3 Reasons Why speed reading is an essential skill & how to increase your reading speed

This is an article I originally wrote for www.3ReasonsWhy.com. Find out the reasons for life’s biggest and littlest mysteries at 3 Reasons Why. 

A more detailed explanation on speed reading appears in my new book, How To Make Money Writing Full-Time: Establishing Life-Long Skills to Find and Keep Work as a Writer, the first part in my Writing for Writer’s series in which I help other writer’s and authors achieve their goalsNow available for just $2.99 here.

If you aren’t speed reading, you are cheating yourself out of your own time. This handy skill is especially important in college or any academic setting, but also an imperative skill for all facets of life.

Here are three reasons why speed reading is an essential skill and how you can increase your reading speed.

Reason 1: Quicker Comprehension

At its essence, speed reading is a method of learning information much quicker than traditional methods.

Many speed readers claim to be able to take in over 1,000 words per minute, however, comprehension drops dramatically at that level. The key to speed reading is a balance between eye movement and reading comprehension.

Experienced speed readers constantly adapt their reading speed to match the importance and difficulty of the content. Difficult content requires a slower reading speed, while simple content can be read much more quickly.

Reason 2: Only practice speed reading under the best conditions

In order to get the most out of your speed reading sessions, it’s important to only read when you know you have enough mental energy to do so.

Speed reading inherently requires you to be in a high-energy state. Therefore, like any intense activity, performance can be improved through a proper warm-up. It may sound silly, but try to get your heart rate up a bit by jobbing in place beforehand. When all else fails, there is always coffee or tea.

Standing promotes blood flow, which increases alertness and energy levels. It also engages all your limbs, making it a more engaging activity. Of course, you don’t have to always do this.

You should also optimize reading conditions. Some people prefer the background noise of crowded cafés when they’re reading. Other people prefer total silence. Whatever your preference is, make sure the atmosphere is just right before diving into a speed reading session. The key is to minimize distractions and interruptions.

You can also increase your reading speed by optimizing reading distance and lighting. By increasing the distance between your eyes and the content, you are able to see more words at once. Everyone’s optimal reading distance will be different depending on how near- or far-sighted they are.

Too little lighting will negatively affect your level of energy, making you drowsy. Too much lighting will strain your eyes and make it hard to concentrate. We’re shooting for the Goldilocks effect here.

Reason 3: Different methods of speed reading

The pointer method is a great beginner technique to force your eyes to adapt to a faster reading speed. Grab a pen, chopstick or other thin stick-like object. Trace under the words and let the tip guide your eyes. The pen is just a guide; don’t draw on the book. Trace at a pace that is 10 to 20% faster than your typical reading speed. Continually push yourself by speeding up once you’ve adapted.

The pointer method has three distinct advantages, such as ensuring that you read at or near your current top speed. It also helps you maintain a consistent speed while reducing instances of you losing your place.

Block reading is when you read multiple words in “blocks” of a set width. The width of each block will depend on your ability, but a good starting point would be ~3 words length per block, but with practice, you’ll be able to increase it to 4 or 5 words.

Backtracking is when you go back to re-read something you thought you missed. It seems like common sense to go back and re-read something you missed, but it can actually have a net negative impact on your comprehension.

Multi-tasking that includes any high-function activities inevitably has a negative effect on the main activity. It is possible to multi-task several low-function activities, but not with high-function activities like reading. More on this later.

The slowest readers vocalize every word, that is, they either speak or whisper the words out loud as they read. If you think about it, this tactic means that their reading speed is limited by their speaking speed. The majority of readers don’t read out loud, but they do so as an inner monolog called sub-vocalization.

Preventing yourself from sub-vocalizing is surprisingly simple. All you have to do is vocalize something else to block the speaking path in your brain. At first, you will notice that either your reading speed with drop or your comprehension will drop. However, with consistent practice, you will quickly surpass your previous reading speed limits.

Once you reach a certain point in speed reading, you will naturally begin scanning the words both above and/or below the line you are reading. This will result in non-linear reading, or reading that doesn’t follow the natural order of the words. It’s basically an advanced form of block reading that extends vertically. At first, this will work as a form of previewing, rather than reading words, but with enough practice, you may develop the ability to read multiple lines simultaneously.

As with anything, practice makes perfect! You may be able to only read 400 words per minute at first, however, if you keep using these tools, you’ll be able to read like an all-star in no time.

Staples has a great free speed reading test where you can compare your score to the national average. Take this test at least once a week and continually strive to increase your reading speed.