We’ve all wished for more time in a day. But how do we work toward that coveted goal?
Speed reading is one of those skills.
Of course, learning how to speed read isn’t going to turn you into an all-powerful wizard of knowledge. But it will add a boost of productivity to your days.
It sounds daunting to change the way you read, but there are several speed reading techniques you can start now – and see tangible results by the time you go to bed tonight.
I know, it sounds gimmicky. Hear me out.
It’s all about understanding how our eyes and brains work, and using a few simple hacks to regain some of the control we never even knew we lost.
I tried these tactics myself and was pleasantly surprised at how much faster I was able to read.
In this article, we’re going to demystify speed reading and some of the core concepts. Then, we’ll look at four steps to help you start reading faster. We’ll also go over some extra tips to keep in mind as you continue your journey to speed reading.
Here we go.
- How Does Speed Reading Work?
- How to Read Faster in 4 Steps
- More Tips to Read Faster
- Learning How to Speed Read Like a Champ
- Want to Learn More?
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How Does Speed Reading Work?
When we read, there’s more happening with our eyes and brains than we might realize. In a nutshell, reading faster requires that you have better control of your eye movements and mental distractions.
Before we get into that, it’s important to understand saccadic eye movements. These are when your eyes jump between different fixation points, or places where they focus.
Typically, slow readers have a lot of extra saccadic movements that slow down their reading speed. These can be conscious and subconscious, meaning sometimes you do them on purpose and sometimes they happen without you realizing.
Chances are, if you’ve never tried to speed read before, you can shave off significant reading time just by being more aware of your saccadic movements.
“Bad Habits” That You Need to Break
On our path to “training” your saccadic movements to be more efficient, there are two types of bad habits we want to break:
- Regression: Consciously going back and re-reading things that you’ve already read
- Back-skipping: Subconsciously re-reading; usually when your eyes involuntarily jump to other parts of the page
There are plenty of ways to address these habits, but our main speed reading techniques will be using physical objects to guide your eyes. Easy things, like a card, pen, or a good ol’ fashioned finger.
Then once you have the hang of it, you’ll be able to do it on your own.
Disclaimer: Speed Reading Is Not a Silver Bullet!
Don’t fall prey to the rumor that learning how to speed read will magically help you consume 10x more content and become the perfect person.
At the end of the day, the faster you read, the less comprehension you’ll have – meaning the less content you’ll actually be able to absorb and walk away with.
So while you have a lot to gain from boosting your reading speed, remember that it’s not a silver bullet. To truly retain information, you’ll need to stay at a slower pace.
Keep experimenting with speed reading techniques until you strike that perfect balance between speed and retention. It’s different for everyone and it takes some time!
You’ll likely find that you’re able to zip through light reading, but you need to slow down for more complex or important stuff.
How to Read Faster in 4 Steps
Now for the good stuff. Let’s look at some fast reading techniques you can use right now to increase your speed.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- A book that lays flat by itself when it’s open, to help to minimize distractions. Try to find a book that doesn’t have a lot of special formatting like bullets, charts, or callout boxes. Text-heavy books work best for the exercises.
- A pen or pencil.
- A blank note card or piece of paper.
- A calculator (if you’re not a fan of doing some quick math in your head).
- A timer.
Let’s get into it using Tim Ferriss’s awesome tips.
1. Measure your starting rate
The only way to gauge your progress is to document where you start, right?
Our tracking metric will be words per minute (WPM). Here’s how to measure your WPM.
- First, estimate the number of words on five pages of your book. Start small by counting the number of words in five lines and the number of lines on a page. If there are 50 words in five lines, that’s an average of 50 / 5 = 10 words per line.
- Then multiply that number by the number of lines on a page. If there are 30 lines on a page, that’s 30 x 10 = 300 words per page.
- Now, set your timer to exactly one minute and read at your normal pace. Don’t try to force it – just read at the natural speed you read when you want to retain everything.
When your minute is over, use your calculations to figure out how many words you read.
If you read 30 lines, that’s 30 x 10 = 300 WPM.
2. Draw margins on each page
To be a good speed reader, you’ll need to make better use of your peripheral vision. Peripheral vision refers to what you see around the point you’re focused or fixated on.
For example, if you look at the center of your computer screen, you’ll still have a general idea of what’s happening around it.
The better you are at using peripheral vision while you read, the faster you’ll be.
That’s why we’re going to draw vertical margins on the left and right side of each page that roughly cut out one word on each side. It’ll look like this:
The goal is to only read what’s in the middle. This way, you’re not spending time reading every single word. Instead, your peripheral vision will clue you into the words outside the margins.
Try reading this way for five or 10 pages. If you’ve got the hang of it, try making the margins bigger.
Bump them to two-word margins on each side. Then go up even more.
Eventually, you might be able to just read the words in the middle one-third of the page, while still keeping a significant amount of comprehension.
3. Use a card, pen, or finger to force your pace and fixations
These speed reading tools serve two functions:
- Reducing the number of fixations, or places on the page your eyes can bounce to
- Setting an external pace that forces you to stay on track instead of having the freedom to regress or back-skip
To do the card technique, take your blank card and place it on top of the line you’re currently reading. As you read, slide the card down to cover the line above.
This prevents you from consciously or subconsciously reading what you’ve already read. You have no choice but to charge forward!
To do the finger or pen technique, run your finger or pen (with the cap on… don’t draw on your book again) along the line you’re reading. Use a steady pace.
This speed reading technique is called the “tracker and pacer” method. It forces you to keep a certain pace while telling your eyes where to fixate.
This method feels like magic to me. I hadn’t realized how much my eyes skip around a page and how slow it made me read.
4. Now go too fast!
Now that your brain is used to the steady, artificial pace, we’re gonna raise the stakes.
The next step is to go faster to the point where you’re actually starting to lose about 10 percent of your comprehension.
This sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s clever training.
Think about it this way: Say you’re walking at a leisurely pace. Then, you need to sprint as fast as you can. It would feel super overwhelming and uncomfortable.
But then if you slowed down to a jog, you’d feel much better – if only for the fact that you’re not sprinting anymore.
Reading too fast is a similar concept. By pushing your comfort zone, you’ll naturally increase your speed once you get back to a more comfortable pace.
Try reading a bit too fast by slightly increasing the speed of your tracker or pacer (which, as you recall, if your finger or pen).
Do this for five minutes. Then go back to whatever pace feels natural.
Time yourself once you’re back to normal. I bet you’ll be faster than before.
More Tips to Read Faster
Subvocalization is when you “say” the words silently in your head as you’re reading. This comes naturally to a lot of us, as we learned to read out loud when we were kids. Later in life, this extends into the way we read all the time.
One way to increase reading speed is to work on seeing the words instead of hearing them.
This is a bit abstract at first, but once you start reading faster, you won’t even have time to try and subvocalize.
You can speed this process along by pressing the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth when you read. This tiny change can help to remind you that you shouldn’t be sounding out each word.
Read Groups Instead of Individual Words
This one will take some training, but there are lots of common word groups that take up extra time when you read each word.
Here are a few examples:
- Once upon a time
- United States of America
- Table of contents
- Going to the
- He/she said
I could go on for miles, but you get the idea.
As you encounter these and recognize the phrase, skip past the remaining words in that phrase. Over time, your brain will become more accustomed to grouping words together and your time savings will add up fast.
Read the First and Last Sentences of a Paragraph
Another speed reading technique is to fully read the first and last sentences of a paragraph, then use the methods we described above to skim through the middle of the paragraph.
This works because the first sentence usually sets the stage for the paragraph. Then the last sentence is something of a wrap-up or summary for the thoughts and ideas that were introduced and elaborated on.
“First and last” is best used for light or informational reading, as you’ll miss some of the content inside. And of course, not every single piece of content you read will be a good match for this technique.
Keep a Clear Head
This is easier said than done, eh? Staying focused is hands-down one of the fastest ways to improve your reading speed – but it’s also one of the most difficult things to master in life.
If you have the ability to choose, do your important reading at your most productive and focused time of the day. For me, it’s mornings.
Pick a location and environment that’s minimally distracting, like somewhere quiet and calm.
You can also try listening to instrumental music while you read. This has an interesting effect: it’s like giving yourself a small distraction that ultimately helps you focus more.
Learning How to Speed Read Like a Champ
Like all things worth pursuing, it’ll take some practice before you can be a pro speed reader.
But if you went through the steps and tips in this article, you’ve probably already untapped some hidden potential!
If you do a lot of reading, it can be easy to forget to practice. I recommend setting a reminder or a designated time each day. It doesn’t need to be long – just try 15 minutes a day and work your way up.
It’s incredible how much our brains are capable of doing… sometimes, they just need some extra guidance. Keep at it and you can be reading at double or triple speed!