Whether you’re a student with a lot of homework, in a job that requires reading reams of documentation, or you simply don’t have time to enjoy a good novel, you may benefit from learning how to read faster and more efficiently. Speed reading is an umbrella term for the many techniques available to increase the rate of reading without losing retention of information.
Most people continue to read the way they were taught as children: letter by letter or word by word, and some even continue to read out loud or by mouthing the words. Reading this way is extremely time-consuming and does not guarantee retention of the information. Some people have a natural talent for speed reading, but for those who don’t, this skill can be learned. The average person reads about 200-300 words per minute, while a speed reader can get through 500-700 words per minute, or even more.
The first thing to do when learning speed reading is to familiarize yourself with the material before you dive in and read it, and the easiest way to do this is to scan the back cover and the table of contexts. This way your brain has already absorbed key terminology, ideas and the order of information. Further, you should sit upright, have proper lighting, the right text size, no distractions around you and get your eyes checked out to make sure your vision is good.
Most speed readers automatically use a variety of methods in their endeavors, such as chunking (taking in blocks of text), skimming, meta guiding (reading with the aid of your hand, a pointer or a card) or eliminating subvocalization (reading aloud or mouthing). Those who practice speed reading do not focus on each word nor read “aloud” in their minds, but rather scan the text with their eyes and allow the brain to absorb and comprehend the material.
When children learn how to read, they often practice by reading out loud, carefully formulating each word slowly so as to digest meaning. This, of course, is beneficial when just starting out, but if you continue to read this way into adulthood, your reading will be extremely slow, without necessarily increasing your comprehension. Reading each word “aloud” in the mind is another form. Eliminating subvocalization by practicing chunking, skimming and meta guiding, therefore, is key to speed reading.
Rather than read each and every word, the chunking technique allows you to take in blocks of words at a time. You train your eyes to focus on short paragraphs or word groupings with key meaning, avoiding filler words such as “and” and “the”. Hitting the first and last sentence of a paragraph will often give you the majority of necessary information. Sometimes, however, this method decreases reading comprehension and absorption of information.
Skimming is just what it sounds like: reading text in a cursory manner. It is similar to chunking in that you don’t concentrate on every word, but rather than hop from block to block, you train your eyes to keep the text in the center of your vision, allowing peripheral words to be absorbed by the brain subconsciously . For many people this comes naturally, and it is certainly more common in adults than children.
Meta guiding is a speed reading technique that uses visual guides such as a finger, pen or card to assist the eye to scan text faster and more efficiently. You can use a finger or several fingers or a card to pace down the center of the page in a slow and even movement; you can use your hand or fingertips to underline the lines from left to right; or you can use the visual guide to “hop” from line to line, drawing the eye from one word or group of words to another. The eye is drawn to movement, so this method trains the eye to quickly move from one block of words to another instead of focusing on one word at a time.
Keep in mind, however, that different materials will require different speeds; a paperback novel will be easier to absorb than a chemistry text book. Speed reading is not magic; on the contrary, like any other skill, the only way to get better is to practice constantly. Normally it takes about three to four attempts to get used to it, and from there you can continue to increase your pace. If you have difficulty learning on your own, there are many software programs that can help you practice these methods by highlighting key text to train your eyes to focus on the important stuff.