Imagine how much time you would save if you could double, even triple, your reading speed.
The average American reads between 200-300 words per minute (wpm), and has been reading at that same rate since their mid-teenage years. If you fall within this category, a 300 page novel takes you approximately 7-8 hours to read. However, if you doubled your reading rate, you would read that same novel in 3.5-4 hours. If you tripled your reading rate, you would breeze through it in about 2.5 hours.
Now, think about all the reading you do every single day (magazines, newspapers, blogs) and how much time you could be saving—it adds up to literally hundreds of hours a year.
In an interview, Bill Gates was once asked, “If you could have a superpower, what would it be?” He responded, “Being able to read super fast.”
Successful people read a lot. Why? Because the key to being successful in any field is learning all you can about it.
Aside from the obvious benefits of saving time, learning how to speed read will enable you to learn more in a shorter amount of time. This is a huge competitive edge. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a genius to learn how to speed read.
I had always considered myself a slow reader, and use to think there was nothing I could do about it. I had heard of speed reading, but had always thought only geniuses were capable of it. But a few weeks ago I stumbled upon an article that explained a few techniques to learn how to speed read. I tried these techniques and was amazed by the results, so I started researching and reading everything I could find on the internet about how to speed read–this post is essentially a compilation of all that information.
I learned that anyone can learn how to speed read. After just two weeks of implementing what I had learned, I was able to increase my reading speed from 230 wpm to 600+ wpm, without losing any retention.
It’s not just for geniuses, and it’s not a myth. The main concept behind speed reading deals with human cognition and conditioning your fine motor skills to be able to process information quicker. It’s a very learnable skill, but one that very few people have.
If you’re up for the challenge, here is a step-by-step guide to increasing your reading speed and becoming a boss:
*To perform these exercises, I suggest using a large, hard cover book that lays flat when open (trust me, this will make these exercises much easier). Preferably a book that is a fairly easy read and that you haven’t read before. You will also need a pen, paper, and a timer–the one on your phone should work just fine. Estimated time to complete exercises: 20 minutes.
1. Find your base reading speed.
This is the rate at which you currently read. In order to do this you will need to count the number of words per line. Counting the number of words in 5 lines and dividing this number by 5 will give you an average number of words per line. Do the same thing by counting the number of text lines on 5 pages and dividing by 5 to find the average number of lines per page. Round to the nearest whole number. Multiply the average number of lines per page by the number of words per line to get your average number of words per page. Write these averages down for future reference.
Now, choose a starting point and read at your normal speed for exactly 1 minute. When the timer goes off, stop where you are, and count the number of lines you read. Multiply it by your average words per line to determine your base reading speed.
2. Eliminate subvocalization.
This is that little voice you hear in your head when you read. Most people internally vocalize every word in their heads, even when they aren’t reading out loud. If you do this, this means that you can only read as fast as you can speak. Learning to eliminate subvocalization is the most important strategy to reading fast, but also the most difficult to master.
Practice looking at words and processing what they mean without having to say the words. It’s kind of a weird concept and feels unnatural at first, but your mind has seen almost every word thousands and thousands of times. You don’t need to waste time vocalizing every word to understand what you’re seeing. You just need to train your mind to be able to process it quicker. One trick is to say “A-E-I-O-U” or count “1-2-3-4” repeatedly while reading in order to prevent subvocalization.
3. Use a pointer.
When you read without a pointer your eyes wander. You probably don’t realize it, but they make small micro-movements that require a few milliseconds to readjust. Using a pointer allows your eyes to maintain better focus on what you’re reading and enables you to read faster.
To practice this technique, use a pointer to pace yourself to read 1 line per second (say “one-one-thousand” in your head as you slide your pointer across each line—this also eliminates subvocalization). Do this for 2 minutes, focusing on the technique. Read every word as the tip of your pen (or finger) slides across the page. Do not worry about comprehension. The goal of this exercise is to train your eyes to move at the speed of the pointer. Comprehension will come later.
Repeat the technique, this time reading 1 line per ½ second (2 lines per “one-one-thousand”). Do this for 3 minutes. You probably won’t comprehend anything. That is fine. Right now just focus on maintaining the speed and technique. Do your best to read every word and not just move your eyes across the page without purpose. Don’t lose concentration until the timers up.
4. Use your peripheral vision.
Most people not only read word-by-word, but they also read from the first to last word of every line. But just as you can train your eyes to quickly scan over words and process their meanings without saying them in your head, you can also train your eyes to focus on the middle of the line and let your peripheral vision take care of the rest. Doing this allows you to read fewer words per line and significantly increase your reading speed.
To practice this technique, use your pointer to pace yourself at 1 line per second, but skip the first and last word of each line. Do this for 1 minute. Don’t worry about comprehension, but stay focused.
Repeat the technique, this time skipping the first and last two words of each line. Do this for 2 minutes.
Repeat again, this time skipping the first and last three words of each line and reading at a rate of 1 line per ½ second. Again, don’t worry about comprehension. Focus on speed and technique. This is the last exercise, so do it right.
5. Calculate your new reading rate.
Now that you have spent some time conditioning your motor skills, it’s time to read for comprehension. Once again, choose a starting point and read for exactly 1 minute at your fastest comprehension rate while implementing the techniques you just practiced. You will notice that you can read much faster than normal and still retain what you’re reading. When the timers up, count the number of lines and multiply it by the average number of words per line to determine your new wpm rate.
After my first time of going through these exercises I was able to increase my reading rate (wpm) by 200 words. I couldn’t believe it. These techniques really work.
If you can devote just 10 minutes of your time every day for one week to practicing these techniques to the best of your ability, I promise you will at the very least double your reading rate. Obviously, just like with any other skill, the more you practice, the better you’ll get.
Here are a few final tips to keep in mind when learning how to speed read:
- Reading does not have a set pace. Reading at 600 wpm does not mean that I read at a constant pace of 600 wpm, but that I read at an average pace of 600 wpm. I may slow down to read the more dense parts of a text and speed up to skim over the “fluff.” With practice, it will become easier to recognize what is important and what is not, allowing you to almost instinctively adjust your reading speed depending on what part of the text you are reading.
- If you want to speed read, you must eliminate distractions. Focus on the task on hand. This should always be the case, but speed reading especially requires your complete focus. You may be able to read with the TV on if you are subvocalizing, but without subvocalization it can be very difficult to concentrate on what you are reading.
- I don’t always speed read. It depends on the type of material I am reading. For more dense material (a physics textbook, for example), speed reading is out of the question. Or, if I’m reading a fiction novel, I may not want to eliminate subvocalization in order to fully appreciate the author’s writing style. But if I’m ever reading something for the sole purpose of understanding the main idea, speed reading is the way to go.
- Above all, learning to be genuinely interested in everything you read is the key to staying focused on the material and reading faster. Try to always define a specific purpose for reading something and read with that purpose in mind. (If you’re looking for some good books to read, check out my Reading List.)
Disclaimer: The information in this post has been gathered from a number of different sources and combined with my own personal experience. However, the timed exercises come directly from The Blog of Tim Ferris, author of The New York Times Best Seller The 4-Hour Work Week.
For more strategies on learning faster, improving your habits, and achieving your biggest goals, click here to get a free copy of my 35-page eBook, 12 Ways To Be More Successful.
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