Posted by: magnussonllc | March 23, 2010

Speedreading

Speed Reading can help you to read and understand written information much more quickly. This makes it an essential skill in any environment where you have to master large volumes of information quickly, as is the norm in fast-moving professional environments. What’s more, it’s a key technique to learn if you suffer from “information overload”, because it helps you to become much more discriminating about the information that you consume. The most important trick about speed reading is to know what information you want from a document before you start reading it. If you only want an outline of the issue that the document discusses, then you can skim the document quickly and extract only the essential facts. If you need to understand the real detail of the document, then you need to read it slowly enough to gain the full understanding you need.

You will get the greatest time savings from speed reading by learning to skim excessively detailed documents, although the techniques you’ll learn will help you improve the speed of all the reading you do.

Even when you know how to ignore irrelevant detail, there are other technical improvements you can make to your reading style which will increase your reading speed.

Most people learn to read the way young children read – either letter-by-letter, or word-by-word. As an adult, this is probably not the way you read now: Just think about how your eye muscles are moving as you read this. You will probably find that you are fixing your eyes on one block of words, then moving your eyes to the next block of words, and so on. You are reading blocks of words at a time, not individual words one-by-one. You may also notice that you do not always go from one block to the next: sometimes you may move back to a previous block if you are unsure about something.

A skilled reader will read many words in each block. He or she will only dwell on each block for an instant, and will then move on. Only rarely will the reader’s eyes skip back to a previous block of words. This reduces the amount of work that the reader’s eyes have to do. It also increases the volume of information that can be assimilated in a given period of time.

A poor reader will become bogged down, spending a lot of time reading small blocks of words. He or she will skip back often, losing the flow and structure of the text, and confusing his or her overall understanding of the subject. This irregular eye movement makes reading tiring. Poor readers tend to dislike reading, and they may find it harder to concentrate, and understand written information.

Speed reading aims to improve reading skills by:

  • Increasing the number of words read in each block.
  • Reducing the length of time spent reading each block.
  • And reducing the number of times your eyes skip back to a previous sentence.

Here are 11 tips on how to improve your speed reading skills:

1. Have your eyes checked. Many people who read particularly slowly do so because they have an undiagnosed vision problem. Even if you think you have perfect vision, if you haven’t had an eye exam recently, there’s no time like the present.

2. Time your current reading speed. It is important to find out how fast you read now so that you can track your improvement through subsequent timings. Not only will timing help you to tell if you’re improving, but it will also keep you motivated. You can break out a book and a stopwatch and either time how long it takes you to read a certain number of words on a page or find out how many words you read in a given amount of time.  An easier way to time yourself is to take an online reading speed test. There are a plethora of these available: just enter “reading speed test” in your search engine. Many of these have reading comprehension tests, as well, so you can see how well you’re understanding what you’re reading.  Regardless of how you decide to time yourself, be sure to read at your normal speed during the timing, and time yourself on a few different pages – the average of your times should approximate your average reading speed.

3. Get rid of distractions. Even if you think you read better when you have music playing or when you’re in a crowded coffee house, you can probably increase your speed if you reduce distractions to a bare minimum. Try to find a solitary place to read, and turn off the TV, radio and cell phone. Even being in a room of people talking is distracting. If no solitary place is available, try using earplugs to block out any distractions around you. In order to maximize comprehension while reading quickly, you will need to focus on the material at hand as closely as possible.

4. Adjust reading speed depending on the material. Often, we must trade off comprehension for speed, so an important part of increasing reading speed is deciding how thoroughly you need to comprehend a particular piece of writing. So before you even start reading, decide how fast you intend to go. If you’re reading a newspaper article, chances are you just want to get the main ideas, and you can skim through the passages quite rapidly. If, however, you’re reading a mathematics textbook or a demanding philosophical treatise – and you need to fully understand the material – you do not want to rush.

5. Learn to separate the wheat from the chaff with pre-reading. No matter what you are reading, there is frequently a lot of “filler” that you can read quickly through or even skim over. With practice, you will be able to identify the most important parts of a book as you skim through it. When you get to such a passage, slow down. Before you begin a chapter or book, look over the entire piece very quickly. Try to find patterns of repeated words, key ideas, bold print and other indicators of important concepts. Then, when you actually do your reading you may be able to skim over large portions of the text, slowing only when you come to something you know is important.

6. Train yourself not to reread. Most people frequently stop and skip back to words or sentences they just read to try to make sure they understood the meaning. This is usually unnecessary, but it can easily become a habit, and many times you will not even notice you’re doing it. One exercise to help you avoid rereading is to take a sheet of paper or index card and drag it down the page as you read, covering each line once you’ve read it. Try to drag the card in a steady motion; start slowly, and increase your speed as you feel more comfortable.

7. Stop reading to yourself. As you read you probably subvocalize, or pronounce the words to yourself. Almost everybody does it, although to different degrees: some people actually move their lips or say the words under their breath, while others simply say each word in their heads. Regardless of how you subvocalize, it slows you down. (You are concerned with speed reading here, not reading to practice communicating the material verbally, which can be done later if you find it necessary.) To break the habit, try to be conscious of it. When you notice yourself pronouncing words to yourself, try to stop doing it. Practice visualizing a word at the moment you see it, rather than confirming the word in your mind and then visualizing it. It may help to focus on key words and skip over others, or you may want to try humming to yourself or counting “1,2,3,4” repeatedly in order to prevent subvocalizing. One exercise to stop your lips from moving is to put a finger on your mouth and keep it there while you read.

8. Read with your hand. Smooth, consistent eye motion is essential to speed reading. You can maximize your eyes’ efficiency by using your hand to guide them. One such method is to simply draw your hand down each page as you read. You can also brush your hand under each line you read, as if you are brushing dust off the lines. Your eyes instinctively follow motion, and the movement of your hand serves to keep your eyes moving constantly forward. Note, however, that many speed reading instruction books warn off using a tracking member in speed reading as it inhibits the process.

9. Practice reading blocks of words. Nearly everyone learned to read word-by-word or even letter-by-letter, but once you know the language, that’s not the most efficient method of reading. Not every word is important, and in order to read quickly, you’ll need to read groups of words – or even whole sentences or short paragraphs – instantaneously. The good news is you probably already do this to some extent: most people read three or four words at a time. Once you make an effort to be aware of your reading style, you’ll discover how many words you read at a time. Now you just need to increase that number. Using your hand as a guide may help, as may holding the book a little further from your eyes than you usually do.

10. Practice and push yourself. While you may see some gains in speed the moment you start using these tips, speed reading is a skill that requires a lot of practice. Always push yourself to your comfort level and beyond – if you end up having to reread a section, it’s not a big deal. Keep practicing regularly.

11. Time yourself regularly. After a week or so of practice, time yourself as in step two. Do this regularly thereafter, and keep track of your improvement. Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back every time your reading speed increases!

You will be able to increase your reading speed a certain amount on your own by applying these speed reading techniques.

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