Victor Doppelt is a professional consultant, writer, and world traveler. He lives in San Diego with a menagerie of assorted rescue animals.
What is Speed Reading?
Reading is one of the main ways in which we acquire knowledge. Therefore the faster we read, the more we can learn.
The average person can read about 200 to 250 words per minute. To put things into perspective, consider that online articles are usually between 500 to 1500 words in length, while a typical 300 page book contains about 75,000 words.
What if it were possible to increase our reading speed? Even a modest boost in our rate of words per minute would enable us to read faster, and take in more information.
Speed reading is a way of reading faster, often several times faster than the average person. Even a few small tweaks to the way read can drastically improve your performance. Reading speeds of about 500 to 750 words per minute are fairly easy to achieve.
This article will give you the tools you need to read faster than ever before.
The key to becoming a speed reader is to build on the skills you have. So the first step is to find out your average reading speed.
Reading speed is determined by the number of words you are able to read in a given length of time, to arrive at your word per minute rate (WPM). A good way to do this is to time how long it takes you to read a few pages in a paperback book. Since the average page contains about 250 words, reading ten pages means that you have read about 2500 words. If it took you ten minutes to read those pages, congratulations, you are an average reader.
If you want a more exact WPM count, you can select a block of text from an online article and paste it into Microsoft Word and then use the Word Count feature to get an exact number of words.
Once you have determined your WPM, you will be able to measure how well your new reading techniques are working by comparing your new reading speed to your old one.
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How to Speed Read
There are a lot of tricks that people use to increase their reading speed. Some companies have even marketed expensive courses to teach this skill. However, speed reading is not complicated and you can achieve meaningful results by making just a few changes to the way you normally read:
- Don't Pronounce the Words - if you are like most people, chances are that even if you are not reading the words on the page out-loud, your brain is reading them to you in its mental voice. This is called subvocalization or silent reading and it is the greatest impediment to reading faster. The reason is that there is a limit to how fast your brain can form the silent words in your head and this limits how fast you can make it through the text. Try reading a sentence without forming the words in your head. It is a hard habit to break, but the more you do it, the easier it will become.
- Don't BackTrack - The words in a sentence go from left to right, but when you read you probably go back and forth and re-read certain parts, jumping back to the middle or even the beginning. This is a habit which has good intentions: re-reading the sentence allows you to catch errors and improve comprehension but it also slows you down. In effect, it can turn a 250-word page into the equivalent of a much longer block of text, simply because you are inadvertently re-reading the same sentence. To avoid this, train yourself to go from left to right without doubling back. Using a finger or an index card to draw your attention and mark your progress will help to reduce your tendency to double back on the text. You may lose some reading comprehension, but the trade off will likely be worth it.
- Learn to Skim - Okay, this is sort of cheating. But in most cases you don't have to read every word in a sentence or paragraph. Knowing where to look for the important stuff means that you can skip over parts of the text and get through it faster. A good way to do this is to focus your attention on formatting that tells you that the text is important (such as bold lettering or bullet points - Do you see what I did there?) and the first and last sentence of each paragraph. A variation on this method is to skip the first two words of each sentence and read from the third onward, In most cases, you will be able to capture the meaning of the sentence without reading every word. This method will reduce your level of comprehension because you will miss out on some facts, so it is best used for non-technical writing. It is not a good idea to use this technique if you are studying for an exam or trying to learn a new subject.
- Practice - Nothing can teach you how to read faster, than simply reading. Reading is like any other skill; the more you do it, the better you become at it. If you are out of practice, and haven't read a book in a long time, you will tend to be slower than normal. Reading regularly, just ten to fifteen minutes per day, will eventually increase your WPM even if you do nothing else.
- Set the Right Conditions - Average reading speeds are just that: sometimes you will read faster, and other times you will read slower. Distractions, subject matter, fatigue, font size can all affect how many words you can process. Make sure that you are reading under optimal conditions for you. Many studies have shown that listening to classical music while reading increases reading speed.
Pros and Cons of Speed Reading Techniques
|Speed Reading Method||What it Does||Pros and Cons|
Avoid silently saying the words in your head.
Can help you read a lot faster. But vocalizing the words helps you remember and understand what you read. So, this may reduce your ability to retain the information you process.
Concentrate on reading the important parts and forget the rest.
This can cut out the unnecessary verbiage, but you may also miss a lot of important stuff. Imagine reading a contract this way, and discovering that you had sold everything you own for a dollar, because you skipped over that part.
The Third Word Rule
Instead of starting with the first word of a sentence, start with the third word and ignore the first two.
A form of skimming that lets you finish reading a document faster by arbitrarily cutting out some text. Like skimming, it reduced your reading comprehension.
Tools for Speed Reading
You don't need any apps or gadgets in order to speed read. However, there are a number of sites that can help you train to read more quickly, including:
- Spreeder.com - This site allows you to insert a block of text and then display it at varying speeds. One neat feature is that you can display groups of words at a time, training yourself to flash read. The site also allows you to select the reading speed, from a slow as molasses 50 words per minute to thousands of words. I like the fact that you can also select font size and color, as well as the size of the display area.
- Readsy.co - This site has many of the same features as spreeder.com, but you can only flash one word at a time and you cannot change the font size or display window. However, a nice feature is that it marks the middle letter of each word flashed across the screen by highlighting it in red. This makes it easier to focus on the word. Using this site I have managed to speed through several books.
- Outread/Velocity/Syllable: These are a number of smartphone apps that use different techniques to train your reading speed.
The Disadvantages of Speed Reading
Although it is definitely possible to increase your reading speed, speed reading does have its drawbacks. Studies have shown that the faster you read, the less you understand and the less information you retain. In other words, you can increase the amount of words you read and the amount of information you take in, but you will lose some of it, either because you will skip over it, or your brain will not be able to process it and put it in its long term memory. The trick is to find the optimal balance between speed and comprehension.
Now that you can read faster, you have no excuse for not tackling War and Peace!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Victor Doppelt
Brad on February 21, 2019:
In speed reading this article, I found this
"such as bod lettering "
Interesting and helpful.