If your pile of “to-be-read” books could fill a room, you’ve likely wished more than once that you could read faster. The good news is that it is possible through a technique called speed reading, where you can maintain comprehension, absorb information more quickly, and save time.
Reading strategies like speed reading allows you to dramatically increase the number of words read per minute while maintaining reading comprehension. So, how do you learn how to speed read, and is it worth the effort? Read on to find out.
What is speed reading?
Most teenagers and adults can read around 250 words a minute, meaning it takes them around 4 hours to read a short novel of about 60,000. However, speed reading is a technique you can learn that will allow you to read the same book in half the time with comprehension, and there are even people who report reading faster than 1,500 words per minute – that would mean they can read a 60,000-word book in an hour.
So, how is this possible? Can we read more in less time?
Normally, our eyes look at a word for about a quarter of a second. Then they move to the next word, which takes about a tenth of a second. After that, our brain processes the words and discovers the sentence’s meaning. This action takes almost half a second, depending on the individual.
But we’re reading/speaking the words “aloud” in our heads, which means we usually read at about the same rate people talk.
When you learn how to read quickly, you learn to turn off this every-word fixation and internal narration. Instead, you learn to speed up the process by seeing, processing, and scanning words without “hearing” them in your mind.
The Pros and Cons of Speed Reading
Pros: Why learn to speed read?
- Saves time: If you learn to speed read at double your average rate, you can reduce the amount of time it takes to read a book by half. This faster and more effective reading strategy allows you to get through books more quickly to save time.
- Improves memory: Provided you learned to speed adequately read (and don’t skip and skim), you tune your brain to process and retain information more efficiently, helping you remember more.
- Improves focus: When you usually read, how often do you read an entire chapter without once looking up or getting distracted? It’s almost impossible! While speed reading won’t prevent interruptions, it will improve your focus and help stop you from being distracted. You essentially don’t have time or room for distraction.
- Improve critical thinking: When you learn to speed read, your brain has to get incredibly good at quickly taking in and processing information. This skill will be applicable elsewhere in your life, where you need to reach solutions rapidly.
- Boosts self-esteem: The ability to take in information so quickly will help you figure out problems and see new opportunities better than before. In addition, your increasing knowledge base will help you feel more intelligent.
- You can read more: Every book lover feels a little sadness when they think about how many books there are in the world that they’ll never have a chance to read. While speed reading won’t allow you to read every book out there, it will help you get through more.
For example, a popular fantasy series called the Wheel of Time takes an average reader 173.5 hours to read books 1-14. It’s certainly a commitment! However, if you managed to double your reading speed, it would take you less than 82 hours.
Cons: Downsides of speed reading
- It’s more difficult for some: Speed reading is an impressive and helpful skill, but some people will struggle with it more than others. For example, someone with dyslexia will probably have a more challenging time reaching high speeds. That’s not to say it’s not possible, just that it may be more of a challenge.
- There’s joy in hearing narration in your head: If you were read to a lot as a child, enjoy theater, or listen to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts, you likely won’t find speed reading as enjoyable as you do reading at average speeds. Learning to give up internal narration may be challenging and may ultimately not be something you’re willing to do. Having a book read with natural inflections and tones of voice is a joy, even when reading nonfiction, so giving that up can sap the joy out of reading.
- It’s easy to cheat: How often have you read a book only to realize you don’t remember anything from the last page because you were thinking of something else? While speed reading will help increase your focus, it won’t make you immune to distraction or feeling disengaged from what you’re reading. If you’re speed reading just to get through things as fast as possible rather than because you want to read the book, you’ll likely find yourself skimming more than usual.
- It’s hard work: Speed reading is the brain’s equivalent of running a race when it usually takes a stroll around the block. You may not read for longer, but your brain has to work harder, so you’re likely to feel tired afterward.
How do you learn to speed read?
You may naturally find that you read different materials at different speeds. Various texts capture our interest more than others; some are easier to process than others. For example, your textbooks from school may take more time to read than a love story that makes you laugh or a magazine filled with the latest gossip.
Unfortunately, there’s no secret you can learn that will grant you instant speed reading powers. You have to train and practice using methods like these:
- The Pointer
This technique is a simple method you may have learned while learning to read as a child, but it is surprisingly effective for learning to speed read, too. All you need to do is run your finger (or pencil) along the line you are reading, moving your finger as you read.
Pacing forces you to read faster. Gradually, you can increase your speed, but the pointer keeps you on track and focused on each word as it comes. Learn to read in paragraphs instead of sentences.
- Perpetual Expansion
This reading technique can be challenging to learn without the help of a speed reading app, but it is possible. This strategy is where you teach your brain to take in multiple words simultaneously rather than one at a time.
For example, rather than reading “It – is – a – truth – universally – acknowledged” as individual words, you can start to read them in small groups, all at once. So, your brain would begin to see it like this, “It is – a truth – universally acknowledged.” People can work up to taking in around five words at once.
- Turn Off Your Internal Monologue
This tip is easier said than done, but practice (ideally with a text you know well) scanning a line without reading aloud or vocalizing the words in your head. You’ll still “hear” the words from your inner voice, but you won’t think them “aloud” as clearly as if someone is reading the text to you.
- Skimming, Chunking, and Scanning
Depending on your reading, you’ll find that you can skim, chunk, or scan the text to meet your objective. You’ll still read well but at a swift pace that is focused on what you need to know.
When you skim a text, you don’t read every word. You don’t get hung up on unfamiliar words that you can’t pronounce or that you don’t understand. Instead, you quickly move through the text to read highlighted portions or graphics to capture the overall message content.
Scanning is another form of speed reading where you look for information to read. For example, you quickly scan the textbook and read through headers and sub-headers, looking for the critical content you want to read. This visual reading technique saves time and allows you to read the content you would like to read in less time.
Lastly, chunking may help you read faster as you read sections as fast as possible in chunks. Rather than reading word for word, you glance at a paragraph (even using your peripheral vision) and read pieces of text simultaneously.
- Get rid of extra eye movements
It takes time to move your eyes through a text. Break away from re-reading a sentence to ensure you didn’t miss something. Regressive eye movements slow reading and take time. Stay focused when reading and read it once.
It doesn’t matter what you’re reading; you have to focus. If you cannot concentrate, you won’t read faster because your brain can only process so much information at once. So learn to set aside dedicated time to read. You’ll see that the more you concentrate, the more you read naturally.
There are speed reading apps and how-to books that can guide you as you learn how to speed read. First, take a reading test to see where you are. It’s ok to reread a text or slow down if needed. Be patient with yourself, and you’ll be reading quicker and quicker.
How To Improve Reading Comprehension
Regardless of what we’re reading, we want to comprehend and retain as much as possible. However, reading comprehension isn’t automatic. It takes time to learn how to read with good understanding but, again, you can do it with practice.
Reading comprehension enhances a reader’s ability to understand a text’s implicit and explicit meaning. It helps readers move beyond word recognition to purpose, understanding, and long-term memory.
Reading comprehension improves with time. As you practice reading, you’ll increase your understanding. In addition, you’ll raise awareness as you read more and build on existing knowledge. Summarize the text or teach someone else something that you learned while reading.
Over time reading quicker can improve your academic success. You’ll find that you’re reading more and have better comprehension as you learn more. You don’t have to read from word to word throughout the text to understand its meaning (unless you want to). You have to define your reading goals and set a plan.
Making Money from Reading
So, what can you do with your new-found speed reading skills? Besides reading more and learning more, you may try making a little extra cash or even turning it into a career. While speed reading at high speeds won’t be practical for most reading-for-money applications, it will help you be more efficient. So, here are some ways you can turn your love of reading into cash:
- Become an audiobook narrator – If you have a good voice or have a background in acting, reading audiobooks can be a lucrative and pleasurable way to make money. All you need is some essential (but quality) recording equipment, and you can get started. The best place to start is ACX.
- Become a proofreader or offer manuscript critiques – If you have a good grasp of what makes a good story, or an eye for spelling, grammar, and detail, you could consider getting paid to read authors’ unpublished manuscripts.
- Typing – Can you type as fast as you read? You can find freelance typing jobs if your fingers can accurately keep up with your reading.
- Get paid for reviews – It’s against bookstores’ terms of service to pay people to leave reviews on your books, but there are websites out there that will pay you for a well-written review of a book for their site. See Kircus Media and Reedsy for more information.
Get Free Books and Practice
The best way to improve your reading rate is to practice and read more. You may start reading word-by-word, but over time you’ll learn how to read at a glance.
Get out your timer. How many words can you read?
Some would call speed reading skim reading. However, it’s a skill. It’s not about just reading quicker. It’s about reading more in less time. Just like any other skill, faster reading takes consistent practice. You’ll see huge improvements in your reading and comprehension speed over time.
The world is filled with reading material you want or need to soak in. So, go ahead and learn how to speed-read. While it’s not a cure-all for all your reading activities, it can help you prepare for a meeting or get in some last minute studying. It’s a visual presentation of text that you can map in your mind to take in more information.
Don’t feel pressured to improve your reading skills. We read for various reasons like enjoyment, homework, meetings, school, etc. Learn these reading and comprehension strategies to vary your reading as needed (if needed). There’s no need to overload yourself with information if you don’t require it. Learning how to increase your reading speed is for you.
Theresa Bedford is a syndicated freelance home and travel writer with regular contributions to the Associated Press wire and MSN. She helps everyday people love the life they have through simplicity, organization, and prioritization.