“SPEED READING” sounds like a superpower. But while it may seem an unattainable myth, the concept it entails is both practical and achievable. What most call speed reading could more accurately be called “reading faster.” Sure, not as glossy, but it can still revolutionize your academic universe.
Below are my tips on reading faster. I’ve come to these both through my own experience and through lessons I learned in the course I took at Stanford called “reading faster,” the course that saved my social life.
1. Be aware
To improve on your reading, you first need to be aware of how fast you read.
If you want to run faster, do you think you can just tell yourself to run faster? Probably not. If you’ve ever been on the track team, the swim team, or the speed skating team (yeah I know you all are speed skaters), you know that timing yourself is perhaps the first step in figuring out how fast you are and then setting goals to improve your performance.
The same is true of speed reading.
In order to read faster, you have to first be aware of how fast you are reading– and in most cases, that means you are timing yourself.
Time yourself each time you read a chapter in a book. Set goals for how fast you can read ten pages. Imagine each homework reading assignment as a small race.
Timing yourself not only helps you simply start tracking whether you read fast, but it also gives you something of a sense of purpose. When you become aware of the fact that you’re trying to read faster, you focus more and can stop that deplorable habit of drifting off in the middle of a page and waking up two pages later only to feel disoriented.
2. Read with a purpose
When I was a kid, my dad used to joke about how he shopped versus how I shopped. When I went shopping, it was a fun, leisurely activity. I could entertain myself for hours imagining the retail possibilities! But when he shopped, he was on a mission– get the socks! Get to the register! Get in, get out, and don’t get hurt!
Reading is a similar pursuit. While many read for fun– perusing pages into oblivion as a means of passing the time– this style of engagement simply won’t lead to efficient reading outcomes. Because we’ve been told we should “like” reading, many of us treat it the same way I used to treat shopping: as this activity that knows no end until you happen to figure out what it is that you came there for.
But there’s a better way. If you turn reading into a task to be accomplished, a task with a purpose, you’re going to be able to both comprehend and finish your reading material more effectively and efficiently. It may seem overly simple, but most people just don’t treat reading the same way they treat so many other items on their to do lists.
When you sit down to read, you don’t want to feel aimless. Know what you’re looking for, set a goal to find it, and then get out as soon as possible. An easy way to read with a purpose in mind is to figure out the plot – who’s doing what to what? In order to track the plot– summarize each paragraph as you go– find the point of each paragraph you read and ignore the rest. You should also figure out the author’s tone – the emotion and their purpose for writing, or what they’re trying to achieve.
3. Limit subvocalization
Subvocalization refers to the voice inside of your head that reads the material along with you silently. When we go through the process of reading something on a page, we first have to use our eyes, we have to turn those words into a sound, then, and then we turn the sound into a meaning. The secret to subvocalization is to understand without that audible voice: when you see a word, know what it means, and avoid imagining how the word sounds. Stopping your subvocalization can be difficult, like rolling your “r’s” or double dutch jump roping. It’s not the kind of skill that you can instantly acquire.
The way I learned to stop subvocalizing was to look at a group of words, and then look away and then look back at them. On the 2nd or 3rd or even 4th attempt, I would try to understand their meaning without actually hearing them aloud. Essentially, you’re trying to “untrain” the part of yourself that is “hooked on phonics.” You are attempting to imagine word meanings based on sight.
I can now avoid subvocalizing, but that doesn’t mean I always do so– in the same way that I don’t always sprint. I know how to read “silently,” but doing so is challenging and exhausting, so I save the technique for the times when it makes sense.
4. Read in chunks
Our field of vision can usually hold more than one word in it at once. Rather than physically move your eyes toward one word, then the next word, then the next, you can read in chunks and look at a couple of words at a time.
At the same time that you can increase the number of words in your field of vision, you can also increase your focus on what matters, while letting less important details fall to the wayside.
When you read for class, you never get a gold star for reading every word. You only get a gold star for knowing what a text means. As such there are elements you can freely ignore– namely small articles and words that carry little meaning. Words like “a,” “an,” “the,” and “of” don’t add to the meaning of a sentence, and as such they can most often be ignored. True, they create fluency, but most of us can understand concepts without paying them much heed. If you focus solely on significant words, you can understand the majority of a passage in less time.
5. Get physical
If you read the Wikipedia page on speed reading, they call this technique “meta guiding,” which sounds like a fun new age religious experience. It actually just means using say an index card or even your fingers to go through a reading passage. Your hand or index card becomes something of a metronome or a pacesetter, keeping you in step so you don’t lose ground.
Again, using your hand, a pen, or a moving index card helps you stay aware and focused, and leads to overall efficiency in reading.
You have an opportunity almost every day of your life to read something. The only way to become a better speed reader is to build that brain muscle and to practice these techniques to help you cut down that time of processing written information. Try to avoid subvocalizing. Look at a few more words at a time. Try to ingest as you go and have this mentality of “I’m going to get in, I’m going to get out, and I’m not going to get hurt.”
I know some of you might think that these techniques are going to kill your level of comprehension. It’s true that when you employ short cuts, you may miss some details. My “reading faster” lecturer used to claim you only get 80% of the content in 20% of the time. Ultimately, you have to figure out the reading tools, compromises, and techniques that work for you. If you incorporate some of these ideas, you can build your own method of reading faster and more effectively.
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