How to Speed Read

Wouldn't it be great if you could read faster while still remembering everything you read? Just open a book zoom through it and you've remembered everything.

How to Speed Read
Photo by Fabiola Peñalba / Unsplash

If you have exams around the corner and have a lot of reading material still untouched or if you love reading but just don’t have enough time to read; this is exactly what I'll be diving into today as I look at how I speed read.

What is Speed Reading

Last year alone I read over 200 books and that was while running a few businesses and working full-time and a huge reason for this is just being able to read really fast. If you currently feel that you're an average speed reader I promise you that by using the three techniques in this video you'll be able to at least triple your reading speed with just a few minutes of practice.

So speed reading is basically the ability to quickly recognize and take in phrases or sentences on a line or page all at once. With speed reading, you will be able to manage your work and time better by dramatically increasing your words-per-minute rate and improving or maintaining your comprehension level.

Having read loads and loads of business books and textbook a lot of the content is often fluff and padding with many books feeling like they could be blog posts.

A 250-word piece of text is read through in one minute by the average reader and effective speed readers can finish the same text in half that time or less time meaning you get your time back and stay productive. Now I won't use these techniques for fiction books or anything that I'm reading for enjoyment but for everything else like exams or business I'll use these three techniques to save loads of time while pulling out the key points.

I've broken it down into three steps for how to learn to read the first is to train your brain eyes the second is to train your focus and the third is to train your eyes and that's what i'm going to be breaking down today now let's jump straight into it with the first part which is training your brain

Train Your Brain to Speed Read

So what I'd suggest doing first is grabbing a book that you haven't read before, as if you're read it that's kind of cheating, and using that to practise. You might also want to check out a free online tool like Spreeder where you can adjust the speed that text shows up. Once you've done that you can start to practise some of the techniques I'm diving into. If you try reading a book right now you might notice that your brain is pronouncing each word in your head as you read. This is known as "sub-vocalization."

One thing all speed reading strategies have in common is that they train your brain to avoid "sub-vocalization" by avoid pronouncing and "hearing" each word in your head as you read it.

I'm starting off with training your brain as this is often the hard bit where people get stuck as we're so used to trying to comprehend and understand every single word that we read so we say it out loud in our heads. You need to make a mindset shift that to speed read through textbooks or business books you're taking on the role of a gold miner or magpie looking over the water or fields for gold nuggets of information that sparkle and we want to pick up and ignore everything else. We naturally feel like we should read every word to aid our understanding but in fact lots of those words are filler and our brains need to be rewired to "skim" over lines or groups of words and allow key words to jump out at us. Just like gold will sparkle in between dirt and rocks, key information is surrounded by unnecessary conjunctions, adjectives and nouns we just don't need. This all means getting comfortable with potentially missing some things and not comprehending every single thing. As your speed reading gets better your comprehension will also improve but at the beginning this might be much lower and you need to get comfortable with going for speed over perfection.

The second part of training your brain to speed read is to understand that our brains naturally visualise what we are reading. This is so so important as if you're engaging with any text or information you want to be thinking about it actively. For example if I'm speed reading through a biology chapter on plant cells I'm pulling out the key information about the cells and skipping the filler but I'm still forming a mental image in my mind of what that plant cell or animal cell looks like and building context. Same with a business book I might skim filler and identify an insightful point on sales which my brain will then apply to my own sales practise. When you find some of these gold nuggets of information you can absolutely slow things down if you do feel you need more time to aid understanding but hopefully you've saved a ton of time by cutting out the rest of the filler.

Train Your Focus to Speed Read

Now if you've read anything or tried to speed read you know that it can be pretty tiring. And more importantly it's easy to lose your place or burnout meaning you need to go back to the start of a line or paragraph. I've also read some pretty hard core books with very small text which can really stretch your eyesight, attention and focus.

My top tip here is to give yourself the best conditions to speed read possible. This might mean turning up the brightness on your Kindle or increasing the font style or size or making sure you take appropriate breaks.

So now we've set ourselves up for success by re-wiring our brains to not worry about completely comprehending every word that we read and we know it can get a bit tiring let's look at some techniques to help train our focus.

The Pointer Method

The first speed reading technique that helped me to train my focus and attention was the pointer method which is also commonly known as the hand pacing technique. You might have used it when you were younger or learning to read so that you didn't lose your place.

Utah school teacher Evelyn Nielsen Wood was one of the pioneers of speed reading. In the 1950s, she claimed that she could read at up to 2,700 wpm if she swept a finger along the line as she read. To use the pointer method all you have to do is run your index finger below the sentence you're going to read and across the page. You can also use a card to do this too. Just like in school this method holds your attention and helps you visually associate words with their meanings right away and be more focused and intentional about the information you consume, preventing you from having to go back and reread text after losing your place. Your general focus and speed will improve as a result.

The Tracker and Pacer Method

The tracker and pacer method is similar to the pointer method. You highlight or track each line while holding a pen with the cap on, keeping your eye above the tip of the pen. Instead of your finger, you’re be using a pen. This will encourage you to read each line more quickly and help you pay closer attention to the words.

Try to read each line in no more than one second, and then pick up the pace with each additional page. At first, you'll probably discover that you remember very little, but as your brain adjusts and you get more familiar with using this strategy, your comprehension will increase too.

Modality Effect

Another great technique that I'll regularly use to help hack and train my focus when speed reading is to listen to an audiobook on Audible while also reading the book itself. Kindle and Audible are both Amazon products and integrate. And listening while reading takes advantage of something called the Modality effect which is from some research into educational psychology that shows that our brains processes visual and auditory information separately. Auditory items in our working memory do not compete with visual items in the same way that two visual items, for example a picture and some text, compete with one another and end up splitting our attention.

This is known as the "Modality Effect." I'll even up the narration speed on Audible and try and skim along in the text below to drive understanding while reading quickly. If I see or head anything interesting I might stop, visualise or save the clip to come back to later.

Train Your Eyes To Speed Read

If you look at the centre of your computer screen, which is where the center of your eye is focused, you can still see and understand what is on the sides of the screen. Training your peripheral vision to work better can increase your reading speed by more than 300% according to research from Harvard. Untrained readers spend 25–50% of their time "reading" margins that don't have any content, using up to half of their peripheral vision to move from the first word to the last and this is where training our eyes comes in.

Focusing on blocks of words rather than individual words can help you to move more quickly across a page as well as avoiding sub-vocalizing. If you have a book in front of you try to relax your face and "soften" or extend your focus on the page you're looking at right now so that you no longer see words as isolated, distinct units. Zoom out and your eyes will move faster over the page as you practise.

Then, as you near the conclusion of a line, let your peripheral vision guide you to the final set of words. This will help to eliminate pauses in your reading (typically at ends of sentences), allowing you to scan across and down to the following line faster. Let's look at scanning in a little bit more detail.

The Scanning Method

"Scanning" involves moving your eyes quickly down the page – often down the center – and identifying specific words and phrases as you go. These can be key sentences (often the first sentence of each paragraph), names, numbers, or trigger words and ideas. Learning to expand your peripheral vision can help with this method too. You won't read every word, but your eye will land on what is important to allow you to grasp the basic idea.

Basically, we want you to skim the text at first until a word or topic catches your attention.

Reading chunks of words

Most people can skim in 1.5 inch chunks, which, depending on the font size and type of text, usually comprise three to five words each. Rather than reading each word individually, move your eyes in a scanning motion, jumping from a chunk (of three to five words) to the next chunk of words. Take advantage of your peripheral vision to speed up around the beginning and end of each line, focusing on blocks of words rather than the first and last words.

Reading chunks of words involves reading sentences rather than single words. The intention is to minimize the number of "stops" your eyes make while reading. Your comprehension rate and, consequently, your speed reading skills will significantly improve once you start reading in chunks.

The good news is that the brain already groups things together to save time and energy. This occurs frequently throughout the day when reading signs, labels, brand names, or common phrases, as well as when following directions, suggestions, or instructions. Many of them are so familiar to us that we cannot recognize each word individually but can instead understand the meaning of the word group as a whole.

How To Practice Speed Reading

So to bring these three speed reading techniques together training your brain, your focus and your eyes it's down to practising.

If you check out Tim Ferris's blog or videos on speed reading or the hundreds of speed reading courses out there you can go down a pretty deep rabbit hole of recording your baseline speed reading time and then setting goals to improve this over repeated practise. While I like the focus of this it's probably a bit overkill for most people who just want to get through the fluff of business books or textbooks a little bit faster so they can focus on executing on the things that they learn whether that's self-testing for an exam or applying business ideas.

What I'd suggest doing is to grab an easy to read book with relatively large text or your kindle and block out any distractions. Then set yourself a goal to get through a certain number of pages as quickly as possible by grouping words together and using some of the techniques we've discussed. This will give you some immediate feedback on how much faster you can read with some simple tweaks you can make in a few minutes.

When To Speed Read?

Overall pace and comprehension must be balanced for effective speed reading. According to studies, reading quickly causes you to retain less information, especially when it comes to recalling specifics.

Therefore, even if you are pressed for time, speed reading is obviously not the solution if you're reading a difficult legal or technical text. The same logic applies if you have to teach the content you're reading to someone else or need to learn something very complex.

However, quick reading might be useful when you only need to comprehend the key takeaways like in business books.