5 Tips for Reading Faster While Understanding What You Read - 3 min read

You know the feeling: Your professor tells you “For next week, be sure to read the next 50 pages”. You think “Pssh, I can do that!”. Then, the exact same scenario plays out in the next two classes, and by the end of the day, you find yourself with 150 pages of reading and two reports due by Monday.

At this point, you’re wishing you had superhuman reading powers. ”Those 150 pages would be a piece of cake”. While you might not be able to plug in Matrix style just yet, there are ways to train your reading speed so you can save time while you study. Here are five tips to improve how fast you read while, more importantly, still understand and remember the content.

1. Avoid Subvocalizing

You know that little voice inside your head that you may have heard while reading? You can chalk it up to a pretty common habit among readers.  It’s called subvocalizing and it means to say words in your head while you’re reading. When you subvocalize, don’t expect to read more than 150-250 WPM (words per minute) – 300 words, tops. Why? Because that’s the average number of words you SAY per minute when you speak. When people say words in their head while reading, they tend to read at about the same pace in which they talk. But, you know what? Your brain can do better. It can read much faster!

Reading GIF

Subvocalizing is normal and can be traced to when you first learned how to read. Back then, you probably always read aloud. Later on, your teacher most likely taught you how to read to yourself, which is probably when you first started subvocalizing. This habit of subvocalizing often sticks through your life, but it is possible to get rid of it.

2. Skim Before You Swim

Try to skim through your text before diving into it. No, this isn’t about doing double work or reading your text twice. When skimming, you only look for general or main ideas. This helps you prepare for what’s coming and it reduces the chance of confusion that will slow you down when you’re ready to read the entire text.

To making scanning your text faster, only look for a specific fact or a piece of information (such as a keyword or definition) without reading the whole sentence or paragraph. When you’re ready to read the entire text, your brain will be able to comprehend it faster which will increase your reading speed and help ensure you actually remember what you read.

3. Re-reading Is Not The Key

When you don’t understand a sentence or want to understand it better, the most logical thing to do seems to be re-reading the sentence. Often, the confusing passages or words will make sense in a specific context, while sometimes, they are not even necessary in order to understand the gist of the chapter or section.

We actually re-read a lot more than we think. Try to stop re-reading a confusing sentence and move on with the text. A good idea would be to mark the text that’s causing the confusion so that you can come back to it if you still feel the need to define it later on.

4. Ask Yourself Why

Why are you reading this book? Besides trying to pass your exams, obviously. Try to write down what you hope to learn by reading this book. What questions do you need to answer and what do you want to learn? What does this book actually cover? Compare your purpose to what the book covers and see if there’s a way to scale down the amount of reading material.

If the book covers a large theme but you have limited types of questions you might be able to skip some chapters or phases. There might also be pages that you really need to focus on and read a little slower to make sure you absorb all the information. The more prepared you can be, the more time you’ll save.  

5. Practice Timed Reading

To keep track of your reading speed, try doing some timed reading runs. Use a timer to see how many words you read per minute or test your reading speed using this calculator.  

Once you have your initial score and put in a bit of practice, test yourself to see if there’s any improvement and keep going until you hit a speed you’re comfortable with. If you want to have some fun with it, challenge a friend and see who reads faster. Fun fact: the average college student reads at about 450 WPM, while 300 happens to be the reading WPM of the average adult.

If you are reading digital text books you should take a look at this blog post about optimizing your screen for reading.

Improving your reading speed actually takes time and focus. Just remember: the more you read the better you get. So let’s do some reading! Oh and by the way, if you’re wondering how long it took you to read this post, it’s about 3 minutes.

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