How to Read Faster
Read a book like an athlete runs a race: with focus, intention, and speed. Reading ambassador and bestselling author, Abby Marks Beale, has developed speed-reading strategies to help you sprint marathons and see reading in a different way. If you want to learn how to read faster, start by breaking down bad habits and then try new techniques to improve reading efficiency and information retention. Speed-reading isn’t just a skill to increase your ‘words per minute,’ it encourages you to grow confidence and live with more intention.
Reading faster begins before you start reading
Be selective and tune into your intention. Before you pull a book from a shelf or open a journal article, ask yourself: why am I reading this? Why do I need this information? This pause for thought will hopefully help you cull all of the unnecessary material you would have otherwise flicked through absentmindedly.
Don’t get too comfortable. If you need to focus, approach your reading with your ‘work mode’ hat on. Snuggling into bed with a cup of tea and a highlighter pack precariously balanced on your knee won’t do. Your speed reading environment needs to be a chamber of concentration: sit in a quiet space away from distractions. Go to a library or an area away from your office desk so you don’t risk being interrupted by emails and colleagues and phone calls.
Preview information. When you have a long boring document to read, tackle it with a little bit of preparation. Break the beast down: read chapter titles, subheadings and then the first line of each paragraph. This will give you a great overview so you can sift through the important sections from the irrelevant parts, and make informed decisions about what you should spend your time reading. Previewing and preparation extracts a massive 40 percent of the key information in the material, much of the rest is just padding and illustration. Practice pre-viewing and you’ll start to instantly filter out unnecessary text and read documents and books faster.
Speed-reading is not just a skill, it’s a thought process which begins before you even look at a page.
How to not read every word
Focus on keywords. You don’t need to read the whole sentence to understand the meaning. Keywords are typically more than three letters long and they hold all the information you need. For instance, ‘The rabbit nibbled on his carrot.’
Try the indenting method. Train your peripheral vision with this popular technique for reading faster. Focus your gaze on the middle section of the sentence, roughly half an inch from the beginning and end of a line. At first, this may seem very unnatural, so you can add some stabilizers by drawing a couple of pencil lines down the page as guides. You will start to feel your gaze absorb the whole phrase, even though your eyes are focusing on the middle chunk of words in the sentence.
Stop subvocalizing. Subvocalizing is when you unintentionally speak aloud and mumble the words you’re reading. It really slows your reading down because the thought is faster than the word. To overcome subvocalizing chew gum or hum along as you read. The rhythm of these actions will push your pace of reading on and stop you from forming every word into a sound.
Use your finger as a guide. Our eyes are naturally drawn to movement so your gaze will chase your finger along the page. Run your finger at a quick pace in a zig-zag formation. This will prevent you from subvocalizing every word, and make you read faster.
Try the magic white card trick. At school, you may have been taught to place a white card under the line you are reading. This method is good for children who need to go back and check new vocabulary. By covering up the sentences to come, you are effectively building a wall in your path and slowing yourself down. Competent adult readers should have the confidence that they don’t need to check every other word twice. Make the simple adjustment of placing the white card above the line you are reading, covering the sentences just read. This eliminates regression and encourages confidence, pushing you forward down the page.
Speed demands focus. When you walk you have time to chat, daydream, and write a text message. All of these extra actions split your attention. Running, however, demands that you drop all distractions. Speed-reading is like running: pushing yourself to go faster increases focus and encourages you to trust yourself more.
How to read fast and retain information
Make notes. We’ve all been told a million times at school, but in the working world, it’s easy to forget to pick up your pen. Here’s a classic situation: it’s the first day of your new job and the HR manager hands you a 150-page health and safety manual to read. You want to get through it quickly to impress, but it’s long and boring and the first day nerves are distracting your concentration. Use the speed-reading techniques outlined above and jot down a few notes so you have something to say when grilled about the company’s fire drill procedure.
Breaks bring focus. Studies show that people concentrate at their optimum for twenty minutes at a time. So to successfully speed-read and retain all important material, you should have short ten-minute breaks per every twenty to thirty minutes of focused work.
For more speed-reading strategies try Abby Marks Beale’s 10 Days to Faster Reading and read faster now! You can also listen to Marks Beale speak about how to speed-read on the Simplify podcast. Reading quickly is about training your focus and being intentional about what you do. Start to trust yourself not to stumble, you can run along a page without looking back.