A Beginner’s Guide to Speed Reading

By a guest writer, Cindy (find her blog page here)

How much time would you be able to save if you could read faster? Especially for students, knowing the basics of speed reading can be incredibly helpful in increasing your productivity levels. The only issue is that speed reading isn’t taught at school. In fact, reading isn’t even taught beyond elementary school. I think the last time I had a reading lesson was in third grade when we learned about skipping words we didn’t know and coming back to them. After that, we were just assigned books and articles to read on our own.

Personally, I found this a little frustrating. I’ve always loved reading, and quarantine has provided the perfect excuse for me to read nonstop. (Side note: My book blog is proof that I read too much. Please check it out here!) As the years go by, teachers increasingly assign more and more work while just assuming that our reading speeds would increase with practice. While practice is essential, it isn’t quite enough. Today I will share a few tips that have helped me with speed reading that are more substantial than just “concentrate and try harder.”

Photo by Wendy van Zyl on Pexels.com

Subvocalization

One of the biggest issues slowing people down is subvocalization, which is essentially “hearing” the text inside your head. We read a word, and then we imagine saying it in our minds. This is the way we all learned to read, but it’s incredibly slow. The average speaking rate is only about 150 words per minute, and you won’t be able to read much faster than that if you have to “hear” each individual word in the text.

Here’s a way to address this: press your tongue to the roof of your mouth when you read and make a conscious effort to avoid the urge to say words inside your head. Instead of hearing what you’re reading, try to see or feel it. We process images much faster than words. Think about it – we speed up YouTube videos and lecture videos, but no one speeds up podcasts. Without a visual component, it’s hard to speed things up and still be able to keep up. If you imagine your reading as watching a video rather than just listening to a speech, you’ll be able to read much faster.

Peripheral Vision and Processing Phrases

“Peripheral vision” refers to what we can see out of the corners of our eyes. Even when you’re focused on one specific thing, you’re still vaguely aware of our surroundings and whatever’s nearby. You can take advantage of this when you read – instead of processing the text one word at a time, read the text in chunks. Common phrases – “once upon a time,” “thank you so much,” etc. – can be processed together.

Tracking and Bouncing

Now that you know the basics of speed reading, it’s time to put a few strategies to practice. The first one is tracking. Simply take a pen (cap on, unless you want to mark up your text) and underline the text one line at a time as you read it. The goal is to keep increasing the speed of the pen without skipping back to reread previous sections.

Next: bouncing. This one’s my favorite. Depending on the width of the text, split it into two or three columns. This divides each line into two or three “phrases.” Now imagine your eyes “bouncing” from one column to the next, taking in one phrase at a time. The point of this, like all speed reading, is to prevent you from reading the words one at a time. I don’t always have a pen with me, and tracking doesn’t work well when reading digitally (no one holds a pen to their laptop), but bouncing works well in most situations.

Conclusion

Congratulations! You have now taken your first steps towards reading faster! Now you may heed the traditional advice and go practice. But before that, a note of caution: speed reading is most effective when you only need to skim the text or when you’re truly short on time. The downside is that in-depth comprehension will require time no matter what. For example, if you’re reading a textbook, it would be a good idea to quickly skim/speed read the chapter first to get a sense of the main idea. But if you really want to understand it, you’ll need to come back and read it more thoroughly. In scenarios like this, it’s better to use speed reading to read the text more times instead of reading it once quickly and moving on. Of course, not all text requires such in-depth analysis. If you’re just skimming through a news article, speed reading is perfectly fine. Thank you for making it to the end of the article and good luck with your reading!

Make sure to check out Cindy’s blog and leave a like and a comment if you liked the post!


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