I always thought speed reading was a scam.
You know, like those late-night infomercials that promise you the secret to getting rich without doing any real work.
“Watch Howard read an entire 350-page book in 10 minutes with perfect recall.”
The promise of being able to triple my reading speed sounded amazing, but I just didn’t believe it was possible.
I mean, I already read pretty fast, don’t I?
Speed Reading Techniques That Work
Despite my skepticism, one day I picked up a book on speed reading at a local book store and decided to try out some of the exercises. What I discovered shocked me. Within a week of practicing a few simple speed reading exercises for just a few minutes each day, I tripled my reading speed from an average of 300 words per minute (WPM) to 900 WPM.
If you’ve never learned how to “speedread” or “photoread,” you will be amazed how quickly you can improve your reading speed and improve your comprehension.
Reading 1,000+ words per minute and comprehending even more of what you read than when you were a slow reader sounds impossible… but it’s not.
In fact, reading faster and remembering more can actually be physically easier than it is to read slow.
Retrain Your Brain to Read Faster
The truth is, you never learned how to read fast growing up. Chances are, from the moment you were first taught how to read, you were taught completely inefficient reading strategies.
We were all taught how to read slowly in school, but slow reading is a result of poor reading habits. When you change how you read, you will immediately see improvements in your reading speed and comprehension.
The average person reads about 200–300 words per minute—a very slow pace that makes reading much more difficult than it should be.
Note: If you read 200 words per minute, it will take you 8 hours—an entire day’s work—to read a full-length novel or 400-page nonfiction book.
So why do we read so slowly?
There are three main things slow readers do that keep them from reading faster and understanding more of what they read:
- Inefficient eye movements
- Lack of concentration
In this post, we’re going to cover these 3 key steps to improving your reading speed in detail.
But first, we need to discuss the speed reading learning process so you know what to expect and the key mistakes to avoid.
Learn to Speed Read
Once you learn proper reading techniques and turn your new reading behaviors into a habit, reading faster will become effortless.
As you are practicing these new habits, realize that you should not be interested in comprehension while practicing.
The goal during speed reading exercises is to change your muscle memory and improve your reading habits and eye movements.
Focus first on changing your habits, and when your brain adjusts to this new method of reading, you will comprehend as much, if not more, than you did when you were reading slow.
Just like when Tiger Woods changed his golf swing at the top of his game, it will take you some time to adjust to this new way of reading.
But when your new reading habits kick in, watch out! You’ll be reading faster and comprehending more than you ever dreamed possible.
Here’s how the speed reading training process will look as you go from slow reader to speed reader.
A. Learn the proper speed reading technique.
First, you’re going to learn the proper technique for reading faster.
We will focus on learning one new reading technique at a time.
B. Practice the technique.
Second, you’re going to practice the proper reading technique slowly so that you understand how to do it correctly.
C. Practice reading quickly.
Next, you’re going to practice the new reading strategy at an incredibly fast pace—so fast that you can barely comprehend anything you’re reading during this practice.
The reason you want to practice reading so quickly is because your brain can process far more information than the 200–300 words per minute you are probably reading currently.
Your brain simply doesn’t have the experience to comprehend what you read when you 10x your reading speed and try to read at 2,000-3,000 words per minute.
If you read at this incredibly fast speed, however, your brain will start to catch up. Not only will you change your muscle memory and how your eyes move on the page, but you will change the wiring in your brain to allow you to comprehend more of what you read faster.
D. Turn technique into habit and focus on improving comprehension.
When you practice a speed reading exercise, you are not practicing reading as much as you are practicing eye movements. By learning better, more efficient methods of moving your eyes, you will become a better and faster reader.
Just like learning a new golf swing or basketball jumpshot, at first you will feel very uncomfortable. The movement will feel clunky, awkward and strange. That’s normal; it’s part of the learning process. But when you master this new technique, you will be amazed at the results.
Finally, you’re going to turn this new reading technique into a lifelong habit and focus on improving your reading comprehension at your new, much faster reading speed.
1. How to Retrain Your Eye Muscles to Read Faster
If you study how your eyes move and function when you read, you’ll quickly discover that most people use their eyes very inefficiently when reading with a lot of wasted eye movements.
How Your Eyes Read
Your eyes take snapshots, like a photograph, of the text you are reading.
When your eye stops at a certain part of the page, it’s called a fixation.
Most people are taught to read word by word, and so we take way too many eye fixations as we read. These frequent eye fixations on almost every word on the page slow us down and create a mechanical barrier to reading faster.
This slow reading process is like taking photographs of blank space, and taking multiple photographs of the same exact thing several times—it’s just really inefficient.
If you can simply train your eyes to stop less frequently during reading, you can read more.
When you reduce eye fixations, you increase reading speed.
When your eyes fixate on a particular word, you can see far more than just that one word on the page with your foveal and parafoveal vision.
Instead of only reading one or two words per eye fixation as you read, you can learn to read 3–7 words (or more) with each eye fixation.
This one simple change can help most people triple their reading speed!
This exercise will help you put this technique into practice.
Speed Reading Exercise 1: Practice Eye Movements
Grab a fiction or nonfiction book and let’s practice better eye movement habits to help you read faster.
Instead of reading by looking at the first word on each line as you read, simply start by focusing on the second word. Your first eye fixation on each line will start with the second word instead of the first.
You will also fixate on the second-to-last word on each line. This way, you won’t be wasting an eye fixation by creating an image of the mostly blank spaces in the margins.
Give yourself two minutes to practice this new way of reading, and read as fast as you can. Try to stop your eyes no more than once every 2–3 words on each line.
2. Stop Rereading and Start Focusing
Rereading and backtracking while you read is incredibly inefficient.
There are two main types of rereading: conscious and unconscious.
Conscious rereading is called regression. This is when you consciously decide to stop reading and go back to a previous spot you already read in order to better understand it.
Unconscious rereading is when your eye fixates on the wrong spot. Switching your eyes from one line to the next and losing your spot on the page are examples of unconscious rereading, or back-skipping.
There are many reasons why you may reread a sentence, word, paragraph, or more.
Maybe you weren’t paying attention or you got distracted while reading (if so, check out Step 3 on improving your concentration while reading).
There are many reasons why you may reread. The average reader is constantly getting lost and rereading text, which is one of the reasons why most folks are such slow readers.
The good news is that fixing conscious and unconscious rereading is very straight-forward with a simple speed reading exercise that involves reading with a pointer.
Speed Reading Exercise 2: Force Yourself to Stop Rereading
Let’s practice a simple exercise that will help you eliminate the bad habits that keep you rereading text.
Grab a fiction or nonfiction book and a pen. You don’t need to write with the pen, so keep the cap on.
Read a section of your book using the pen as a pointer to guide your eyes (you can also use your finger as a pointer, but I find using a pen is much easier and faster).
You’re going to move the pen steadily at the same pace across the page just underneath (or above) the words you’re reading. You are not allowed to move your eyes backwards.
You can’t reread. You can’t go back. The pen only moves forward and so do your eyes.
If you don’t comprehend what you’re reading, don’t worry. Remember, that’s not the point while you are practicing and changing your reading habits. Trust me, you will comprehend more than you ever have before after you change your habits.
As you go through this pointer exercise, gradually increase the speed of the pen’s movement. Continue increasing the speed until you can barely comprehend one or two words per line. The goal here is to train your eyes and brain to read at a steady pace and not backtrack.
Note: Make sure when you do the speed reading exercise with a pen that you do not point the pen or fixate your eyes on the first or last words of each line. If you do these speed reading exercises in order and practice properly, you will dramatically increase your learning curve.
Perfect practice makes perfect. Bad practice just gives you more (or different) bad habits.
3. Concentration: Read Faster and Understand More
Concentration is a key element to effective reading, and it’s particularly challenging for several reasons.
First of all, we have our mind to deal with. That little voice inside your head is easily distracted and can get off track. Practicing mindfulness training and meditation can help us learn how to control our minds.
But that’s just the beginning when it comes to getting distracted and losing focus when reading…
We also have to deal with stimulation (or lack thereof). You see, your brain can process far more information than you can read. Once you become a proficient reader, reading becomes a habit. And, just like driving a car, you can easily do it while your mind wanders. The big difference, though, is that when your mind wanders while reading, you have to keep backtracking.
Even though you can read unconsciously, you can’t comprehend everything you read without conscious effort. And that requires focus and undivided attention.
The good news is that once you start practicing speed reading, you’ll be reading a LOT faster than the average reader.
That means more information and input is going into your brain at a faster rate, and that means more stimulation.
More Stimulation Means Less Distraction
This is actually a really good thing because it helps you stay more focused. It’s easy to zone out and get bored when you only read 150 or 200 words per minute. Try zoning out while you’re reading 1,000 words per minute! I find it impossible to do so.
Because when I read that fast, I have to stay laser focused. I’m turning pages way faster. I’m moving my eyes way faster. I’m reading SO much more information at once that if I lose my focus, I won’t be able to keep up the pace.
The pointer exercise and training on eliminating reading regression also help to dramatically improve your focus because you KNOW you can’t reread.
When you realize that rereading is no longer an option, you can’t afford to think about what you had for lunch or what your annoying co-worker said—you have to focus on reading or else you’re going to miss a lot of important information!
Concentration is a key ingredient to speed reading success, but the good news is that the same exercises that help you eliminate regression and improve your eye fixations will also help you concentrate more on the task at hand.
If all you do are the two simple speed reading exercises we’ve covered here every day for 5 minutes, over the course of 30 days you will dramatically improve your ability to concentrate while reading—and, if you’re an average or below-average reader now, you will easily triple your reading speed.
More Speed Reading Tips
As you practice with the speed reading exercises explained above, make sure you read a variety of material. Start with the easy stuff—light nonfiction or fiction that’s easy to read and comprehend.
For your first week of practice, just read the easy stuff.
After the first week, you can start reading more challenging books during your practices session. Again, you’re not supposed to comprehend everything during practice. The reason you want to practice speed reading exercises with a variety of reading materials is because you’re building a habit.
You don’t want to only use speed reading when you read novels—you want to train your brain to always be speed reading (when you want to). The more types of reading material you practice with, the faster your brain will learn and the faster your new speed reading habits will be solidified.
Also, make sure to practice a lot with the types of material you read most frequently. If you’re constantly reading on a computer screen for work, practice speed reading on a computer screen after your first week of training.
Benefits of Speed Reading
In case you’re curious, there are over 2500 words in this article. That means that the average reader finished reading the article in 10-12 minutes. By comparison, a speed reader would have been finished in just 3 minutes with even better comprehension.
I say this not to discourage you, but rather to encourage you that it can be done.
Now just imagine how much time you have wasted so far in life on inefficient reading, and what you could have done with that time if you had learned better reading strategies from an early age!
Also consider how much time you could save in the future by becoming a faster reader… Over the next year, five years, 10 years or more, you could become a lot more productive with that extra time (or use it to spend more time with your family or doing what you love).
Try these speed reading exercises for yourself and you’ll be amazed at the results and benefits of learning proper reading techniques.
What do you think about speed reading? Have you tried speed reading before? Post your thoughts, comments and tips on speed reading below!
If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.