Speed reading is a very hotly debated topic nowadays. On one side, there are some courses which claim to be able to guarantee you a reading speed of over 2000 wpm (words per minute) in under 2 hours. On the other side, there are critics which refer to the entire speed reading topic as nothing more than a fluff, arguing that comprehension is drastically reduced to almost zero at higher speeds.
Based on my experience with speed reading, I will try and break down my personal opinion on this topic and also attempt to give some advice on steps which will help you to read faster.
First off, you will have to trust that I know at least a little bit about what I am talking about. I read at around 800 words per minute. For reference, the average reading speed is around 200-250 wpm. I use 200 to calculate the estimated reading time for my posts you see at the top of the page here. The current Guinness World record holder for fastest reader reads at around 25000 to 30000 wpm (im not joking, look it up if you want).
When I first got into speed reading, I thought, “No way, its impossible to read that fast and still gain any sort of comprehension from the book”. I was wrong. Although some of the advertisements online which try and guarantee you a absurdly high reading speed in such a short period of time is likely to be bogus, there is no denying the fact that you can have a pretty dramatic increase in reading speed with minimal loss in comprehension.
So, how did I learn to speed read? Here’s what I did:
First, I measured my baseline reading speed. There are many websites online which offer reading speed tests which can help you to get a sense of where you are at. It is best, however, to get a physical book. Get a text that is not too hard and that you can comfortably understand. Read normally and time yourself for one minute. Draw a line at the point at which you get to.
Next, flip to a new section of the book you are on. This time, you are going to use your finger to pace yourself to read a little faster than you are used to. Don’t aim for comprehension in this run. Your goal is to get used to seeing words faster. Do this for two sections of text, one minute per section.
Now flip to another new section and draw two vertical lines about one and a half word lengths shorter than the printed margins of the book. Now start reading again, using your finger as a guide. The goal here is to make sure to keep your eyes and your finger within the lines. Use your peripheral vision to see the words outside of the line. Again, your goal right now is not comprehension. Instead, it is to just let your eyes get used to focusing on words faster. Do this again for two sections of text, one minute per section. On the second run, try to reduce the amount of words you say “out loud” in your head. This is called reducing subvocalization, which is considered disadvantageous for reading faster because it limits how fast you can read to how fast you can vocalize these words in your mind. The goal is to be able to still gain full comprehension while making sure that you are not subvocalizing too much. This is tough at first, but keep with it and you will see significant gains in reading speed.
Now, go back to the original section of text which you marked in step 1. Time yourself again. You should now have gotten significantly further. Repeat these every day for two weeks or so, with the modification that the first time you do them for the day, focus on getting your eyes faster with focusing on words. The second time, aim for comprehension. Also, with the exercise in step 3, make the borders around 2-3 characters closer every time you do the exercise, eventually you will be able to read a whole line in just one or two glances through relying on peripheral vision.
So, that was how I nearly quadrupled my reading speed in only around two weeks. I hope this has helped you gain a new appreciation for how to read faster.