By Marc Howard
Guest Writer for Wake Up World
Most adults read at about 250-300 words per minute (wpm). I used to be a fairly slow reader mainly for fear that when I try to read faster I start to lose comprehension so would have to backtrack wasting even more time. I’ve always had a love for reading but there are only so many hours in a day and although my reading list increased over the years my reading speed had not.
I needed a better strategy than more bookmarks.
Over time I began to bring together various tricks for faster reading, including tips from Tim Ferris (author of The 4 Hour Workweek) and several other sources like Spreeder and ReadingSoft that both have pretty amazing free online speed reading exercises (I have no affiliation with these services)…
Putting the above resources together with my own experience, what follows are simple exercises that you can do that will increase your reading speed and comprehension. With practice, you may find your reading speed doubles or even triples (as in my case). My only regret is that I did not learn these amazingly simple techniques much earlier, so now I’d like to share them with you.
Before we get into the exercise, first a little house-keeping. Keep in mind the following four things before you begin the techniques after this section.
Things You Can Do Right Now to Read Faster
1. Stop Talking To Yourself
It’s no coincidence why most people read at about only 200-300 words per minute – it’s the same speed that we speak. When you read the brain often wants to vocalize these words and results in limiting your reading speed to your “talking” speed. Even if you don’t say the words aloud as you read your mind is generally speaking these words silently to yourself, which is the same – it limits your reading speed to your talking speed.
It’s only natural as this is how we were taught in school to learn to read–word vocalization and sounding things out. If you’re reading this however chances are that you are no longer in grade school, yet for most the same old habit remains. We need to excel past vocalization, just as we have significantly improved our vocabulary and comprehension since those grade school days.
When you no longer say the words in your head as you read you will notice a significant increase in your reading speed because your mind is now no longer tied to the slower speed of your speech.
In short read without verbalizing the words. To make this easier try to read while chewing gum or even humming to yourself which forces your mouth to stay preoccupied.
2. Chunk Words Together
Instead of reading a line word-by-word chucking allows you to group words together so that your eyes can cover the entire line faster. Sites like Spreeder.com have this in their free web tool with neat features like being able to adjust the chuck size and speed of the words flashing by.
3. Stop Re-Reading
As I mentioned earlier my fear was always having to go back and re-read because I did not comprehend what was just read. This can be because you daydream when reading (most people do this so space out for a second only to have to reread). A trick is to use a plain card to cover-up the text that you’ve already read. This may not be practical every time you read but keep in mind the more the following exercises are practiced the less regression or rereading will be necessary.
4. Use Your Peripheral Vision
When you read the eyes usually start at the beginning of each line as it continues reading words one-by-one to the end of the line. This is a waste of your peripheral vision and a waste of time. The best and fastest readers focus their eyes on at most two words per line. They actually start at the second or third word in each line (instead of the first word) then over to the second or third word in from the last word of the line.
In other words, if a single line was ten words they would only focus their eyes on two. This allows their peripheral vision to “see” the remaining letters allowing a quicker read of the line.
Try These Practical Techniques
First to determine your current wpm baseline you can hop over to ReadingSoft to take a quick free test. Make a note of this wpm number as you’ll then compare it to your new reading speed at the end of this exercise.
So here we go. Grab a pen (to use as a word tracker as we read), a timer, and a book that you can practice with and lets begin. You will be quite amazed at how simple this exercise is and how much faster you will be able to read in just a few minutes – I was absolutely blown away.
Method To Increase Reading Speed
(Set timer for two minutes): Once your timer begins read each line but spend no more than one-second per line. You will use your pen to underline each word (keep the cap on) to give your eye a fixed point to follow along as you read. Do not be concerned about retention or comprehension of the passage at this point. This step is all about speed.
(Set time for three minutes): Same as step one except now use no more than a half-second per line (so you will read two lines in one second).
Expanding Field of Vision
a. (Set time for one-minute): Again spend no more than one second per line but this time begin one word in from the first word of each line and end one word in from the last line.
b. (Set time for one minute): Same as above except this time start reading at second word in from beginning of the line and complete each line focusing your eyes on the second word end from the end of each line.
c. (Set time for three minutes): Finally focus on the third word from the beginning and end of each line and only spend a half-second per line.
This can be pretty tough at first and you more than likely will lose comprehension as your speed increases. Keep with it. Your brain is like a muscle and with practice your speed and comprehension will both increase.
Now go back to the ReadingSoft site and using the skills above (up to 3c) take the test over to get your new wpm. How much faster did you increase? Was your comprehension just as good? With practice this will become second nature and you will be amazed at just how efficiently you can read!
About the Author:
Marc Howard is an expat from the United States who decided to quit his six-figure day job, hitch-hike 300 miles meeting 14 strangers along the way, then move half-way around the world for his next adventure. An avid international traveler, Marc is a lover of exotic foods, and true believer in personal experimentation. When he’s not writing he’s usually in the middle of some weird personal experiment, such as not eating for seven days.
You can catch up with Marc at WhenYouLiveInTheNow.com or follow him on Twitter.