We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – knowledge is the real currency in today’s times. The amount of information that we process is growing by the minute – whether it's emails, reports, books, or websites. With this vast quantity of information comes the enormous pressure to assimilate, process, and then act on this information. So, what could you do to make sure you don’t get swept away, or worse, drown in this flood of information?
Some of the best skills to possess in the knowledge economy are speed reading and comprehension. In fact, these are some of the best skills to develop for mental and professional growth.
First things first, let’s understand what the normal reading speed is. The average adult reading speed stands at around 300 words per minute (wpm). With speed reading, you could double or triple this rate. While the Internet abounds with speed reading experts who boast speeds over 1000 wpm, most of these claims are shrouded in controversy for the lack of comprehension-based evidence. That said, a speed of over 500 wpm is a good benchmark to aspire, and of course, surpass.
In this article, we present to you five actionable and easy techniques you can use to read faster and cut down on the amount of time you spend on sifting through and consuming information.
5 Techniques to Improve Your Reading Speed
Simply put, this method involves reading a group of words. It helps you recognize natural breaks, such as short sentences or word groupings, and focus on smaller segments to comprehend them as one piece of information.
Pro-tip: Try this. Take an article or page you’re about to read. Use a pencil to divide the page into three columns, with each having two to four words in a row. Try reading them together, flitting from one column to another. Practice this method until you don’t need the columns.
2. Learn How to Combine Scanning and Skimming
As children, we were taught to pay attention to every word in a sentence. Studies, however, show that the adult mind has the ability to fill in information gaps without reading every word. The human eye can actually take in about 1.5 inches at a glance, which includes five words.
Scanning is a quick way to find specific information in a text without reading every single word. It is one of the most important skills you need to develop if you want to read faster.
Skimming, on the other hand, is a technique that involves visually searching the sentences of a page for clues to the main idea. However, skimming by itself can affect comprehension. The key is the right combination of both scanning and skimming – with skimming guiding the scanning. Read on to see how you can do this.
Pro-tip: Use skimming as an effective pre-reading tool. Skimming allows you to map out a document and understand its flow and structure better. This then allows you to pay more attention to the portions you think are important. This way, even if comprehension might be affected, you’ll at least know where to slow down.
Follow skimming with scanning, and you have a winning combination.
3. Manage Subvocalization
This technique is a topic of much debate. When children learn to read, they vocalize the words. As adults, we subvocalize, which means that we say the words in our minds. The average speaking rate is about 150 words per minute, while the average reading speed is about 200 – 300 words per minute. So, common sense would suggest that we silence that voice.
However, it’s often not possible to comprehend what you’re reading without using that inner voice. So, reading faster means using this inner voice faster, not eliminating it entirely. Which is why we call this method ‘manage’ subvocalization.
Expert speed readers also subvocalize, they just do it faster. One way to do this is to use chunking as it’s much harder to vocalize sets of words than single words.
Pro-tip: Experts suggest that it is possible to silence this reading voice. Listening to music while reading can help. At first, it might affect your comprehension. But soon you’ll notice your concentration increases.
4. Know What You Want From the Text
Determining your direction and focus is important to prepare you to know what you need from the text. It also reminds you to pay attention when you see relevant words or phrases. While this is obviously a great way to improve reading comprehension, it also helps you read faster.
Pro-tip: Make a set of questions for yourself before you start reading, This will definitely save you time spent looking through useless information.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice
An important point to remember is that practicing speed reading is different from practicing just reading. It has to be a focused effort. If you are serious about learning to read faster, you have to practice the method of speed reading, not just reading. There are apps and software that help you do just that. With time and effort, it will begin to feel natural and translate into the way you read.
Pro-tip: Use technology tools to practice speed reading. Outread is an app that guides your eyes through a reading list with the help of a highlighting marker. Spreeder’s speed reading training course uses methods like ‘pointing’ (electronically) to improve reading speed and comprehension.
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6. Rely on Recall
At the end of each page, or every few paragraphs, pause and recall what you just read. This gives you time to assimilate information and re-orient before you go ahead.
7. Track your Progress
What you can’t measure, you can’t improve. Make it a point to consistently read varied text with the same word-count and time your results. Identify and record your baseline reading speed, set yourself a goal, and practice hard.
If you’re looking for some benchmarks to set for yourself, here are some findings from the speed reading research conducted by Staples.
- Average adult: 300 wpm
- Eighth grade students = 250
- Average college student = 450
- Average “high-level exec” = 575
- Average college professor = 675
- Speed readers = 1,500
- World speed reading champion = 4,700
Practice Yields Results
We hope the tips outlined in this article help you on your learning journey. Speed reading is a great tool in your armor as you work on your professional and mental growth. We highly recommend that you dedicate time and effort to the process. While results may take time to show, they will be worth the effort.
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