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Guide to speed reading to help students revise and prepare for exams

Info: 1294 words (5 pages) Study Guide
Published: 13th May 2020

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With so much to read for study and work it can seem like there is just no time to read it all! Never mind trying to read for your own pleasure and interest, but skilled speed readers can read hundreds of pages in just an hour.

So, how do they do it? It’s certainly not your brain or your eyes slowing you down. Your current speed of reading most likely comes down to how you were taught to read. When you read out loud, you let your tongue and ears take over when you really should be letting your eyes and brain do all the work. Because we speak or think each word (subvocalisation), the average reading rate is between 200 and 250 words per minute with an average comprehension rate of 50 to 70 percent, but tests have calculated that the eye can actually read tens of thousands of words per minute, given the opportunity to do so.

However, to reach the level of a top speed reader and read 1000+ words a minute with good comprehension takes a lot of practice. You need to get that practice as soon as possible! So, follow these tips and techniques to easily boost your reading speed to a highly skilled level and reach 500+ words per minute, more than double a typical rate!

Top tips to follow right now

  • Time of day: This can really impact on your reading skill. Many people leave reading until the evening, but this won’t help you! Try to read early in the day when your brain is fresh and rested and your concentration is better. Getting plenty of sleep is also vital, skipping sleep will do more harm than good as you won’t remember as much of what you have read.
  • A good reading environment: To get optimal performance you need an optimal environment. Angle your reading material at about 45 degrees by using a book-stand, for example. This will reduce eyestrain. Also, read at a desk and in an upright seated position – rather than in bed or on a sofa. This will help you to concentrate.
  • All the senses: You need good, bright lighting to make sure your eyes don’t get tired. Some people like to listen to music when they read, this can help by making reading more enjoyable – but try listening to just instrumental music that doesn’t have lyrics. An extra set of words going into your head will just make things more difficult!
  • Breaks and fuel: Just like when doing any other sort of work, it’s important to take short breaks. This lets your eyes and brain relax and recover so you don’t burn out early.

    Also make sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and keep your energy levels up with good quality food. This can have a big effect on your ability to read and store memories.

Now you have got yourself ready to the use speed reading techniques that will give you a boost. It’s time to plan what you are going to read, as reading unnecessary things will just use valuable time.

Planning your reading

  • Prioritise: Divide your reading into important, semi-important, and least important categories. You need to read the most important parts first, and most carefully, because the first things you read will be when your brain and concentration are most sharp. Don’t read a whole book just to get one sort-of-useful point!
  • Preview the material: Know what you are hoping to get from each thing you read and make sure you get it quickly. If the text doesn’t seem useful, it’s time to move on! Do a quick check of a part such as the contents page, abstract, introduction/conclusion or executive summary to find the context of the material and quickly know what it’s about. Then you can prioritise the important parts and just read the things you need to.
  • Skim for the Best Ideas: Just like the cream that rises to the top, your reading approach should be to skim off the main ideas first and leave the rest. Try looking at the first and last sentences of a paragraph, as these should give clues to what it contains. Look for summaries, and read above and below key features such as diagrams, tables or models to find the most valuable discussion.
  • Ask Questions:Convert the heading and subheadings into questions as you read so that what you read becomes the answer to those questions. You will be surprised just how much more important information you can retain using this technique.
  • Read – notes – read: Many students try to make notes at the same time as reading, or use a highlighter pen, but this just interrupts and slows down reading, causing you to re-read parts that you have just done. It is better to read a section, make notes while trying not to check back, and then move to the next section. This engages the short-term memory and leads to better comprehension and retention.
  • Alternate Your Reading Speed:Not everything has to be read at lightning speed. There may be certain materials or sections of reading material that demand a slightly slower pace. Such as tables, mathematical equations or legal content, while others like websites and magazines can be read much faster.
  • Take a Speed Reading Class:There are professionals out there that teach some of the techniques mentioned in the next section, as well as other speed reading exercises that can help you accelerate your reading, comprehension, and retention.

Now you also know how to optimise what you read, and it’s time to move to the speed reading.

Speed Reading Techniques

Specific speed reading techniques are valuable to learn. They include:

Skimming: This is a basic process where your eyes skip over a few words at a time. For a beginner level you only focus on one word in every four or five. As you practice, and when you can safely scan over content less carefully, you may only focus on one or two words per line. You will be amazed at how your eyes and brain fill the gaps. To do this effectively you need to keep a good rhythm and a quick pace.

Meta guiding: This is where you guide your eyes using something like a pointer, to encourage a faster reading pace.

These are some guiding techniques:

  • The Hand: Place your right or left hand on the page and slowly move it straight down the page as your eyes read the line just ahead of it. Keep the movement going at a good pace, and don’t pause.
  • The Card:Instead of your hand, use a playing card or some folded paper to block off the words you have already read. Let the card set the pace by pushing it faster down the page to force your brain to work faster.
  • The Sweep:Use your hand to help draw your eyes across the page by creating a cupping shape with your hand to literally sweep the page and block the previous content that has already been read.
  • The Hop:Use your finger or a pen and make two bounces across each line to catch sections of three to four words as you go along. This needs to be even and move at a steady pace to keep the eyes and brain moving ahead rather than trying to pause or go back.
  • The Zig-Zag:Take your hand and cut across the text in a diagonal motion for two to three lines and then start the diagonal again from the next line on the page, scanning as you go. This will help you find and retain the main ideas for low-priority text.

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