How to increase your reading speed

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Unless you have the relative luxury of a coursework-filled degree, the majority of us will be in the middle of exams right now. We’re welcoming panic-filled, revision-cramming sessions and realising the volume of stuff that we have to read and somehow absorb in the space of a few weeks. Sounds impossible, right? But the key to achieving the mountain of work you need to do is to learn to read faster – an asset that will stick with you throughout your academic and professional careers.

First things first when it comes to reading quicker: be selective about what you have to read. There’s little point in borrowing dozens of books on the subject you’re studying in a vain effort to improve your knowledge. Do some research by asking your lecturers which texts they’d recommend, checking out synopses or chapter titles on Google Books, or even having a look at user reviews. Once you’ve narrowed down your reading list, your task will start to look a lot more manageable!

The key to reading quickly is to avoid sounding out every word your eyes see – a method called subvocalisation that we learn as children. Mouthing every word may be great for proofreading your coursework, but it certainly bogs your reading down! Equally, make sure that you’re targeting the right sections of your text. Introductions and conclusions to articles, chapters, or books are always the best place to start. Skim read them, get the general gist of what the text will contain, and focus your efforts on the key sections of that reading.

Another tip that the speed reading experts out there recommend is using a pointer. Whether it’s the tip of your finger or the chewed top of your pen, focus your eyes on the material using a pointer to avoid them wandering away. This will not only allow you to control your reading speed but also, if you move the pointer quicker than you can mouth the words, you’ll help yourself to get rid of the subvocalisation habit. Once you break this, you’ll nail reading quickly and increase your reading rate no end.

Don’t think though that reading faster means a decrease in the level of your comprehension. Reading more quickly is about being selective and that includes selecting where you need to go more slowly. Depending on the difficulty of your material, you may be able to whizz through a couple of journal articles but you might find that a difficult textbook needs slower, more careful reading. Don’t worry if this is the case – reading faster where you need to is what speed reading is all about.

Lastly, though none of us probably wants to hear this, the best way to read quicker is to practise! Curious about my own reading rate – given that I’ll probably read over a dozen dense novels during the summer holidays – I was more than surprised to learn that I average at about a measly 260 words per minute. With the aid of speed reading tips, though, an article like this one should be easily read in a minute. To find out your own reading rate and to measure your speed reading progress, time yourself and count how many lines you can read in a minute. Then count the number of words in the second line of the passage you’ve just read, then multiply the two numbers together. Speed reading has the potential to double your starting point, so why not give it a go, get some practice in, and ace your revision reading? Good luck!