It seems that the average person today barely reads for work or for fun let alone has the ability to plough through hundreds of pages in under an hour like some speed readers do. Imagine what you could do and what you would know if you could read quickly and be able to retain what you zip through? With the speed reading techniques offered in this chapter, you can!
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 ear take over when you really should be letting your eyes and brain do all the work. Because we speak and think each word, the average reading rate is between 200 and 250 words per minute with an average comprehension rate of 50 to 70 per cent being understood of those words. In actuality, science has calculated that the eye can actually read 90,000 words per minute given the ability to do so. Just do the maths on how quickly you could read a set of encyclopaedias or one of those gripping Russian novels that surpasses the 1,000- page mark.
But, enough about the science and maths of what the human brain is capable of doing – let's get down to the nuts and bolts of what you can employ right now to accelerate your reading and comprehension skills.
Top Speed Reading Tips
Increasing the speed at which you read and understand is both environmental and physiological. Let's first tackle some of the environmental tactics you can employ:
- Time of Day: The time of day definitely impacts your reading ability and concentration. Try to read as early in the day as possible. Your brain is at its freshest, which means you can concentrate and retain more of what you are reading.
- Proper Reading Environment: If you angle your reading material at about 45 degrees through the use of a bookstand, you can help reduce eyestrain, which can interfere with your concentration. Also, read at a desk where you will feel more alert than say reading a book in bed or on the settee.
From there, you need to have an action plan for attacking your reading:
- Prioritize Reading Materials: Divide your reading into important, semi-important, and least important categories and read in the order of importance. This will allow you to put the most comprehension and retention skills to work on the most important content when your brain is sharp and prepared for the material.
- Preview the Material: Do a quick overview of the material first to get the context out of the way so your brain does not have to be doing double duty, trying to comprehend and retain at the same time. When you already have the idea of what it is about, it is easier to focus on only the most important parts.
- 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. Scan the table of contents and hit the first and last sentence of each paragraph. If the work is well-written, this is where all the good stuff can be found.
- 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.
- Take Notes: Of course, you will want to do this after you are done reading or you will quickly lose traction and speed during the reading portion. Right after you are done reading, get some bullet points onto the page. This will reinforce what you learned in the memory recall portion of your brain.
You might be surprised by this as so many students often highlight while they read with one of those fluorescent pens, but this does not really work. It slows down your reading speed and distracts the brain from what it needs to focus on. You get so caught up in the highlighting that you are not really retaining.
Two other good tips are:
- 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 like mathematical equations or legal content while others like newspapers 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.
Speed Reading Techniques
Specific speed reading techniques are valuable to learn. Some of these include:
- The Hand: Place your right or left hand (depending which one is your dominant hand) on the page and slowly move it straight down the page as your eyes follow. Keep the movement going rather than taking any pauses and only do this technique once per page.
- The Card: Instead of your hand, use a playing card or some type of folded-up piece of paper to block off the words you have already read on the page so that you will be moving back instead of allowing the eye to get lost and wander back to previously read lines.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. This is intended to also keep your eye from returning to what you have already read. It is as if you have swept the words off the page.
- The Hop: Lift your fingers and make two bounced on each line to catch sections of three to four words and then move on. This needs to be even and move at a steady pace to keep the eyes and brain moving ahead rather than yearning to go backwards.
- The Zig-Zag: Take your hand and cut across the text in a diagonal motion for two to three lines and then slide back to the next line on the page, scanning as you go. This will help you find and retain the main ideas.