text.
3. Avoid Distractions
Many people take out their books in public areas or around noisy places. While this may be a good habit to distract yourself from your surroundings, this may also affect your concentration power.
If you decrease the distractions, your speed immediately paces up. Some people read while listening to music. According to researchers, a certain kind of music can enhance your comprehension however, it also depends on the person. Some people absolutely don’t comprehend while they are listening and reading together. Know what works for you better.
Over the years, speed readers have been able to read with the speed of 1000 wpm. Yet, this shouldn’t be a pressure point for those who are just starting. Speed reading is an added benefit but it’s not mandatory for everyone. It makes you more confident and lets you consume more than you already can.
However, it shouldn’t become a demoralizing factor for those who like to read slow. For fast readers, there are also audiobooks available nowadays. Audiobooks help you consume more than your eyes and your brain can.
Ankita calls herself a road-child because of her love for road trips and landscapes. A journalist turned digital nomad, she is either telling stories or looking outside the car window aimlessly. She has traveled most of India by road, and encourage other women to take such life-changing journeys. Ankita is also a mental health advocate and a survivor herself. She likes to tell her story through writing and photography, with the aim to change at least some lives.