A Beginner's Guide to Speed Reading Part 1

It's Easier than You Think!

We all have a ton to read these days and little time in which to do it. You may have thought about speed reading but not really gotten around t learing about it. You may be asking yourself: Does it really work? Will you actually remember anything? Aren't I just looking at words without actually “reading” them? The answers are yes, yes, and no, respectively.

First of all, with basic knowledge of speed reading you will actually learn and remember considerably MORE than before. It all has to do with focus. Many speed reading seminars will have a test where they will challenge the participants to read at a certain rate and then have something ridiculous, like a man in a bear costume, run around the room. According to these anecdotes, which are pretty believable based on my own experiences with speed reading, no one noticed. They were just too focused. Additionally, when we read faster we get more interested in the material and are more likely to stick through to the end of a book or an article.

So first things first: why do we read so slowly and how is it possible to increase reading speed? Well, when we were just starting out we first learned the sound made by each letter and then how to put them together to form words. Most of these words become digitized in our brains so we read a word at a time (as opposed to a letter) but still no faster. Why? Because we learned it by vocalizing it. Most of us can't read any faster than we can speak because that is how we were taught to read. But unless you're reading out loud it doesn't make any sense to filter information in this way.

Look around the room/coffee shop/wherever you're sitting in right now and take a quick glance at the things around you. Would you say that you understood everything that you saw? Probably. Did you recognize every or nearly every object that crossed your vision just then? Or did you have to stop and look at each thing: “That's a pen, that's a pencil, that's a computer mouse, ect.” I'll be you just looked and understood all at once and that's how speed reading works. To look at words in the same way that you look at the natural world and understand it right away will take practice, but it is completely worth it. So let's get down to the nuts and bolts.

#1: Track Yourself as you Read

By this I mean use a ruler or a slip of paper or even your fingers to follow the words as you read. This is how you develop the aforementioned focus. For many readers one of the biggest problems is that they can't even focus on the material they're reading and are slowed down by a wandering and inattentive mind. Tracking what you read will fix this pretty much immediately and, as a result, can drastically increase reading speed. It is also highly recommended that you put whatever you're using at the top of the page, rather than the bottom. First of all, “retracking”, or going back and reading what you've already read because you feel like you don't remember (even though you probably do) is another cause of slow reading and this will prevent it. Secondly, once you implement more of these techniques you'll want the text you're about to read open so you can take I tall in at a glance. But we're not there quite yet.

#2: Read more than one word at a time

This will also require practice and conscious effort on your part. I want you to try an experiment first: think without words. Go ahead. Try to take something in your mind and turn it into a thought but don't say anything in your head. It's not easy is it? But it is possible if you really try, though it feels a bit odd. Reading faster is a little like that. The first thing you'll need to practice with this is proper looking. When most of us read we simply scan with our eyes continuously in a more or less constant pattern. This is not only harder on your eyes but leads to slower reading. To start out, look only at the white space between two words. Now without moving your eyes take in both words making an effort not to say them or feel your throat muscles moving. When you've done that, move two white spaces down and do it again, and don't slide your eyes, just move systematically from one point to another. This is possibly the most important factor in speed reading and truly fast readers can take in 20 or more words at a time!

But we're starting slow so next time you need to take in an article or even if you're just reading for pleasure, go ahead and give these techniques a try. You won't be disappointed.

That's it for now. Next time we'll look at really enhancing your reading speed and some caveats. Enjoy your reading!

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