Want to know how to read faster and retain more information? Then you’re in the right place.
On one hand, you have the books that need your total attention, time on your hand, and perhaps a coffee to read through.
Classics like East of Eden, Of Mice and Men and War and Peace require you to sit patiently through every word and every sentence unless you miss an inkling of what the author is trying to say.
On the other hand, we have some reading materials that do not need so much of our attention or our concentration, and frankly, the list is longer here.
When you wake up in the morning, the first things that you do are either to check your mail, or look through the newspaper.
Do we need to concentrate on these two types of reading too much? Not really? What about grocery lists, Facebook and Twitter posts, movie subtitles or meeting briefs?
Important reading materials, but not so much that you have you isolate yourself from the rest of the world to go through them.
That is where the concept of Speed Reading comes in.
How To Read Faster And Retain More Information
Speed reading is, to state the obvious, reading anything at a great speed, fully understanding the meaning but shortening the average time needed by a great extent.
Modern time has come up with newer and newer opportunities that require the necessity of speed reading; as time has gone by, more and more research is being done on this topic.
Now-a-days, we have a number of methods, courses, trainings, software and even apps that help learn speed reading.
The average person reads 200-400 words in a minute, more or less depending on their educational background, age, experience and the intensity of the text that they are reading.
Other factors are important too, such as whether we are concentrating on something else at the same time, i.e. multi-tasking, and whether there is disturbance in the environment, i.e. sound, noise, other people talking to us, etc.
A person experienced in speed reading can read up to 1,000-1,200 words a minute – which is to say 5/6 times the normal speed – fully comprehending what the text is trying to say, and the message it is conveying.
Importance of Speed Reading
It is wholly possible that you, while reading this text, is still dubious about the importance and necessity of this skill, and there are many questions forming in your mind.
Questions such as: is this skill really necessary in real life? Or, do we really achieve something by learning to read and comprehend at a speed?
Let me put a few extremely simple scenarios before you.
Suppose you are at a hurried trip to the supermarket and need to finish shopping as soon as possible.
Instead of wasting your time going through each and every item on the list, you scan through it in a few seconds to decide which aisle to hit first, and optimize your time by finishing your shopping aisle by aisle.
How does that sound?
You wake up late on a workday, and have two options: spend a few minutes checking your thousands of mails because you have an important email coming in and risking more tardiness, or getting out of bed to get ready.
How about a compromise? Scan through your mails in a moment and then get ready for work?
You are going in for an important work meeting in a matter of minutes, and you haven’t had the time to prepare yourself for this new client.
Do you face them knowing nothing about their company, or do you spend a few precious moments on the internet skimming through their basic ideals and history so that you begin to understand them?
You are in the last few pages of an extremely interesting thriller, but you have to leave soon. You know you cannot rest until you know the end of the story.
Do you want to be left irritated and unsatisfied because you couldn’t finish, or do you want to scan through the last few pages so that you know the end?
The real-life examples above – and many more so – are the perfect reasons why speed reading is an important and necessary skill, especially in this fast paced life. Moreover,
Speed Reading keeps you prepared, always.
When you are adapt in this skill, you will find yourself be prepared to embrace any situation that comes your way, be it a surprise test in class, or a sudden board meeting.
Speed Reading improves Concentration.
It does, in more ways than one. When you are speed reading, you are – for the moment – putting all your focus into that one task.
This is a good practice when you have to concentrate on other activities throughout your busy days.
Speed Reading makes you more confident.
Imagine finding yourself in a situation where you barely know the details, such as finding yourself face-to-face with a person and not knowing anything about them?
A little speed reading about their background, a little meddling into Google, and you will find a lot to talk about – not just about the weather, but about topics that are meaningful to them.
Taking an impromptu vacation, or going to a office retreat with your colleagues?
Learn everything there is to know about the place you are visiting by speed reading through brochures, local history and guidebooks and impress your boss with your knowledge, before any other colleagues of yours.
Methods of Speed Reading
Speed reading is an effective and important skill that needs clear understanding and practice.
There are a few important methods and ways to speed read through any text that we are going to describe in details in this part of text.
These methods will help you speed up your reading speed at least 3 or 4 times, saving time and keeping you prepared.
Skimming is a process where a reader visually goes through an entire text body, looking only for the main idea of the content instead of reading each and every word.
Some people do it by reading the first two or three paragraphs of an article, the first few sentences of a paragraph, or a few random sentences in the top, middle or bottom of the article.
Skimming a text may sometimes not give the reader a clear idea of all that a body of text has to offer, and only the general idea present in that text.
This is a good technique to follow in a hurry, but may proof to be faulty if the text in question is written in an unorthodox manner or suddenly changes ideas and tone in the middle of it.
There are a few steps of skimming the content of a text.
- Have a general understanding of what the text is about.
- If possible, read the first paragraph in detail. This will give you an idea about the style of the writer and the tone of the text.
- Read the first few sentences of the rest of the paragraphs, moving your eye over the other part of the paragraphs to catch any important words.
- Read the last paragraph of the text to check if it matches the idea and the tone of the rest of the body.
Skimming is a good practice for situations like revising before an exam, or going through a mail that you have written to an important correspondence.
Scanning is an even faster process and helps to speed up reading to a greater extent.
Unlike in skimming, while scanning a text or content, the reader only looks for some specific word or phrases in a whole text.
For example, suppose you are reading the newspaper with the target of looking for a specific news, i.e. a tragic occurrence in your neighborhood.
You won’t need to read all the articles of the newspaper to look for that particular piece of news; rather, all you need to do is to scan the pages until the familiar name of your neighborhood catches your eye.
To make scanning easier, it is advisable to narrow up your searches a little bit.
As with the example above, when looking for news of a tragic occurrence in your neighborhood, it may be easier if you are looking in the right pages, i.e. the crime section, or local news.
Similarly, when you are looking for the word ‘xylophone’ in the dictionary, it is sufficient that you look in the ‘X’ section of the book, and not any others.
Or, when you are looking for a particular chapter of a book, you look at the Index in the beginning of the book, rather than go through the whole book.
Scanning comes naturally to people.
We are constantly scanning texts instead of reading them in our everyday life – advertisement billboards, nutrient values on packaged food, telephone directory entries, contact list on our phones, and many others.
It is a human instinct to scan through things to wait for something that catches our eye and our attention.
3. Meta Guiding
In this method, the reader takes the aid of a pointed device – such as a pen, a finger or a pointer – to guide their eyes through the sentences in the text.
This helps the eye move around the text faster than during normal times, and result in a speedy reading ability.
This technique slightly resembles a child who is learning to read the first time, as they too use their finger to read the sentences in a text that is new to them.
When an individual moves their finger along the lines of a text, their eyes – and their reading speed – naturally follow the movement of their finger.
As time passes, the movement of the finger becomes fast, and this also increases the speed of reading, as well.
Practicing any of these three methods for more or less an hour can give you the skill to speed read any text – no matter how complicated or intense.
Now that you have knowledge about these methods, it is time to start trying them out. Maybe we can start our practice in the next paragraph?
Tricks of the Trade
Speed reading is actually a skill based on a number of tricks and ideas that combine together to make you able to read any text further.
Not all of these tricks work for all people; rather, a single person only needs one of two to get going.
When you are trying to learn how to speed read through a number of documents, contents and text, we would advise you to try each of these tricks described below to see which one helps you the most, or which one is suitable to your reading style.
1. Read in Groups
Instead of reading and trying to understand each word separately, try to read them in groups.
Reading a group of words takes less time as they require less eyes movement than to look at and read each word separately.
In a paragraph, mentally take three or four words to make small groups and read them together, trying to comprehend the meaning together. For example:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…
This way, your mind will soon become trained to make groups of similar word; like in the example above, the mind will know to form groups where some words are repetitive and less important (i.e. it was) and which words which are more important t comprehend the overall meaning of the text (i.e. the rest of the words).
2. Limit eye movements
Instead of moving your eyes all over the page in a wide area, limit them to the sentence that you are reading at that moment. Also, limit the breadth your eyes are covering to the edges of the sentence.
Another trick you can try is to draw a light line right at the middle of the length of the text you are reading with a pencil and keep your eyes steady on that point.
Afterwards, when you start reading, move your eyes – only your eyes – from one edge of the sentence to the other, keeping your primary gaze constant.
This would reduce unnecessary movement of your head and your eyes, and bring an order to your eye movement, and in the long run, save time.
3. Stop Sub-vocalization
We may not know this, but most of us – while reading – repeat the word that we are seeing on a page or a screen, in our mind. Or, we tend to imagine how the word sounds like, or imagine the word being spoken aloud.
This is a time-consuming habit that almost all of us have but don’t realize.
Most of us acquire this habit when we are very young and learning our A-B-Cs, but the habit stays on even when we are adults and fluent in our language.
What was then a learning technique becomes a huge and time-consuming liability in the later years.
So, stop this habit – i.e. to stop sub-vocalizing (1) what we read could save a lot of time, since we will not be wasting time in trying to imagine the sound of each and every individual word.
The words in the text would only hold its meaning to our understanding, and not sound – which is not important when we are in a hurry to finish reading something.
4. Avoid Re-reading content
Whether it is because we need to refer back to something, or we need to understand a sentence better, we sometimes have a tendency to go back to a previous sentence, a previous paragraph or a previous page.
Needless to say, this is extremely time consuming – both the time needed to find what we are looking for, read it and take a moment to understand it.
This is a bad practice when it comes to speed reading.
Avoid re-reading any part of the text that you have passed, even if it means that you do not understand or remember what it meant.
Chances are that you will get the gist of the text as you go along; however, if it is very important, you are allowed to sneak a peek – but only for a moment – to a previous reference.
These clever tricks can help you immensely along the way when you are trying to practice your speed reading skills. Try them and see which one (or, ones) suit you best!
Learn to Speed Read in 1 Hour
And now comes the part where you can actually sit down and practice speed reading – a step by step guide that will help you along the way.
Follow these well-described steps and you can get the hang of it in around an hour or less!
Set the Environment
Yes, the environment is very important, because after all, we are here to learn. Don’t try to force yourself into a skill when the environment doesn’t favor you.
Settle for a comfortable background – well lit and quiet – for your first lesson.
Switch off the television and any music that may be blaring nearby; clear off from the crowd and stay alone for the time being.
Reduce distractions (2); it is better if you are in the comforts of your own home than in a crowded place with noise and disturbances.
Be Alert and Aware
It is hardly the perfect time to start learning a skill when you are feeling groggy, disheveled or hurried.
Better to start when you are relaxed, have no immediate engagements to keep, and is feeling peaceful – as with any other skills.
When you are tired from overwork or feeling restless, do something else rather than trying to learn speed reading because this skill requires a lot of concentration.
Rather, start on an off-day, when you are relaxed, alert after your first dose of caffeine in the morning and have nothing to do at the moment. That is when you can give the task at hand your full attention.
Choose the material carefully
When you are first learning something, it is not the time to practice with Dante’s Inferno or Anna Karenina. Why don’t we start with something lighter – such as a book from the Harry Potter series, or even a light romance?
You can also practice with the day’s newspaper or a celebrity magazine if that accounts to light reading on your part. Or, you can start with something that you have already read to ensure that you understand it well.
Let’s not get carried away with serious books and encyclopedias in the first try; it may slow the process altogether.
Understand what you’re reading
When you have an idea about what you are reading, it may help you better. This will be easier for you when you are already familiar with the book or the text that you are trying with.
If not, try to get a glimpse of what the content is about before you start – is it world news or the economics section of the newspaper? Is it a romance that you are reading, or a sci-fi? A celebrity magazine, or one with recipes and gardening tips?
Having a good notion about the content and the tone of the book will give you a good grasp of what is going on when you are speeding through it.
Or else, you will be reading about robots in the distant future in a sci-fi novel and wondering about when the romance is going to start!
Get to know the content
Now is the time to actually start the process of reading. Open the book – the magazine or the newspaper – and quickly, scan through some parts of it.
In case of a book, scan through the name, the subtitle and the index. They will give you an insight of what you can expect from the book, making it easier for you to read it.
Read the important parts
The most important parts of any chapter in a book are the introduction, the conclusion and the titles and subtitles (if any) of that chapter.
When you are in a hurry or when you are speed reading, it is advisable that you go through these parts.
The introduction will give you an idea of what that particular chapter is about, and the conclusion will confirm that concept.
The titles of the chapter – as in this one – will give you an overall idea of what each paragraph is telling you.
If you think you already understand what the paragraph is telling you only by reading the title, you can just briefly skim through it without actually reading it.
Go into the details if needed
If you are still unsure of whether you are missing a lot by not reading the actual text, you can scan the paragraphs, looking for any important words or phrases that catch your eye.
When you know the title, the topic and some of the keywords of the topic, your eyes will definitely catch if there’s anything important in that paragraph.
If you don’t want to risk the time it takes to scan through a large paragraph, the best you can do is to read the first two or three sentences of that section.
You would be surprised to know that most of the much-needed information of any text could be found in the first few sentences.
You might get all the information you need only by reading the beginning – or the ending – of each section rather than the whole section.
You can use all of the techniques, or any one or two, mentioned in the previous chapter to read at a speed. Go on trying one after another and you will find one that suits you.
Go on even if in Doubt
If you have a feeling that you are losing a grasp on the meaning of the context because of speed reading through it, don’t stop.
Go on reading at the pace that is slightly faster than you are comfortable with, and slowly you will get a hang of it. You will feel your brain relaxing after a while, and you will feel comfortable with an increased reading speed.
Repeat the same process for all the chapters, and you will soon start reading faster than you could have imagined possible.
Speed reading is all about practice, so don’t be disappointed – and certainly not discouraged – if you are not exactly there in your first try.
Go on, try and try, and you will soon be able to finish a relatively average content – such as, a text of this length, in around an hour. Now, isn’t that something?
I want to thank you for taking the time to read my article about how to read faster and retain more information. I sincerely hope its contents have been a good help to you.