How to Read Faster: The Ultimate Guide

Learning how to read faster is a skill, not an inborn quality.

Like throwing a ball or playing the guitar, you can get better with practice.

If you’re here, that means you’re not currently satisfied with where you are with your learning skills:

  • Maybe your brain feels fried from digital overload and you want to improve your focus

  • Maybe you want to get promoted and increase your earning power

  • Or maybe you’re looking for a plan for staying on-task and making consistent progress.

No matter what it is, I’m glad you’re here.

How to read faster

Most of us read far more slowly than we have to. We are fully capable of comprehending complex written texts. But we slow ourselves down with distractions, limited skill sets, and bad habits we learned in school.

When it comes to fast reading, nothing makes a bigger difference—in school, in work, in becoming a more well-rounded, confident, charismatic person.

The willingness to put in the work, the hunger to learn how to read faster, is what unsticks average students and rockets them to success.

How to Read Faster?

With this Ultimate Guide on How To Read Faster, I attempt to distill my lifetime of experience and technique in speed-read into one actionable how-to guide.

By understanding the principals and practicing the skills herein, you to can learn how to read faster and become an efficient speed reader. 

Learning how to read faster allows you to:

  • Get better grades in school, resulting in better career prospects.

  • Perform better at work, leading to lucrative promotions.

  • Find work and learning easier and more pleasurable.

  • Have more confidence, resulting in less depression or anxiety and better overall mental health.

How This Guide Is Structured

How To Read Faster And Increase Your Reading Speed

This guide breaks down the elements of speed reading into:

  • Direct Speed Reading Techniques — changing the way you read to make smart speed reading possible. 

  • Indirect Speed Reading Techniques — techniques that don’t specifically address how you read, but that further enable speed reading.

For each technique, I recommend exercises to practice that technique. You can start with any of the exercises that appeal to you, then gradually add others and build on your earlier skills to develop your talent at speed reading.

But first, you need to discover your speed reading and comprehension rate.

Calculate Your Reading Speed Rate In Just 1 Minute

Before doing that, let’s first understand what the terms comprehension and speed reading mean. 

  • Speed Reading can be defined as the rate at which the eyes and the brain can understand words. Those who read each word will have slower speeds as compared to people who read several words at a time.  

  • Comprehension is the ability of the brain to perceive and understand concepts and ideas. In our case, this can mean your ability to absorb specific details or simply understanding a basic concept.  

Without further ado, let’s start!

The One-Minute Exercise 

This is a test you can do to discover your speed reading rate as well as your comprehension level. However, the main goal is to determine the words you can read in a minute. 

Here are the instructions. Make sure that you understand them thoroughly before starting the test. 

Step 1: Choose an article or passage to read, preferably something that you haven’t read before.

You can get articles on the internet or just open a new book. I suggest you pick a topic that you will probably understand. 

Step 2: You need a timer. For that, you can use a smartphone or a stopwatch.

Step 3: Start the timer and start reading. Make sure that you read silently at your normal speed for exactly one minute.  

Step 4: At the end of one minute, mark the word that you are on. 

Step 5: Take a piece of paper and start writing all the points that you remember about what you have just read. Do not look back at the passage while doing so. It is crucial not to do so, so that you can train your memory. 

Step 6: Now, take a look at the passage and count the number of words that you have read in one minute. The total number of words will indicate your reading speed in WPM, or words per minute.  

Step 7:  Now, have a look at the text you read and determine how many points you have managed to understand. Give yourself a score. That represents your comprehension level. To get the percentage value, divide the number of points you managed to remember correctly with the number of total points you have in the text. The number calculated when multiplied with one hundred will give you the percentage of your comprehension level. 

Calculate your reading speed rate again in about 30 days and check the increase in your reading speed. Of course, use a different text when testing it.

How to calculate your reading speed and comprehension

Direct Speed Reading Techniques

At the heart of how to read faster are direct techniques—that is, techniques that relate to how you actually read.

Many of us have bad reading habits. Some of them showed us how to read faster when we were children, but they have no place in our adult reading practice other than to slow us down.

Reading strategies work and our brains can keep up.

We can remove the bottleneck between the page and our brains by practicing the following five direct reading techniques:

Technique #1: Stop Backtracking

It’s the definition of duplication of effort. You read something … and then double back to re-read what you just read.

It sounds silly, but many of us rely on backtracking and re-reading way more than we think.

For every hour the average adult spends reading, about 20 minutes is devoted to re-reading things you already read. A sentence back, a paragraph back, a page back, a chapter back… that’s one-third of the hour’s reading time we spend duplicating our effort.

Why do we do this?

It may be as simple as forgetting where you left off.

Other times, we become distracted in our reading environment. A friend, family member, phone call, loud noise, bumblebee, or TV show distracts us. We lose track of where we were and have to backtrack to catch the thread of the text again.

Most insidiously, we double back and re-read what we just read because we lack confidence. We don’t know if we understand what we just read, so we double back just to make sure. This habit is harder to correct.

How to Stop Backtracking:

  • Mark your place. If you finish reading for the day in the middle of a chapter or section, mark your exact stopping point so you pick up exactly where you left off. Options include sticky notes, highlighter, or pencil marks for paper books, e-notes for digital files.

  • Eliminate distractions. Designate a “reading space” in your home or office, where friends and family know to leave you alone. Mobile notifications are not allowed, nor are TV shows, movies, or distracting music. More on cultivating your reading space later… .

  • Practice deep focus. Set aside a “reading time” and a target number of pages. Tuck yourself into your no-distractions reading nook and plow through your reading assignment. Focus on nothing but reading one word after another without backtracking. Start small. Many of us do not regularly practice this kind of focus, so that it will take practice! Start with 15 minutes or a half-hour, reading a page or two. Once you master that, work your way up.

  • Notice when you want to backtrack, and stop yourself. You may feel like you forgot what you just read a sentence ago. You may feel lost in the middle of a chapter or section, unsure of what is going on. Have confidence; your brain understands more than you think. Just keep going and see how you feel at the end of a chapter. Even if your comprehension suffers for a time, your brain will learn to latch onto the content on the first pass.

Technique #2: Reduce Eye Movement

You may have never noticed this, but as you read your eyes come to rest on the page at various points. These are called “eye fixations.”

Slow readers often let their eyes come to a complete stop every word. This slows the reader down immensely.

Reduce Eye Movement

Conversely, the fewer times your eyes come to a complete stop, the more quickly and fluidly you learn how to read faster.

Taking in a line of text with as few eye fixations as possible is largely a function of your field of vision. A wider field of vision allows you to take in a whole sentence, possibly even more than one sentence, with one eye fixation.

How to Reduce Eye Movement:

  • Strengthen your peripheral vision. The better you can see out of “the corner of your eyes,” the fewer eye fixations you need to read a line of text. One easy exercise to strengthen your peripheral vision is to face a table and place a straw on the table at the edge of your field of vision. Then, without looking toward the straw, attempt to insert a toothpick in the straw. Do this for a few minutes per day on both the left and the right.

  • Actively limit your eye fixations. For part of your reading session, notice how many eye fixations you make and limit it to three. In other words, you only get to move your eyes three times to take in the whole text. This might make your reading slower at first, but with practice, it will smooth out. When you get good at three fixations, try reducing to two, then try taking in each line with only one eye fixation.

  • Broaden your depth of knowledge. People with higher education and a deeper base of knowledge find it easier to read whole lines at a glance because they have more context. It may be hard to know where to start to increase your “general knowledge,” but you can begin with background information on the book you intend to read. Read the book’s Wikipedia page, and then go down a “Wikipedia wormhole”—click on links within the Wikipedia page that interest you and follow them to related Wikipedia pages … then click on interesting links in those more in-depth pages.

Technique #3: Chunking Words

An old cliche says that books get written “one word at a time.” This is how most of us read books too—one word at a time.

This is not the fastest way to read. Pro speed-readers don’t just limit the number of eye fixations they make on a line. World-class scholars, writers, and philosophers also develop the ability to read multiple words at a time with each eye fixation.

Think about it as grabbing chunks of words off the page and making sense out of them as a group of words, rather than stringing together a sentence from each individual word in sequence.

Chunking Words

How is this possible? Doesn’t this result in a jumble of nonsense in the brain?

The truth is that words actually convey very little meaning individually. If that doesn’t make sense, break it down further—the individual letters carry even less meaning. Would it increase your comprehension to read one letter at a time? Of course not.

Words carry more meaning than the letters that make them up, but each word tells you very little out of context. One word could have multiple meanings, be interpreted in different ways, or apply differently to different characters within a story.

To put it a different way, the words around a word give it meaning. If you can quickly grab the word and the surrounding word to give it context, you can learn to comprehend huge pages of text quickly.

If you have already reduced your backtracking and eye fixations, reading words in groups instead of individually is the next step.

How to Learn to Group Words:

  • Practice “chunking.” This is the act of reading words in chunks. Now that you have reduced the number of eye fixations you use to read the text, practice grabbing as many words at once within that eye fixation. It may be slow going at first, but you are practicing immediate recognition of context. Start with two words at a time. When you find that you can get the point reading two words at a time, upgrade to reading three words at a time, then four, then five.

  • Focus on the nouns and the verbs. Chunking works if you learn to recognize the words within the “chunk” that carry the meaning. This is usually the relationship between the noun and the verb. Other words may provide color or emphasis, but the meaning comes from the verb and the noun. Remember, every sentence needs at least one noun (the “subject”) and one verb (the “predicate”). For part of your reading session, forget about meaning and narrative. Just practice identifying the subject and the predicate of each sentence. The subject is the person, place, or thing the sentence is about. The predicate is the verb (“action word”) about what the subject did.

When you combine “chunking” with the ability to identify subjects and predicates at a glance, you will develop a talent for high-comprehension skimming. Imagine being able to quickly skim a text and “get it.” Powerful.

Technique #4: Reduce Subvocalization

You may have never heard of “subvocalization,” but you probably do it. And you probably should have stopped doing it by the fifth grade.

We have already discussed how we learn to read one word at a time. But what are we taught to do with those words as we read them?

Usually, we speak them aloud to “sound them out.” As our reading skills develop, we no longer need to speak the words aloud … but we do think the words. We speak them aloud internally, inside our head, to help anchor the meaning of the words into our subconscious. After all, we usually learn to speak first and build our ability to read on our ability to speak.

Reduce Subvocalization

Now brace yourselves—most of us never stop speaking those words aloud in our heads as we read. Learning experts call this “subvocalization,” and it stakes our reading speed to the speed we are able to speak.

Here’s a mind-blowing statistic—the average person can speak 150-250 words per minute and reads at the exact same speed—150-250 words per minute.

Learning experts call this internal monologue “sub-vocalization”—the performance of speech inside our heads.

The thing is, our brains are capable of reading and comprehending words much faster than we can speak them.

This is a hard habit to break, but several well-tested exercises can help you break it. Unmooring your reading habits from subvocalization is critical to learn how to read faster.

How to Reduce Subvocalization:

  • Read with your hands. A key principle of speed reading is to let your hand guide the reading, not your head. Set your finger at the beginning of the line of text, and then move it slowly across the line. Practice reading only the words your finger is pointing at. Over time, move your finger faster and faster. At some point, you may find your brain lagging behind your finger. This is when you need to start letting go of subvocalization. Keep following the finger. At first, you might miss half the words your finger brushes across. Over time, however, your brain will learn to keep up.

  • Distract yourself. Now it’s time to occupy your brain with something other than repeating back to you what you just read. Try chewing gum while you read so your brain focuses on the gum rather than the words. You can also try counting to three in your head while you read—”One, two, three … one, two, three … one, two, three …” It may seem impossible to focus while doing this, but really, how much concentration does it take to count to three? You’re trying to sever the link between your eyes reading and your brain repeating.

  • Listen to music. Turning on music in your reading room is a great way to distract your brain from subvocalizing. Some ground rules are needed, however! No lyrics. That will distract you too much, wresting your attention from what you are reading. Also, nothing heavy. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a good heavy rap or rock song, but heavy music may leave you too agitated to concentrate. Soft, soothing instrumental jazz, orchestral, or classical music works the best.

  • Use RSVP Software. No, you’re not telling someone you’ll make it to their wedding or karaoke party. “RSVP,” in this case, stands for “rapid serial visual presentation.” You can find RSVP tools or mobile apps online. The tool will provide a field for you to copy and paste your text into. You can then set your desired reading speed. Once you press play, the app presents the words to you, one at a time. Start at 150 or 200 words per minute, and start cranking it up over time. Before you know it, you will reach speeds at which subvocalization cannot keep up. Your comprehension will probably suffer a little at first… but like many of the techniques in this guide, your reading comprehension at higher speeds will improve over time.

Technique #5: Use a Pacer

A pacer is an easy, home-made device that helps you put all the above techniques into practice.

It is nothing more than a sheet of paper or notecard with a window cut in it, big enough to see several words.

As you move the pace maker across the page, you can read a few words at a time at a speed that prevents subvocalization. Great for paper books which you can’t copy/paste int RSVP software.

How to Use a Pacer:

  • Create a homemade pacer. Find a notecard or a piece of scratch paper. Cut a “window” the hight of one line of text in your book, wide enough to read a few words.

  • Read with the pacer. Try to move the pacer smoothly across and down the page at a uniform speed, only reading the words you can see through the window of the pacer. Up the speed as you get better at “chunking”—reading the words in the window at a glance with one eye fixation.

  • Make a pacer with a bigger window when you’re ready to read larger chunks or whole lines of text at once.

Indirect Speed Reading Techniques

The above techniques seek to change the way you actually read, enabling you to learn how to read faster.

Now we move on to indirect speed reading techniques.

These strategies don’t directly relate to how to read faster. Instead, they address your preparation for reading, reading environment, and reading skills like:

  • Retention. Remembering what you read.

  • Comprehension. Understanding what you read.

  • Analysis. Making deeper inferences based on what you read.

  • Evaluation. Incorporating what you read into systems of living and acting.

Paired with direct speed reading techniques, indirect techniques can take your reading speed to the next level.

Why Comprehension and Retention are Important

It’s a great thing if you increase the number of words you read per minute from 200 to 400.

However, what does it matter if you don’t remember or understand what you read?

Comprehension and retention allow you to recall what you read at a moment’s notice, making an impression at a meeting or cocktail party.

They allow you to seamlessly integrate what you read into your own reports or compositions without having to dig through notes or the source material.

If you read a book but cannot retain or comprehend what you just read, you didn’t really learn anything from what you read. It has no impact on your future because you don’t carry forward what you read from the present into that future.

Qualifying Books

Some books or reading materials may be assigned to you by a teacher or boss. There may be little you can do about that.

Understand, however—every book you choose to read is a choice that you make. You could always take a different class or change jobs.

Books are not your masters. You are the master. You choose what books you let into your life and your headspace.

So are the books you choose worth the effort? Maybe you read slowly because you have been choosing the wrong books.

It’s time to start qualifying your books—screening them to determine if they are worth your time.

Setting Your Purpose: Why are you Reading?

People pick up books for many reasons. They could be:

  • Assigned by a teacher or boss.

  • Recommended by a friend, family member, mentor, or other trusted person.

  • Found in the bibliography of a book you really enjoyed.

Regardless of what caused you to pick the book up, remember—you can always put it back down. Nothing is forcing you to keep reading.

So start with “why.” Get very specific about why you are granting your precious, irreplaceable time to the reading of this book. If the “why” does not measure up to the effort and (possibly) suffering entailed in the reading effort, consider discarding it.

No one is keeping score. There is no penalty for not finishing a book. Don’t throw more time at the project to justify the time you already put into it. Let it go and find a more valuable book.

How to Qualify a Book

Let’s avoid the awkwardness altogether. Instead of having to put down a book you already spent money on and invested time in reading, let’s get more picky about which books we pick up before we purchase or dig into them.

How to qualify a book

Here's how to qualify a book:

  • Set a Clear, Book-Specific Purpose

Before you start reading a book for any reason other than pleasure, write down a clear, actionable purpose for your reading project. Write it in a journal, or in the inside dust jacket if you don’t mind defacing it.

Examples include:

  • I want to get an “A” in this class.

  • I want to be conversant on this topic at the company cocktail party so I can impress the CFO.

  • I want to build my skill set in this topic so I can run my company more efficiently.

  • I want to change my mindset about my terrible childhood.

  • I want to discover how to read faster.

  • I want to learn how the author succeeded in business so I might learn to think like she does and become more successful myself.

There is no wrong answer … just make sure the answer is specific to you and specific to that book—a purpose that this book and no other can accomplish.

  • Preview the Book

Spend some time reading the introduction to the book, wherever you find it—the library, the bookstore, the newsstand at the airport.

Shopping for books online? Amazon.com allows you to preview many books, with digital scans of the first chapter or several chapters uploaded to the product page. Make robust use of those previews! Make sure you can’t wait to see what the author has to say next … before you add it to your cart and click “Purchase!”

  • Identify High-Value Text

The “high-value” text of a book is usually found at the beginning or the end of a nonfiction book.

The introduction should lay out the “why” of the book and help you figure out how well it aligns with your “why” for reading it. The introduction may also layout the structure of the book chapter-by-chapter, giving you a good idea of what you are in for.

Don’t be afraid to read to the concluding chapter! You are not “spoiling the end.” You want to know where the author is going. Most nonfiction books end with a “big-think” takeaway conclusion. This can help show you if the book aligns with your values and your purpose for reading. There will be plenty of fun in discovering how the author got there!

  • Identify High-Value Signposts

Scan the text for “transition” words like “and,” “but,” “because,” “therefore,” etc.

These “signpost” words show you how the author builds arguments and arrives at conclusions. If you can follow the logical leaps the author makes, you may have discovered an affinity for that author. Able to easily follow his/her logic, you will probably get a lot out of this book.

If it seems esoteric and hard to follow, don’t bother. Let somebody else become enriched by (or bang their head against) that book. Find one that resonates with you.

Vary your Reading Speed

Suppose you drill your direct speed-reading skills and raise your words-per-minute from 200 to 300.

Must you now read everything at 300 words per minute? Absolutely not.

Maybe you perform high-retention scanning of work-specific documents but indulge in slow reading for pleasure.

Scan newspaper headlines, but dig deep into a book on philosophy and personal development.

Grab the broad strokes of a research report you need to cite in a paper, but take your time with a business how-to book that you hope changes the way you think.

There is no correct speed reading level. Speed reading is a skill and a tool. You decide how, when, and to what extent you use it. It can be relaxing to slow down and read indulgently. Slow reading is your brain’s indication that it is time to relax and enjoy itself.

Read Non-Fiction Like a Newspaper

We often scoff at the short attention span social-media scanning has bred into the younger generation.

If, however, you are old enough to remember things called “newspapers,” delivered in print to your front porch every day, you may be startled to remember that short-attention-span scanning is not an invention of Mark Zuckerberg or the millennial generation.

Read Non-Fiction Like a Newspaper

We scan headlines. Grab story leads. Read the first few paragraphs before moving on. Maybe a story that fascinates us keeps our attention to the very end.

Journalists have been aware of this reading habit for centuries, which is why they front-load the critical story details into the first few paragraphs. The in-depth supporting details make the later paragraphs, if at all.

Newspapers are basically short-form nonfiction. There is no reason not to learn how to read faster most nonfiction books this way. Scan the chapter headings, the first few paragraphs of each chapter or subsection. Chances are you will imbibe the main points of the book very quickly. You can always take a deep dive later.

Active Reading

Skimming and scanning aren’t the right choices for every reading project when you need to take a deep dive and internalize a topic thoroughly; it’s time for active reading.

Active reading means taking notes and/or highlighting text while you read. Many people think the purpose of note-taking and highlighting is to refer back to your notes later.

Yes, you can refer back to your notes. However, active reading will probably help you even if you lose them or toss them directly in the trash.

When we write down what we learn, we retain it better. You don’t need to look at the notes. The mere act of taking them makes you remember what you read more easily.

The “How To Read Faster” Guide is not a “speed-reading” technique. In fact, you will probably read slower when you read actively. But if you want to retain what you read, few techniques work better.

The SQ3R System

SQ3R refers to a system of active reading that takes a process-based approach. The steps of SQ3R are as follows:

  • Survey. “Pre-read” on the topic. Scan the title, summary, table of contents, etc. See if you can find summaries or background details on the book or the topic on Wikipedia or reputable news sites. The more familiar you can become with the subject matter before you start reading, the better.

  • Question. Take what you learned from your survey and develop a series of questions you want to be answered by your reading. When you know what to look for, answers to your questions tend to jump out at you.

  • Read. Read the material, but read with purpose, looking for answers to your questions and broader context for the details you discovered in your survey.

  • Recite. Speak what you learned from your reading out loud. Pretend you are a professor or public speaker lecturing on the topic. This helps you check your comprehension and analysis of the topic, plant the material deeper in your memory, and begin the process of personalizing the information so you avoid plagiarism.

  • Review. Write down your recitation, then skim your notes to review what you learned for extra retention.

Syntopic Reading

Want to learn something? Read a book about it. Want to learn it better? Read two or three books about it, at the same time.

Syntopic reading means doing just this—reading two or more books on the same subject at the same time. This technique has been shown to increase comprehension, retention, analysis, and evaluation of what you read because you intake complementary information from multiple perspectives on the same topic.

Teaching yourself how to read faster is great, but reading more than one book at a time on the selected topic can super-charge your mastery of the topic.

Your Reading Environment

Your environment plays a huge role in your ability to learn how to read faster and retain what you read. No one can read quickly and understand what they read in a noisy, uncomfortable environment full of distractions.

If possible, choose a room or corner of a room as your “reading space.” Make it a place that you like, somewhere you enjoy being so you don’t avoid it. Then customize it with:

  • A comfortable reading chair—but not too comfortable or you might doze off!

  • Pleasing lighting—not too bright, with warm colors to relax your eyes compared to the harsh blues of our phones and other screens.

  • Soothing colors and sights—artwork, plants, window views.

  • Soothing sounds—a speaker that plays soft classical or jazz music.

  • The perfect temperature, augmented by fans or space heaters if needed.

Put your phone on silent or “Do Not Disturb.” Make sure any housemates know that when you are in your “reading sanctum,” you are not to be disturbed.

How To Read Faster: To Sum Up

Becoming a “Book Worm”

Speed reading and comprehension exercises have the power to turn reading from a burden into joy.

When you love reading, you don’t read because you have to. You read because you want to.

You become an efficient speed reader by surrounding yourself with books. They are your helpers, not your accusers. They serve you, not the other way around.

  • If one book doesn’t serve you, move on to the next one. 

  • If a book takes too much of your time and giving you too little in return, move on. 

  • If one book on a topic isn’t enough, get another one. Read both at the same time. 

Pick up a book that you set aside months or even years ago because the time isn’t right. The book hasn’t changed… but you have.

Books will go from being your arch-nemeses to your greatest allies, companions on a journey of self-improvement, enrichment, and advancement to higher and higher stations in life.

Spread the love…

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Focus IQ

Do You Want To Know Your Focus IQ?

Takes 3 minutes

Focus IQ

Do You Want To Know Your Focus IQ?

Takes 3 minutes