Speed reading

Pages of a book

Sounds too good to be true...

But if you practise speed reading, you'll get through your revision or homework faster AND retain more information!

Speed reading is a bit like running - or playing any sport for that matter - you can learn the techniques, but to get good at it and build up speed, you really need to practise. Athletes train for hours every day, but your reading speed will improve if you practise these techniques for as little as 10 minutes per day.

Speed reading techniques can be applied to all sorts of texts - short or long: emails, letters, text books, revision notes...You might use some of the tips already without even realising it. For example, when you are choosing a book to buy, you might have a flick through to judge the language, style or size of writing.

The tips below will help you to make informed choices about what and how much to read. As a result you'll be able to read more effectively (and faster), retain more information and improve your level of concentration.

1. Set targets

  • Think about why you're reading - if you know your goal you are more likely to achieve it. Do you need to answer a specific question, write an essay, or get some background information?
  • To illustrate the importance of focus when you're reading, try this:
  • Look round the room for things that are RED.
    Close your eyes and think of the things in the room that are GREEN.
  • The chances are you can't because you were focusing only on RED things.
  • It is important to be clear why you are reading so that you can concentrate on what is relevant.

2. Preview

  • Write down keywords of what you know already to help you to later eliminate what you don't need to read.
  • Get an overview of the content by going through the text quickly, looking at paragraph headings, chapter headings, illustrations, covers, contents page, index etc.
  • Imagine that you're starting with a bare skeleton, and through each step you are slowly padding it out with skin and muscles. Each step will help you to make more informed decisions.

3. Skim

  • Skim the text to find key words and become familiar with the language and themes. You may decide at this stage that you need to get a dictionary. Again, by doing this you're adding flesh to your bare bones.

4. Get familiar

  • Familiarise yourself with the content of the text. Read the first paragraph of each section and/or if the text is short, the first sentence of each paragraph.
  • Eliminate what you don't need - highlight what you do.
  • 'Park' difficult things and build up an overall picture which will help with the more complex parts. For example, if you were doing a jigsaw puzzle, you might start by fitting the edges and corners together, and that some pieces are really easy to place. Others might initially be more difficult, but as you fit more pieces of the puzzle. together, the pieces that were once tricky become simple. It's the same with reading - the more context or background knowledge you have, the easier it will be to make sense of initially tricky material.

5. Be picky

  • Read selectively: read only what you have identified as being important.
  • Regularly assess whether you've achieved your aims. If not, review relevant the highlighted material.

6. Review

  • Think about what you knew before.
  • Write down what you have learned.

Extra Tips

  • Pacing: As you read, follow the text with a pencil, finger, chopstick - you get the idea! This will help you to focus, eliminate distractions, keep your place and encourage your eyes to take in bigger chunks of text.
  • Use a dictionary if necessary.
  • If you are looking for opinions skim for key words - but, how, however, yet - so you can jump to where the argument is going.
  • If you are looking for information skim for key words - who, what, when, where, how, why - so you can gather it quickly.
  • Read with your eyes not with your ears - don't speak the words in your head - learn to skim.
  • Write key words in the margin or use a highlighter - or if it's not your book - post-it notes.

Give it a go!

Read a long passage of text at normal speed for one minute then work out how many words you read per min. Then read at double speed for one minute, then at triple speed. Finally read at normal speed for one minute and work out your reading rate - it should be a bit faster than on your first go - and the more you practice the faster it will become.

This is a good way to practise and train your eyes to take in more words so try it for ten minutes every day.

It's all about learning from your mistakes and using it the next time so you don't put yourself in the same situation.

Magnus Backstedt

Swedish professional cyclist

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