Have you come across the phrase “speed reading?” It seems too good to be true: finish all your required reading in about half the time AND have “more time” in the day for other activities.
The good news is that speed reading is not a myth, and you can increase your reading speed within a half an hour of reading this article. Interestingly, speed reading is about controlling eye movements. As an optometry student and productivity nerd, this topic is right up my alley.
First, let’s break the bad habits. Then, we’ll get into the steps to start speed reading.
Breaking the Bad Habits
- Subvocalization. Many of us are taught to read out loud and then read in our heads. The problem is that our speaking speeds are slower than our visual speeds. Instead of “saying” the words, “see” the words. To help break this habit, find a way to mute the voice in your head, such as listening to instrumental music.
- Fixations. Fixations are points where we pause and linger at random spots, thus affecting our reading speed. Use a tool (such as a pen) to point to words as you read them, which will encourage you to keep your eyes moving. You will maintain your reading speed and push your eyes to move quicker.
- Regressions. Have you ever finished a paragraph and realized you did not comprehend any of it? Then, you have to go back and start the paragraph over again. This isn’t a problem of understanding, but a lapse of concentration. There are two ways to fix this. First, you can use either an envelope or a bookmark to cover sentences as soon as you read them — it removes the safety net to go back over what you have just read. Second, choose an environment that will help you concentrate. For some, a quiet place like a library might be your ideal reading spot, while others might enjoy a place with more noise like a coffee shop. Personally, I concentrate best in the latter.
How to Start Speed Reading
- Determine your baseline. Take your “practice book” and count the number of words in five lines. Divide this number by five, and you have the average number of words per line. For example, 70 words/5 lines = 14 words per line. Then, count the number of lines on five pages and divide by five to get the average number of lines per page. For example, 160 lines/5 pages = 32 lines per page. Multiply this by the average number of words per line, and you have your average number of words per page. For example, 14 words per line * 32 lines per page = 448 words per page. Lastly, read as you would normally with a timer for one minute. After one minute, multiply the number of lines by your average words per line to determine your current words per minute.
- Maintain consistent speed and decrease fixation. Use a pen to track and underline each line that you read. Give yourself a maximum of one second to try and read each line, and try to increase the speed with each page. Push yourself to the point where you are about to lose comprehension. Then, slow down just a hair from there, however, still avoid taking longer than one second per line. The key is to focus above the pen and concentrate on the technique.
- Cut the first and last two words of each line. Now that you have maintained speed and increased your focus, begin reading at two words in from the first word of each line and end two words in from the last word, still using the pen to track. Maintain the speed you obtained from step two and keep your focus on the exercise.
- Calculate your new reading speed. Read at your fastest comprehension rate, and re-calculate your new words per minute rate described in step one.
Practice makes perfect! Speed reading may be difficult at first, but keep going, and you will see the difference fairly quickly.
Once you get comfortable with speed reading, use it like a superpower. Turn it on and off depending on whether you are reading for enjoyment or necessity.
Were you able to increase your reading speed? If so, how has speed reading increased your productivity?