I’ve always been a slow reader. I read a lot, and could get through several novels a year, but many books, especially non-fiction books, could be a real slog.
Then I discovered that reading was a skill, and one that I could improve.
Speed reading completely transformed my relationship with books. I took a course on the subject, and went from about 150 words a minute (which is below average) to closer to 400.
In this article, I'll share with you the techniques I used to increase my reading speed dramatically while retaining even more information. Developing your speed reading abilities takes commitment and practice, but it is one of the most rewarding skills you can master, because the more you can learn how to learn, the faster you will develop.
- Why speed reading is so important
- The step-by-step process for speed reading
- Additional tips and techniques
Table of contents
- Why is Speed Reading Important?
- Step 1: Read More
- Step 3: Use a Visual Guide
- Step 4: Use the Indenting Method
- Step 5: Take Notes to Retain More
- Step 6: Practice, Practice, Practice!
- Other Tips for Speed Reading
Let's get started!
Why is Speed Reading Important?
In our fast-paced, information-driven world, the ability to read quickly and efficiently is more valuable than ever. Plus, it’s just super fun to be able to finish that stack of books dusting your shelf in your TBR.
But also, consider this:
- There are over 130 million books in the world and more being published every day. Even if you read a book a week, you could never get through 1% of them. Speed reading allows you to consume more information and get through your ever-growing reading list.
- Reading is a crucial skill for academic and professional success. Speed reading gives you a competitive advantage, allowing you to get through reports, research, and other materials faster than your peers.
- We are inundated with written information, from news articles to work memos to social media. Speed reading helps you keep up with the daily deluge.
- Reading expands your mind, improves cognitive skills, and exposes you to new ideas and perspectives. The more you read, the more you benefit.
For all these reasons, developing your speed reading abilities is one of the most beneficial skills you can master. The techniques I'll share boosted my reading comprehension while allowing me to read 2-3 times more material.
So let’s look at my step-by-step system to read a lot more, based on all of the courses and other resources I’ve followed over the years. These are the steps:
- Read more
- Track your reading
- Use a visual guide
- Use the indenting method
- Take notes
Let’s walk through each of these one by one…
Step 1: Read More
It may sound obvious, but the first step to reading faster is to simply read more.
Just like any other skill, you get better at reading by practicing it. Commit to reading for at least 30-60 minutes every single day. I like to read last thing before bed, and on my lunch break at work – any small pocket of time can be used productively.
Here are some great ways to fit more reading into your day:
- Always have a book on you that you can pull out anytime you have 5+ minutes free. I keep my Kindle in my bag at all times.
- Listen to audiobooks during your commute or while exercising. You retain information just as well as visually reading (this isn’t exactly speed reading but can get you through more books)
- Join a book club to motivate you to get through 1-2 more books a month. Discussing it with others helps you retain it.
- Wake up 20 minutes early and read in the morning – it's a relaxing way to start the day.
- Have a designated reading time, like 30 minutes before bed.
- Take a book to read on your lunch break instead of browsing your phone.
The point is to build reading into your daily habits, so you have a higher likelihood of increasing your reading speed as you get experience.
Step 2: Track Your Reading
Once you are consistently reading every day, it's time to start tracking your speed. This provides tangible proof of your progress and helps motivate you to keep improving.
There are two key metrics to track:
- Lines per minute – Mark your starting point, read for 2-5 minutes, then count the number of lines you read. Divide this by the number of minutes you read, and you get your lines per minute.
- Words per minute (WPM) – Once you know how many lines you’ve read, count the number of words in about 10 lines, to figure out the average number of words per line. Then multiply that number by the number of lines you read in a minute to get your average words per minute.
You can track these metrics daily or weekly. I like to time myself weekly, so I can see how the practice I’ve done over the last week has added up. It’s a lot.
When I first started speed reading training, my average WPM was around 150-250. After practicing the techniques in this article, I worked my way up to 400-500 WPM.
What gets measured improves!
Step 3: Use a Visual Guide
This is the single most effective technique I used to increase my reading speed. Using your finger or a pen to guide your eyes forces you to read faster. It also reduces regression, back-skipping, and re-reading, which are all speed killers.
Here's how to use a visual guide:
- Take your index finger or a pen/pencil.
- Place it under the first word of the line.
- Swiftly glide it along the line at a pace slightly faster than feels comfortable.
- Repeat for each line.
This will feel unnatural at first. You will have the urge to backtrack or re-read parts you missed. Resist it! Forcing your eyes to keep up with your finger/pen trains your brain to read more efficiently.
Be sure to use your finger or a guide for every page as you read. This builds the habit and develops your peripheral vision. With daily practice, you will soon be speeding through texts effortlessly. It really works.
Step 4: Use the Indenting Method
In addition to using a guide, further boost your reading speed by utilizing the indenting method. This trains your peripheral vision to take in the entire line of text at once.
Here's how it works:
- Place your visual guide in the middle of each line, about 1 inch from the left.
- Focus your eyes on the guide.
- Use your peripheral vision to take in the first few words on the left and last words on the right.
At first, you'll mainly just see the words directly under your visual guide. With practice, you will expand your visual scope and be able to take in the whole line at once.
Step 5: Take Notes to Retain More
Speed reading allows you to get through more material, but you want to make sure you're retaining it too. Taking strategic notes helps with comprehension and recall.
Here are my favorite note-taking strategies:
- Write down keywords and main ideas from each chapter/section in the margins. Review them after finishing each chapter, and again after finishing the book.
- Highlight interesting quotes, facts, and examples to reference later.
- Summarize plot points or key concepts in 1-2 sentences after each chapter.
- Write down your thoughts, impressions, and questions in a reading journal.
Note-taking techniques like these help reinforce what you read. They also give you material to review later when refreshing your memory. Don't overdo it though – sparse, targeted notes are best for speed reading.
Step 6: Practice, Practice, Practice!
Becoming a speed reader requires dedication and consistent practice. You have to put in the time to train your brain and eyes to work more efficiently.
Aim to practice speed reading techniques for at least 30-60 minutes daily. Here are some great ways to get your practice in:
- Time yourself reading articles, papers, or other short texts. Aim to beat your WPM each time.
- Join a speed reading course or download an app to access reading drills.
- Practice using a visual guide and indenting method when reading anything.
- Read simple books at first (a short fiction book is often a good place to start), then increase text complexity.
- Follow a reading routine, like 30 minutes every morning.
Stick with it! It took me several months of daily practice to go from 150 WPM to over 400 WPM. But it was so rewarding to see my reading transform. With dedication, yours will too.
Other Tips for Speed Reading
In addition to the core techniques outlined above, there are many other tips and tricks I picked up that can boost your reading speed and efficiency. Here are some of my favorites:
Subvocalizing refers to pronouncing words in your head as you read. It slows most people down.
To stop subvocalizing:
- Use a visual guide – it forces you to read faster than your inner voice can keep up.
- Read more challenging texts. You won't have time to subvocalize complex words.
- Practice reading while humming or chewing gum. This distracts your inner voice.
Kicking the subvocalization habit trains your brain to absorb words more directly. Your inner voice will protest at first, but keep redirecting your focus whenever it starts up.
Skim the Text First
Skim by reading the title, subtitles, intro and summary first. This gives you a general sense of the content so you can read through the full text faster.
I like to skim complex texts multiple times – once before reading and once again after. It reinforces key points and allows me to skip irrelevant sections.
Skimming is especially helpful for dense non-fiction books. I can often grasp 75% of the main ideas just from skimming first.
Underline Key Phrases and Review to Retain More
Instead of highlighting everything, just underline 4-5 pivotal sentences per chapter or section.
Go back and read just your underlines when reviewing. It distills the key ideas down to the essentials.
I also love writing one-sentence summaries of each section using the underlined passages. It forces you to identify and capture the core message.
Focus on Keywords
Train your eyes to spot “content words” – nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. We can extract meaning just from these keywords without reading every filler word.
Place your visual guide under keywords as you read to reinforce this habit. Skipping filler words helps reading flow faster.
Lack of focus while reading is another speed killer. Our minds wander, eyes backtrack, and comprehension suffers.
Developing your focus takes mental endurance. Stay alert, use a guide, and keep redirecting your attention whenever it drifts.
When you are reading, make sure you are in a good position to do so. Eliminate external distractions, and try to be sitting up straight. Lying down or being in an unnatural position is likely to cause you to fall asleep or get distracted.
Use a timer to check your Words Per Minute every day. Aim to beat your previous best.
Timing yourself adds accountability and a sense of urgency, forcing you to maintain focus and speed.
It also highlights plateaus so you know when to switch up techniques and text complexity.
Do Not Re-read Words
Re-reading words you missed or didn't fully grasp is another attention killer. Use a guide and train your eyes to keep moving forward.
Trust that you will absorb meaning from the passage overall, even if you don't obsess over each word.
Improve Your Vocabulary
Having a robust vocabulary minimizes the need to pause and look up unknown words.
Read challenging books, use flashcards, and lookup words you're unfamiliar with. Expanding your lexicon facilitates speed reading.
And there you have it – a comprehensive guide to developing your speed reading abilities based on the specific strategies and techniques I used to transform from a 150 WPM plodder to a 400+ WPM speed demon.
It isn’t easy, and becoming a true speed reader (which I admit I am not when compared to many people) requires dedication and practice. But it is accessible to anyone willing to put in the work.
I hope these tips give you a blueprint to start boosting your reading efficiency.