Your Reading Speed
Might Be Holding You Back
As you know, reading speed and comprehension matter. Whether you’re at
work, helping your children with their homework, or completing the SAT
for college, your reading speed and comprehension will determine how
successful you are. Reading is everywhere in our lives. Because of that,
it’s important you read effectively. For example, you might need to
read and write reports for work. If you’re a student, you’ll need to
read many pages of complex text every night. If you’re a slow
reader, that’s holding you back.
The proven secret to success is: the
faster you read, the more successful you’ll be. This isn’t opinion… it’s
a fact. The faster you read, the faster you’ll get work done. The faster
you read, the more you’re able to learn about your industry. The faster
you read, the quicker you’ll react to new tasks. Here are just some of
the benefits you’ll enjoy when you can read 3 times faster with improved
Learning to Read More Efficiently
Think about how much reading you do every day.
Perhaps you read the newspaper or browse countless emails from colleagues. And you then read
a book, reports, proposals, periodicals and letters.
When you look at it, reading could be the work-related skill you
use most often!
It's also a skill most of us take for granted by the time we reach
the age of 12. After all, it seems if we can read the written word, surely, we must be good readers?
Maybe not. And, given the time reading consumes in our daily lives,
it may be a skill we should improve.
But what does becoming a better reader involve?
It means getting faster and more efficient at reading, while still
understanding what is being read. In this article, we'll look at how
you can do this, and how you can unlearn poor reading habits.
How We Read
Although you spend a good part of your day reading, have you ever
thought about how you read?
How do your eyes make sense of the shapes of the letters, and then put
those letters together to form a sentence you can understand?
When you actually think about it, reading is quite a complex skill.
Previously, scientists believed that when you read, both of your eyes
focused on a particular letter in a word. Recent research shows this
isn't the case.
Scientists now believe that each of your eyes lock onto a different
letter at the same time, usually two characters apart. Your brain then
fuses these images together to form a word. This happens almost
instantaneously, as we zip through pages of text!
Advantages of Speed Reading
Many people read at an average rate of 250 words per minute. This means
an average page in a book or document takes 1-2 minutes to
However, imagine if you could double your rate to 500 words per minute.
You could zip through all of the content in half the time. You could
then spend time on other tasks, or take a few extra minutes to
relax and de-stress.
Another important advantage of speed reading is you can better
comprehend the overall structure of what is being presented. This leads to a "bigger
picture" understanding, which can greatly benefit your work and career.
Speed reading is a useful and valuable skill. However, there might be
times when using this technique isn't appropriate. For instance, it's
often best to read important or challenging documents slowly, so
you can fully understand each detail.
Breaking Poor Reading Habits
If you're like most people, you probably have one or more reading
habits that slow you down. Becoming a better reader means overcoming
these bad habits, so you can clear the way for new, effective ways
Below, we cover some of the most common bad reading habits, and discuss
what you can do to overcome them.
Sub-vocalization is the habit of pronouncing each word in your head as
you read it. Most people do this to some extent or another.
When you sub-vocalize, you "hear" the word being spoken in your mind.
This takes much more time than is necessary, because you can understand
a word more quickly than you can say it.
To turn off the voice in your head, you have to first acknowledge that
it's there (how did you read the first part of this article?), and then
you have to practice "not speaking." When you sit down to read, tell
yourself that you will not sub-vocalize. You need to practice this until
this bad habit is erased. Reading blocks of words also helps, as it's
harder to vocalize a block of words. (See below for more on this.)
Eliminating sub-vocalization alone can increase your reading speed by an
astounding amount. Otherwise, you're limited to reading at the same pace
as talking, which is about 250-350 words per minute. The only way to
break through this barrier is to stop saying the words in your head as
Not only is it slow to read word-by-word, but when you concentrate on
separate words, you often miss the overall concept of what's being said.
People who read each word as a distinct unit can understand less than
those who read faster by "chunking" words together in blocks. (Think
about how your eyes are moving as you read this article. Are you
actually reading each word, or are you reading blocks of two, or three,
or five words?)
Practice expanding the number of words that you read at a time. You may
also find you can increase the number of words you read in a single
fixation by holding the text a little further from your eyes. The more
words you can read in each block, the faster you'll read!
Inefficient Eye Motion
Slow readers tend to focus on each word, and work their way across each
line. The eye can actually span about 1.5 inches at a time, which, for
an average page, encompasses four or five words. Related to this is the
fact that most readers don't use their peripheral vision to see words at
the ends of each line.
To overcome this, "soften" your gaze when you read – by relaxing your
face and expanding your gaze, you'll begin to see blocks of words
instead of seeing each word as distinct unit. As you get good at this,
your eyes will skip faster and faster across the page.
When you get close to the end of the line, let your peripheral vision
take over to see the last set of words. This way you can quickly scan
across and down to the next line.
Regression is the unnecessary re-reading of material.
Sometimes people get into the habit of skipping back to words they have
just read, while, other times, they may jump back a few sentences, just
to make sure that they read something right. When you regress like this,
you lose the flow and structure of the text, and your overall
understanding of the subject can decrease.
Be very conscious of regression, and don't allow yourself to re-read
material unless you absolutely have to.
To reduce the number of times your eyes skip back, run a pointer along
the line as you read. This could be a finger, or a pen or pencil. Your
eyes will follow the tip of your pointer, helping you avoid skipping
back. The speed at which you read using this method will largely depend
on the speed at which you move the pointer.
If you've tried to read while the TV is on, you'll know how hard it is
to concentrate on one word, let alone on many sentences strung together.
Reading has to be done in an environment where external distractions are
kept to a minimum.
To improve your concentration as you read, stop multitasking while
reading, and remove any distractions. This is particularly important,
because when you use the techniques of chunking blocks of words together
and ceasing to sub-vocalize, you may find that you read several pages
before you realize you haven't understood something properly.
Pay attention to "internal distractions" as well. If you're rehashing a
heated discussion, or if you're wondering what to make for dinner, this
will also limit your ability to process information.
Sub-vocalization actually forces your brain to attend to what you're
reading, and that's why people often say that they can read and watch TV
at the same time. To become an efficient reader, you need to avoid this.
Approaching Reading Linearly
We're taught to read across and down, taking in every word, sentence,
paragraph and page in sequence.
When you do this, though, you pay the same attention to supplementary
material as you do to core information. (Often, much more information is
presented than you actually need to know.)
Overcome this by scanning the page for headings, and by looking for
bullet points and things in bold. There is no rule saying you have
to read a document in the order the author intended, so scan it
quickly, and decide what is necessary and what isn't. Skim over the
fluff, and only pay attention to the key material.
As you read, look for the little extras that authors add to make their
writing interesting and engaging. If you get the point, there's no need
to read the example or anecdote. Similarly, decide what you need to
re-read as well. It's far better to read one critical paragraph twice
than it is to read another eight paragraphs elaborating on that same
Keys to Speed Reading Success
Knowing the "how" of speed reading is only the first step. You have to
practice it to get good at it. Here are some tips to help you
break poor reading habits and master the speed reading skills discussed
Practice, practice, practice – you have to use your skills on a regular
basis. It took you several years to learn to read, and it will take time
to improve your reading skills.
Choose easy material to start with – when you begin speed reading, don't
use a challenging textbook. Read something like a novel which you can understand and enjoy with a quick once-over.
Speed read appropriately – not everything you read lends itself to speed
Legal documents, the draft annual report, or even the letter you receive
from a loved one in the mail – these are better read in their entirety,
sub-vocalizations and all.
If you need to understand the message completely, memorize the
information, discuss it in detail, analyze it thoroughly, or simply
enjoy the prose the way the author intended, then speed reading is the
wrong approach. (Here, it helps to choose an appropriate reading
strategy before you start.)
Use a pointer or other device to help push your reading speed – when you
quickly draw a card down the page, or run your finger back and forth,
you force your eyes and brain to keep pace (sometimes this creates a
Take a step back and use the material's structure – this includes
skimming information to get a feel for the organization and layout of
the text, looking for bold words and headings, and looking for the
ways in which the author transitions from one topic to the next.
When you start speed reading, it's wise to benchmark your current
reading speed. This way you can tell whether your practice is paying
off, and you can impress your friends and family when you tell them that
you can now read faster.
Speed reading is a skill that can be learned. It mostly involves
breaking poor habits you may have developed since you learned to
read. Simply becoming a faster reader isn't the point, either – you want
to become a more efficient reader.
There are some great techniques you can use when practicing speed
reading, including reading blocks of words, and breaking the habit of
Whichever techniques you apply, you must always be aware of the purpose
of your reading and decide whether speed reading is the most appropriate
When applied correctly and practiced diligently, speed reading can
significantly improve your overall effectiveness, as it frees up
precious time and allows you to work more efficiently in other areas.