How To Speed Read

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Shorter Version

Est. Reading Time: 1 Minute

Maybe you’re unsure about speed reading; can you really do it? Is it going to be hard to learn? Is it really going to make that big of a difference in your life? If you have emails backing up in your inbox, articles that you’d love to read but just can’t seem to find the time, or a stack of books that is most often used as a convenient place to put your coffee mug rather than for what’s on the pages within them, read on.

Speed reading is not only the ability to read large quantities of information quickly but also the ability to comprehend and absorb the information you’re reading. This can be an obvious bonus if you’re in school, but also in any profession that requires you to read a substantial amount of data on a daily basis.

Why learn to speed read?

Learning how to speed read has multiple benefits other than just being able to read and retain sizable amounts of information more quickly. Because your brain is like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Learning to speed read improves focus and discipline, strengthens your memory, and builds logic. It also vastly increases productivity.

Added bonuses: people who are proficient at speed reading also say it reduces eye strain and increases their overall confidence.

Speed reading can be broken down into several simple, easy to apply steps. Each one has a specific purpose designed to not only accelerate the process but also increase your retention.

Skip to Actionable Steps

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Longer Version

Est. Reading Time: 2 Minutes

You don’t need me to tell you that we live in a time of information overload. We’re bombarded with information 24/7. To try and get through even half of what is coming at you is not only unrealistic but not entirely beneficial. The key is to be able to sift through the articles and books, prioritize what is really relevant and useful to you and your life, and then to actually be able to get through it in a timely manner.

Reading in our lives

The average person reads 200-250 words per minute. While this may seem like a lot, it’s not enough to be competitive in today’s academic pursuits or in the marketplace. We are all expected to be constantly acquiring new knowledge for our jobs and it’s definitely expected if you are in school. To compound this, the amount of information we are expected to learn and retain increases with each passing year. So the ability to process more information quickly is a highly advantageous skill for both your career and your mental well-being.

What goes into speed reading

Proficient speed reading requires practice and involves retraining your brain to focus succinctly on what’s in front of you and to avoid tempting distractions. All of this while striking the delicate balance between speed and comprehension. While speed reading can be highly useful for some materials, it’s just not appropriate for others (think a medical text or other highly complex subject matter).

Getting started with speed reading

There are different techniques or methods that you can use to improve how quickly you read. They all involve a certain amount of skimming the page and focusing on blocks of words rather than individual ones. You will also need to learn to avoid “sub-vocalizing” each word, or hearing it in your head, as many of us quite naturally do.

As you “skim” lines or groups of words, you’ll find you can understand words more quickly than you can say them. Read the first sentence of the paragraph and then the last sentence of the paragraph, and skim through the middle. The first sentence of the paragraph sets it up and tells you what it’s going to be about, the last sentence sums it up.

To help you with this and to encourage your eyes to move more quickly across the page, try adopting “The Pointer Method.” Using your finger or a pen (with the cap on) to underline or trace each line as you read it, keep your eye above the tip of the pen. This will help to increase the pace at which you take in each line, and improve your focus on the words.

Stop sub-vocalization

A couple of ways to stop sub-vocalization are to relax your face and to “soften” or expand your gaze on the page so you start seeing the words as groups rather than as single units. Then, when you approach the end of a line, allow your eyes to skip to the final set of words. This helps to stop pauses in your reading and allows you to scan across and down to the next line more quickly.

Another way to curb sub-vocalization is to chew gum while reading. This has the added benefit of improving concentration. As published in Science Daily: “Chewing gum can help you stay focused for longer on tasks that require continuous monitoring. Previous research has shown that chewing gum can improve concentration in visual memory tasks.”

Below are some steps you can take to start learning to speed read in no time.

Actionable Steps


Hit the highlights first

If it’s a book you’re tackling, start by reading the Table of Contents, the reviews, and chapter summaries if there are any. If it’s an article, read the headings and highlighted quotes first. This is the key information that the writer wants you to be aware of, and it triggers your reticular activating system to recognize this content when you encounter it again.


Employ the One Second Rule

Try not to spend more than one second on each line. With each subsequent page, increase your speed just a little – even a 1% increase in speed per page will result in an enormous improvement in a short period of time. You might not retain much at first, but this will improve as you practice the techniques.


Bust out the Mozart

Studies show that if you listen to music, especially classical music, while you’re reading, it improves your reading speed. It’s thought to both aid in relaxation as well as subdue any sub-vocalization.


Go faster than you think is possible

It is important to push yourself a bit if you want to make progress. When you’re using your finger or a pen, force your eye to follow a little faster than you think you can go. You’ll be amazed at how much you can remember and retain and the speeds that you can achieve with a little practice.

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About the Author

Hunter Phoenix

Hunter Phoenix

Certified Professional Life Coach

Hunter has an M.A. in Psychology and is a Certified Professional Life Coach. For more than 10 years, she coached clients to find and follow their passion and live their best lives. Hunter has also done youth coaching work with Covenant House, realizing that this is such a challenging and important time in life.
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