I recently read a book on speed-reading, which claimed that the average person reads less than 200 words per minute. [i]
What? That’s mind boggling for an English speaker! I thought the average was closer to 1000 wpm. It turns out that this difference can be largely explained by punctuation and spaces between words (i.e., paragraphs). I had never noticed it before but yes, there are more white space than words in many books and magazines!
Reading is one of my favorite pastimes (yes, even in the bathroom), so I decided to take stock of my current ability and techniques for boosting reading speeds. Here are some tricks I’ve picked up over time:
1) Get a good e-ink device.
Although I have the Kindle app on my iPad, there’s just something about reading on an e-ink device (Kindle or Nook) that is more pleasant for me. The page refreshes instantly and it doesn’t draw a big battery hit like other devices do. You can increase the font size up to 4 times without losing resolution. This can be especially handy with some math books if you want a quick reference guide but don’t want to lug around a textbook.
2) Get rid of distractions – at least during the first read though
This includes pets, TV, music and kids running around screaming. Distractions are bad for several reasons: First off they take your mind away from the task at hand. This reduces focus. Difficulties in focusing are probably one of the biggest reasons why people don’t read faster; secondly, they pollute your mind with other thoughts which can distract you at a later time when you try to remember what you just read!
3) Use a highlighter
I use whatever’s on my desk (i.e., colored pens), but I’ve also used those neon yellow highlighters for more than ten years now which I specifically bought because it would stand out against the black text easier. It does seem that some colors work better for me here since my brain seems to be able to process them more easily and quickly. You don’t need anything fancy though.
4) Use a pencil to underline or circle key points
Same can be said as for the highlighter. However, when you flip back and forth between what you’ve highlighted and your own notes/underlines, it’s easier to remember things since you’re essentially making a personal summary of the book in real time. This is also great for vocabulary building and comprehension checking!
5) If possible, read out loud (or at least in your head), but not all literature lends itself well to this format.
It takes longer but gives better retention rate on my experience. You may also catch some wordy sentences that would work much better if split up into two or more sentences; sometimes you can even hear where the writer intended a silence based on how they structured their sentence. I’ve also noticed that it tends to improve my own writing in the long run.
6) Do a speed-read of your college textbooks
I did this for an entire semester when I took differential equations at university and was able to finish the book 2 weeks before my final exam which made me feel much more confident going into the test; not only had I read through all of the material but I could do some basic problem solving right there on the spot! Just focus on ideas rather than words/sentences; this means you can skim over definitions, formulas, etc., without missing out crucial points.’re like me and prefer
7) If you want to try out a new book, read the introduction and conclusion first
This will give you an idea of whether or not you want to read it; if you already know that there is no point in reading the rest then there’s no need. This also has the benefit of possibly making your work easier especially for textbooks and academic papers since they tend to have long introductions which are meant mainly for professors and other academics! You can always just skim through them later on. You may miss some background information but most authors assume that readers have a certain level of familiarity with related concepts before getting into their discussion so this won’t be too big of an issue for math/science oriented texts. If you’re using a fiction novel though, I would recommend reading the entire introduction.
8) Use a timer/stopwatch to check your reading rate
This is an excellent way of measuring how much you are actually getting out of your book. It’s tough at first, but get into the habit of not moving onto the next section until you’ve completed whatever time interval you set for yourself. I use 15 minutes (although I sometimes do 30s); You can easily find free apps online that fit this need if you’re on a computer or there might even be one with your DVD drive (if it has one). If not, try searching on google play for ‘stopwatch’ and see what comes up. Once you calculate your speed, experiment a bit more by trying some different intervals; I use longer ones (20, 30 minutes) when reading math oriented texts and shorter intervals (~10-15 minute) when reading more fiction/journal articles or for leisure.
9) If you’re having troubles forming connections between the concepts, draw a mind map of them instead
This is great for scientific texts or long essays since it lets you see everything in one place without being biased towards the linear format that most books are written in. Simply write down each term/term pair that you don’t fully understand in smaller boxes and then connect them with lines to related ideas; draw pictures if necessary! Just make sure not to get too lost up in your diagram because after 15 minutes or so, it’ll start to become difficult to trace your steps (and by then, you’ll have already forgotten what the diagram was for in the first place).
10) If your teacher or coach gives you a reading list, start with reading the lists he/she recommends most highly
This will give you a good idea of whether or not the task is even worth pursuing; if there aren’t any books that seem interesting to you or relevant to your area of interest then simply put the list away and try again later. It’s always best to finish assignments as soon as possible but sometimes it makes more sense to spend time on other things instead! No point forcing yourself into something that doesn’t interest you.