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How to Read Fast

Whether you skim a blog post, look at files for work, or read a book, you probably read something new every day. But slogging through those long texts can be time-consuming, mentally exhausting, and difficult on the eyes. But imagine, how much more could you accomplish if all of your required reading was completed in 1/3rd or 1/5th of the time it usually takes?

Staples sponsored a speed-reading test that found humans on average read at the following speeds at various stages of education:

  • Third-grade students - 150 words per minute (wpm)

  • Eight-grade students - 250

  • Average college student - 450

  • Average high-level executive - 575

  • Average college professor - 675

  • Speed readers - 1,500

  • World speed reading champion - 4,700

  • Average adult: 300 wpm

Have you ever felt that if you could read faster you could have covered more? Or, I have so many books to read, but so I have so little time. Or maybe, How can I get through all these articles more quickly?

Well, the answer to all these questions lies in the concept of Speed Reading.

What is speed reading?

Speed reading is a skill that allows you to recognize and absorb phrases or sentences quickly. It is a significant increase in word-per-minute rate while retaining comprehension level when reading. The goal of speed reading is to make this process at least five times faster. Because the saccade period cannot be reduced further, speed reading focuses on faster fixations.

One most well-known speed reader was U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Coming from a family that emphasized the importance of education and reading at an early age, he was a speed reader who could read up to 2,000 words per minute.

What is the reading process for any person with a normal reading speed?

The initial stage is to focus the gaze on a word. This ‘fixation’ on each word lasts around 0.25 seconds. Then the focus is shifted to the next word. The brain moves from one word to the next in 0.1 seconds and this is called a ‘saccade’. Normally, it takes 4-5 words or a sentence in a person’s thoughts at once. After all of the fixations, the brain goes back over the entire phrase to understand the meaning. This takes around a half-second. Overall, this suggests that the average person reads 200 to 300 words each minute.

So, coming to the next part, what are the ways you can improve your speed reading?

1. Start using a timer - Speaking of record time, this is your chance to put yourself to the test and focus on improving your reading speed each time you read.

Set a timer for one minute and read normally as the time passes. When the timer runs off, keep track of how many pages you've read. Continue repeating this, beating your previous count each time. Set a daily or weekly goal for yourself and reward yourself when you achieve it. Continue playing this small game, and you'll soon be able to boost your reading speed!

2. Practice, practice, and practice - As the old saying goes, "Practice makes a man perfect" is pretty darn accurate.

My friend disliked reading as a child. He used to have a speech problem, which made it difficult for him to pronounce words. As a result, his reading speed deteriorated, and reading quickly became his greatest fear. His reading speed improved after speech therapy and a lot of practice — and then it took off. He can now read 700 words per minute (the average person reads between 200 and 300 words per minute).

Speed reading, like any other skill, can be learned. The more you read, the better you will become. The more proficient you are at reading, the faster you will read.

When I was a child, I used to take private tuition for English. At times, the teacher just used to say “practice reading out loud and she used to make me do it” again and again and again. I used to tell her that I am not comprehending the concepts because I am reading so fast so asked me to never stop and keep practicing.

3. Be attentive - Reading quickly and accurately demands focus and concentration. Reduce outside noise, distractions, and interruptions, and be attentive when your thoughts wander while reading.

Whether you read fiction or nonfiction, you will have seen that each paragraph is interlinked to the other, as if each dot is connected to the other. Many readers read a few phrases casually and without focus, then go back and reread them to ensure they comprehend. This behavior, known as regression, will drastically slow you down and will make it difficult for you to get a big-picture view of the text. For example, If you find yourself daydreaming about your next meal rather than paying attention to the text, gently pull your attention back to it.

4. Start setting a strict deadline - If you have a strict deadline, you can complete your reading faster.

I was reading the book ‘My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future’ by Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo, where she talks about how she learned to do speed reading during her childhood. As a child, she was a member of the library that was located just a few blocks away from her house. The library allowed the members to borrow unlimited books, but only on one condition – all the books had to be returned the very next day. As the time to complete reading all the books was very limited, Indra started practicing speed reading, which later on helped her in her professional life.

Keep a strict deadline that you will cover 10 or 15 pages of the book in an hour. Once you create this sense of urgency within your mind, you will be able to complete reading faster.

5. Practice increasing your vocabulary - Consider a situation where you are reading a book when you come across a word you don't recognize. Do you avoid it? Do you try to guess it from the context? Do you take the time to look it up? Whichever path you select, you are significantly slowing down, if not completely stopping, your time to search for the retarding word.

You will know more words if you work on growing your vocabulary. The more words you learn, the faster you will read. The faster you read, the more you can cover. It may seem simple, but it is one of the important steps in speed reading.

By using these simple tips that I shared you can also become a speed reader. You should be able to raise your reading style depending on whether you're reading for pleasure or for need. Read a book like an athlete runs a race: with intention, speed, and attention. Speed reading is more than just a technique for increasing your 'words per minute;' it also pushes you to gain confidence and live with greater intention.

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