Oscar Wilde once said that “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” Simply put, what you put into your brain makes an enormous difference in who you are and who you will become. So why do so few people actually read books on a regular basis after they are finished their formal education and get launched in the “real world”?
There’s no shortage of excuses, that’s for sure. When I tell people that I read a book a day, I hear all of the excuses in the book – most of them revolving around the lack of time to read. A book will sit on their nightstand for weeks.
However, there’s another side to the same coin here. Perhaps it’s because they just don’t know how to read fast enough. If you are willing to put aside the excuse that you don’t have enough time and learn how to double or even triple your reading speed, you might unlock a world of new possibilities for yourself.
In the next 10 minutes you are going to learn the skills and tricks that the world’s fastest readers use to gain access to more knowledge than you ever thought possible.
Understanding where you are today
If you are like me, you probably aren’t testing your reading rate on a weekly basis, if ever. So, just like any good exercise program, we are going to figure out where you are starting from, and where you want to go.
Grab something that you enjoy reading. It could be a novel, your favourite magazine, anything that has a passage that you haven’t read before and that is least 1,000 words long. Now, grab a timer and set it for one minute.
Remember to read at a rate that you find comfortable – this isn’t the final exam and there’s nobody you need to impress. The impressing comes later when you double or triple your reading speed.
When the timer is finished, mark the last word you read and count up the words. It’s a lot quicker if you figure out the average number of words per line and then count the total number of lines you read: (number of words per line x total lines read).
Now, find out how you stack up. Here are some broad categories across the general adult population:
Under 180 words per minute: you are a below average reader.
Between 180 – 240 words per minute: you are an average reader.
Between 240 – 350 words per minute: you are reading at an average college level.
Between 350 – 500 words per minute: you are an above average reader.
Above 500 words per minute: you are a superior reader. Now that we know where you are starting from, let’s figure out how you got there and what we can do to get you above that 500 word mark (and perhaps even up to 1,000!).
Two things that prevent you from becoming a speed reader today
There are two different types of backtracking in reading. Conscious and unconscious. Concious backtracking is when you read a passage of text and realise that you didn’t completely comprehend it, so you go back and read it again. This isn’t the most effective way to increase your reading comprehension, but there isn’t anything wrong with it.
However, unconscious backtracking is one of the most time-consuming reading habits of normal people. Have you ever read entire passages of text and then realised that you had drifted off to some other place and didn’t remember a damn thing you read? I sure have. In fact, the average reader re-read 15% of the material they are reading because of this.
There are 3 stages of reading “out loud”. The first one is the one you learned in kindergarten where you literally read the words out loud. We are going to assume that you’ve moved beyond that stage and can read a book on the train into work in the morning without annoying the rest of the passengers.
The second stage is subvocalising, where you are moving your lips but no words are coming out, which is usually learned in grade school as the first step away from saying words out loud. Again, we’ll assume you are beyond this point.
The third stage is another form of subvocalising and happens when you are still hearing the words in your head as you read them, even though you aren’t moving your lips. This is where most people end up and they usually subvocalise all of the words as the see them. Take a minute and read a passage right now to see if you are subvocalising.
Why are we subvocalising? Because we’ve been trained from an early age that we are only able to see and comprehend one word at a time, and that we must read them in a sequential order. Logically, this makes sense. However, like many other situations, logic places a very limiting belief on us that we never contemplate breaking out of.
Reading with a purpose and on purpose
If you are like me and most of the people in the world, you were taught to read one way for everything you read. Of course, you are going to read a novel you are reading for pleasure much differently than you will a business book that you are looking to learn a set of principles from, but there we go, reading them exactly the same way – one word at a time.
Why are you reading this, anyway?
The first thing you can do to combat this mistake is to be very clear about why are reading and exactly what you need to take out from it. If it is strictly for entertainment value, then you’ll be less worried about comprehension and speed and more worried about the atmosphere you set so that you can lose yourself in the moment.
However, if you are reading a business book that you want to apply to your life, you’ll be more worried about speed (so you can learn more, quicker), comprehension (so you understand what you are reading) and recall (so you can remember what you learned).
Understand how authors write
The second thing you can do is to understand how authors write. Fiction authors will often write in a way to keep you engrossed in the story and to keep turning the pages. They will also want you to keep from speeding ahead, so they typically don’t give you clear headings and chapter structures so you can create a roadmap before you start.
However, non-fiction authors will often lay out their books in just that way. Their books will be laid out in sequential order, usually with one concept building on top of another. Why is this important? For one thing, you can scan the material that you are already familiar with without giving up too much in comprehension and then read carefully the parts that are new to you.
Understand paragraph structure
The vast majority of the time, the main point of a paragraph will be in the first sentence of the paragraph. This means that understanding the first sentence in each paragraph is crucial in your understanding of the main concepts. This also means that you can read the rest of the paragraph much quicker because it is not introducing any new concepts, but adding context to the first sentence.
Techniques to Read Faster
The one thing that speed readers know that you and I don’t is that using your finger speeds up your reading rate dramatically. They use their fingers to guide their eyes because they realise one very critical thing: that we can see and comprehend more than a couple of words at a time.
There are a few ways to do this and you should work through them sequentially, only moving on to the next when when you are comfortable enough to push yourself further.
The first technique is “underlining”. You can start by simply running your finger across the page as you read, underlining the words with your index finger. At first, this is going to feel odd to you, and you might get a few weird looks from strangers who haven’t seen this technique before. Once again, go and grab something that you haven’t read before and practice reading the material using your finger as a guide.
Now, start moving your finger faster. If you were reading at 200 words a minute, start using your finger at 300 words a minute. If you feel like you are starting to lose control and that you won’t remember a thing you are reading, that’s ok. Right now you are battling your tendency to vocalise your words and for the first while you will find it uncomfortable.
The second technique you can use to read faster is dusting. Instead of using your finger as an underlining tool, now think about dusting off the page of the book with your entire hand, moving your hand back and forth down the page. I often read on my computer screen and this motion is very similar to the motion you’d use to dust of your monitor, so you should be comfortable with it.
Make sure to move your hand very quickly back and forth as you move down the page so that you are able to see the words through your hands, just like you are able to see the road ahead of you even when your windshield wipers are on at full power. Again, it is going to feel weird to read this way, but you’ll soon be reading at a much higher rate.
Now, we are going to move on to the circling hand movement, and combine it with the underlining movement we learned earlier. You’ll recall that the first sentence in a paragraph is the main thing to comprehend (usually).
So in this technique you’ll use your finger and underline the first line of the paragraph and then make circles through the rest of the paragraph on the way back to the left margin.
You’ll be sweeping the entire paragraph in 5 or 6 circles, taking in the rest of the paragraph in chunks at a time. At this point you’ll start to feel that reading at a much higher rate feels much different than when you started. You won’t be “reading” in the way that you were taught and lived most of your life – word by word. That’s ok, and you’ll get over that awkward feeling quickly.
Now that you are comfortable reading at a much higher rate, you can move on to the last stage we’ll cover here by using the paragraphing technique. You’ll start off by using the same first line technique as you did in circling, by underlining it from left to right.
Then, instead of circling the rest of the paragraph with your finger, you’ll drop down at least 4 lines and then bring your finger right back to the left margin. If the paragraph is more than 4 lines long, you can repeat the motion until you hit the end of the paragraph.
Reading Faster and Comprehending More
None of this means anything if you can’t comprehend what you are reading. Most non-fiction authors are attempting to build a mental model for you. However, they usually stop short of actually creating one for you. So, you’ll create one yourself.
The best way to do this is to create what most people would call a mindmap. You’ll start off with one concept in the middle of a page, then start branching off the sub-ideas as appropriate and making sure to keep related materials together.
So, as you are moving through the text, make sure to stop at points when you want to remember one of the concepts and make sure you build it into your mindmap of the subject. Although it is beyond the scope of this summary, you should try and make the mindmap as memorable as possible. The more memorable you make the concepts, the easier it will be for you to recall them at a later point.
So there you have it – a summary of everything you need in order to increase your reading rate to levels that you never thought possible. Good luck, and let me know how it goes.
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