Perhaps figuring out how to read faster hasn’t been high on your list of to-dos until you saw this headline. After all, what impact could reading faster really have on your day-to-day life? As it turns out, quite a bit.
Consider this: The average business person spends a full two hours each day on work-related information management—which is essentially a fancy term for reading.
If you work a standard eight-hour day like many people, that means that literally 25% of your workday is spent reading.
That’s a pretty significant chunk of your time.
Now, ask yourself this:
What if you could change that number—while still reading and processing the same amount of material? Wouldn’t you like to save yourself that time?
Chances are, when we’re all so crunched for time as it is, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who would complain about freeing up an hour of his or her workday to dedicate to other urgent or important tasks.
With all of that in mind, it’s little to no surprise that super successful and influential business people (like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett!) have said that speed reading would be their chosen superpower if they could select just one. “I’ve probably wasted 10 years reading slowly,” Buffett has said.
While it’d certainly be a great superpower, it begs the question:
- Is being able to read faster something you’re born with, or is it a skill you can hone and refine?
- Is it possible to learn how to read quickly?
As a matter of fact, it is.
It’ll involve quite a bit of practice (as any new skill does!).
But, there are some different tips and exercises you can implement to train yourself on how to read faster.
Want to figure out how much time you spend reading? Use Toggl to track your time and measure your speed reading progress!
But what about comprehension?
Before we dive into the tips, there’s one important caveat we couldn’t go without mentioning: Reading faster accomplishes nothing for you if you aren’t able to process and retain the information that you just read.
Of course, nobody is able to comprehend every single word that they read. Some sources state that average readers read about 200 words per minute and have a typical comprehension of only 60%.
Kicking up your words per minute to 300, for example, with only a 25% comprehension rate won’t do you any good. Speed isn’t everything—you need to have a basic understanding of what you read as well.
Fortunately, the tips that we share here won’t just help you power through those words and sentences—they’ll help you comprehend and retain them too.
Six tips for reading faster
There are several different tips and strategies you can use to begin improving your average reading pace. However, this is the best place to start: Take a test to gauge your current reading level (this is a great one!).
That test involves reading a rather large chunk of text to test your speed.
When you’re finished you’ll be asked to answer several questions about what you read to get an understanding of your average comprehension as well.
Having a general grasp of the baseline where you’re starting from will help you better figure out what you can do to improve.
1. Stop yourself from subvocalizing
As you read this text, I’m willing to bet that you hear a voice in your head saying every single word. That’s normal—it’s called subvocalizing.
Think of the way that you were taught to read. You read books aloud—slowly sounding out each and every word.
That’s an effective way to learn.
But even when we no longer read aloud, that habit sticks with us and actually slows us down. That’s because the fastest readers don’t actually focus on every single word that makes up a text.
So what can you do?
Stopping yourself from subvocalizing can be tough—especially when it’s a habit you’ve practiced for decades.
However, in an article for InformED, Andrianes Pinantoan writes:
Identify that internal voice and instead of subvocalizing, try counting 1, 2, 3…etc. or humming while reading. Just glide through the words with your eyes. The important thing here is to keep practicing this as much as you can and whenever you find yourself subvocalizing just replace it with counting or humming.
Again, it’ll be a challenging routine to break. But, some practice and effort will help you turn off that voice in your head—and kick your reading pace up a few notches.
2. Preview complicated texts
Figuring out how to speed read always presents a challenge—but that’s especially true when you need to wade your way through complex, technical or jargon-laden material.
That’s just not as easy for your eyes to glide over.
Before rolling up your sleeves and investing yourself in hours spent reading and then re-reading the same lengthy sentences over and over again, take some time to preview that complicated text.
Flip through the pages or scroll down through the entire text to get a general sense for:
- How long is the text?
- What major subjects are covered in this writing?
- What sections is the text split into?
What makes this so helpful?
Well, skimming and scanning (more on that in a bit!) are helpful strategies to read faster. By previewing long texts, you’ll be able to glean which sections or areas deserve your full attention—and which you can gloss over a little more.
“It can give you as much as half the comprehension in as little as one tenth the time,” according to Maria Popova in an article for BrainPickings. “After previewing, you’ll be able to decide which reports (or which parts of which reports) are worth a closer look.”
3. Don’t be afraid to skim
When we’re learning to read, we’re taught to pay full attention to each and every word that appears on the page.
But, here’s the amazing thing about our brains:
We’re pretty capable of filling in any gaps—we only need to pick out a few important words in each sentence to get a general sense of what that text is trying to convey.
And not using the time and attention to process every single word will save you a lot of time in the long run.
However, there’s no one tried and true way to skim a text that works for everybody. The words your eyes focus on might be different from the ones that I pull out when reading that very same paragraph.
The important thing is to move quickly.
Swiftly glide your eyes over each sentence, picking out only a few words every time.
Chances are, you’ll get an understanding of what that sentence represents—without needing to invest yourself in each and every word.
Be forewarned, this approach works better for less complicated texts (it’s tough to scan and skim really academic or complex paragraphs!).
So for the lighter reading you need to do, take some time to practice this tactic. It’s sure to speed up your reading time without hindering your comprehension too much.
4. Read in clusters
There’s another strategy that can help you kick up your reading speed—but it’s a little different from just skimming a text.
Instead, it involves reading words in clusters.
“Clustering trains you to look at groups of words instead of one at a time, and it increases your speed enormously,” according to Popova from the very same BrainPickings article.
“For most of us, clustering is a totally different way of seeing what we read.”
This means that clustering won’t come naturally to you.
It’ll involve quite a bit of practice to really nail down the technique—and, it’s best to start with texts that are fairly light and easy to read.
So, what exactly is clustering?
It means that instead of focusing on individual words, you should group them together into clusters of two or three words.
Rather than reading each word in a text, you train your eyes to focus on the groupings. After all, being able to read three words in the time it would previously take you to read one is sure to take your reading speed up several notches.
Don’t become frustrated if you aren’t able to perfect this approach right away.
It’s not a natural way to read, so it’s going to involve some time and practice to really hone and refine this method.
5. Form a plan
Chances are, you don’t typically start with a plan when reading something.
Instead, you set a goal of making your way all the way through that text—and that’s it.
However, when you’re aiming for maximum efficiency, developing a strategy can help you speed up your reading. As we mentioned previously in the section on previewing texts, this strategy can help you discern what portions you do and don’t need to focus on.
“Strategically approaching a text will make a big difference in how efficiently you can digest the material,” explains Suzanne Raga in a post for MentalFloss.
So, what exactly does a reading plan look like?
Well, that can vary. Raga suggests starting by identifying your own goals.
“What do you want to learn by reading the material?” Raja asks. “Jot down some questions you want to be able to answer by the end.”
It’s also worth considering what the author’s goal was in writing the text.
If the author’s goal is much broader than your own, your plan will force you to focus on what you hope to gain from reading—which will help you pay attention to only the pertinent and relevant sections (and save yourself a lot of time!).
6. Eliminate distractions
Believe it or not, your environment can have a rather large impact on how fast you’re able to read.
When you surround yourself with a loud or distracting atmosphere, you’ll have an even tougher time zoning in on the text in front of you.
And when you’re aiming to implement any of the above strategies, that’s going to require some intense focus.
When you’re really aiming to power through some text, find a quiet space where your attention won’t constantly be ripped away from whatever you’re reading.
That will help you really dedicate yourself to reading the material, meaning you’ll be able to get it done that much faster.
TIP: One other way to improve your focus and your speed? Use your finger when reading.
Glide it under the words in a smooth, continuous motion. Not only does that keep you dedicated to the text (despite distractions!), but it’ll also prevent you from reading each individual word—which, again, is a surefire way to be a speedier reader.
Over to you
Speed reading can be an undeniably valuable skill in both your personal and professional life—particularly when we’re all so pressed for time as it is.
Think learning to read at a quicker pace is impossible?
Trust us—it’s not.
It just involves some time and some practice to train your brain to power through that text a little faster.
Put the above read faster tips to work for you, and you’re sure to notice an improvement in your reading speed.
The only thing left to do? Figure out how you’ll effectively use all of that time you’re saving!