Speed reading is often misused and misunderstood. While certain self-help gurus will swear by it and certain academics will deride the practice as skimming, there’s a good chance you’re an inattentive, impractical reader in the first place, so doing certain exercises to improve these problems will not only benefit your reading speed, but also your overall comprehension of the words in front of you. Speed reading is not simply about the amount of information you take in, however. It’s also about what you choose to ignore.
1. Plan Your Reading
Perhaps the most important part of speed reading is knowing what you’re looking for in the first place. For that reason alone, speed reading James Joyce or Virginia Woolf will do you no good; any text that requires the parsing of linguistic ambiguities will be nearly impossible to comprehend. On the other hand, it is far easier to digest texts with a stated purpose and texts stating a clear argument when reading quickly. You do, however, need to approach the text with a goal in mind. Although it’ll vary by text, ask yourself these questions while reading the book
- Am I looking for broad points or specific statistics?
- Are there any topics/chapters that I should ignore?
- How do I need to respond to this text–in words or on paper?
- Are there sayings/expressions/digressions that the author continually uses that I can gloss over?
- When does the author establish his point–at the beginning or end of chapters?
- At the beginning of paragraphs or at the end?
Proper speed reading requires you to make these deductions quickly and effectively, but fortunately, doing so can help you improve your reading skills in general.
Just as marathon runners or sprinters stretch before they begin, you must do the same. Reading is, after all, an exercise. Before you begin reading, look at the page or the computer screen. In one given night, you may be rocking your eyes back and forth tens of thousands of times. One technique I use is an “X” motion, where I direct my eyes towards the four corners of a page in an ‘x’ motion.
Another technique to use is what I call “fast-feet”, an agility exercise for your eyes. Direct your eyes as quickly as possible from the left of a line to the right, then do so for two whole pages. While reading may seem like an automatic action to many, establishing this habit will add some fluidity to your reading.
http://fexlabs.com/gabor/ – This is a great exercise that has actually been proven to improve vision over time. I have used it and can (honestly!) vouch that it works pretty well.
3. Stabilize your head
Make sure to keep your back and head stable when reading. While lying on your stomach or hunched back on a heap of pillows may feel comfortable, it’s far too easy to sacrifice comfort for focus. Keeping your body stable will improve the consistency of your reading speed and make you less tired, as you’re absorbing all the words and letters at the same angle. It also goes without saying that it’s best to read at a desk, with the book still, with good lighting that illuminates the whole page. Anything else can lead to distraction.
4. Don’t Think Out Loud
Perhaps the most classic pieces of advice for prospective speed readers. When you read, make sure not to “recreate” the voice of the narrator in your head. Doing so will immediately slow your input of information and will force you to stop when you’re having trouble pronouncing a word or saying a tangled sentence with clarity. Just look at the word but don’t say them in your head. While it may sound absurd to some, try reading the article from the beginning and you’ll find you’re going far faster than before.
CAVEAT: When reading dense fiction or poetry, make sure you deliberately create a personified voice inside your head. If you imagine their voice to be coarse, or perhaps as smooth as silk, then recreate its performance in your head. It will keep you far more engaged than a blank monotone.
5. Write Down Questions to Answers
If you’re reading something you need to speed through, you should be taking notes. While counterintuitive, note-taking will make you more alert to essential information, and less prone to passages that deviate from the essential information. Better yet, you can write down some text-specific questions and keep them in mind while reading, then when you find the answers, note them immediately. Speed reading is not about skipping text. Rather, it’s about reading strategically.