Everybody wants to read more. Whether it is for pleasure or learning (or for the crazy few, the two go hand-in-hand), we would all benefit from the ability to read a little faster and improve our comprehension of what we are reading.
What if you could spend five minutes right now to greatly improve your reading speed and comprehension? Imagine tackling that stack of magazines or list of business books that you have been wanting to check off of your list.
Someone recently recommended that I read 10 Days to Faster Reading by The Princeton Language Institute and Abby Marks Beale, a corporate reading and learning consultant. The book itself is 200 pages, so I definitely recommend you grab it from your local library if you want to know the whole story, but if you are just interested in some of the tips given throughout the book, you are in luck. I’ve gone ahead and distilled them down for you!
Developing a Reading Awareness
- Don’t read each word at the same speed. Run your eyes faster across common words and stop on the more important words in the text. See the next tip where I’ve made the important words bold.
- There is a relationship between background knowledge and reading comprehension. The more you understand about a particular subject, the more “hooks” keep the facts in there. So if you are going to read a book on a subject you don’t know much about, check out the Wikipedia article on it first to prep your brain to retain more.
- Read in a quiet, distraction-free environment. This one is kinda obvious, but we really don’t take it too seriously. Ever tried to read while listening to music? Watching TV? Sure, it’s possible, but your brain is naturally moving slower through your reading due to the multiple stimuli.
- Feel free to skim sections of text. This is especially important with books, which tend to add a lot of “fluff” to the core message in order to fill out a full volume as opposed to a rich article. I have found that authors often say the same thing multiple times, just from different angles throughout chapters. Skipping quickly through a sentence or two once you realize that this is happening can get you down the page much faster.
Speed Reading Strategies
- Read faster to reduce passive daydreaming. Ever read through a page in a book only to realize that you were thinking about something totally different? That’s passive daydreaming while reading, and it happens all of the time. The reason why is that the average person speaks 150 words per minute, but our brain can think at 400 words per minute. The closer to natural speaking you read words in your head, the more room you leave for your mind to wander. Feel free to just say the words faster to yourself knowing that your brain can handle it.
- Reduce regression (going back over material) by placing an index card at the top of the sentence, and moving it down the page as you read. This tip alone can help improve reading by about 200% for some people, while comprehension actually improves because you know you can’t go back.
- If you are a person who moves their lips while reading, that habit has got to go. You are limiting yourself to the 150 words per minute that your lips like to move at. A simple tip here is to place your index finger over your mouth to try to break the habit.
- Be more selective about your reading material. Cancel those subscriptions that aren’t really doing a lot for you, or at least pull out the few articles that you really want to read instead of feeling like you have to read the whole magazine. Think about what you commit yourself to read. Make sure it is worth it. Simply being more selective about your material will help you get through more important information instead of wasting time on stuff that isn’t really helping you achieve your goals.
Reading Time Management
- Make regular time for reading. Don’t just wait until you have down-time, make it a habit with designated time slots. Remember being in school? You made time to study, it didn’t just happen when you were bored.
- Get rid of all distractions while reading. Seriously, use your phone’s airplane mode to silence all alerts and vibrations for 30 mins. If you have young kids, don’t read when they can come distract you, leave the house or schedule the time when they are asleep.
- Utilize audiobooks. I’ve started listening to audiobooks while I drive, while I mow the lawn, while doing housework, or during an evening stroll.
- Create a reference system for keeping track of important, usable reading material. A tool such as Evernote is great because you can tag notes with keywords to search for later. Even writing things down in a paper notebook is good for improving retention of what you are learning, or who key characters are in a novel.
Hopefully there was a helpful tidbit somewhere in there to help you become a faster reader. As for myself, I’ve been unsubscribing from many email lists that are simply marketing emails, only subscribe to one magazine, and have cut my RSS feed down to 1/3 of what it was before reading this book. With higher-quality content to digest, and scheduled time for distraction-free reading, I’ve already seen a difference in what I’ve read through this week, and how I will finally get to those business books on my shelves that I’ve kept there for “whenever I have down-time.”