How would your life change if you could read twice as fast? Undoubtedly, your academic, professional and personal life will greatly improve. Learn these basic speed reading techniques to start your journey towards doubling or tripling your reading speed.

Table Of Contents

  1. Skip Small Words | Read short words with your peripheral vision.
  2. Optimize Reading Conditions | Read from an optimal distance, optimize lighting and stand up.
  3. Warm Up |  Make sure you’re in a high energy state when you read.
  4. The Pointer Method |  Use your finger or a pen to force your eyes to follow at a faster rate.
  5. Embedded Dictionaries |  Install pop-up dictionaries into your browser for on-the-spot lookups. 

Measure Your Reading Speed

In order to measure any improvement in reading speed, you’ll first need to take a speed reading test.

Take Speed Reading Test

You can come back here to re-test at any time.

1. Skip Small Words

Each word requires a different amount of time to process. In fact, some words are so intuitive, they can be skipped without losing the meaning of the sentence. Most native English readers do this instinctively to some degree, but this technique can be improved through practice. To understand how this works, read the following paragraph, but focus only on the red words.

Not every word is equally as important. Some words are critical to the sentence and cannot be removed, while others can be removed without much loss in meaningOne key to speed reading is learning to identify and prioritize your focus on those important words.

Notice how you still managed to pick up the unimportant words without looking directly at them? That’s because they require so little processing power to comprehend that you can still read them without looking at them directly.

Counter-intuitively, selective reading can increase your comprehension, because you spend a proportionately greater amount of time on the important words.

This is the same logic that is applied to writing newspaper headlines. Newspaper publishers make headlines catchy by condensing the important words and stripping out the unimportant minor words.

2. Optimize Reading Conditions

Optimize Reading Distance

Generally speaking, it is easier to speed read by increasing the distance between your eyes and the text. This is because:

  1. Your field of vision expands with distance, meaning you can fit more words can fit in your effective field of vision.
  2. Your eyes travel less, so you can cover a larger distance with less eye muscle usage.

Your field of view expands with distance

Note: Everyone’s optimal reading distance will be different depending on how near- or far-sighted they are.

Optimize Lighting

Too little lighting will negatively affect your energy levels, while too much lighting will strain your eyes. Neither are ideal for speed reading. Sustained speed reading can only be achieved in an environment with good lighting. This includes:

  • Natural off-white lighting
  • No shadows or reflections over the text
  • Even lighting across the room
  • Sunny daytime level lighting


Standing promotes blood flow, which increases alertness and energy levels. It also engages all your limbs, making it a more engaging activity. Lastly, it isolates you from the distractions at the desk, as there is nothing within arm’s reach except the book or device you are reading from.

You don’t have to stand the entire time, but adding a little variety by standing for a few minutes during a prolonged reading session can do wonders.

3. Warm Up

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’s not only the mind that needs to be activated, but the body as well. For this reason, it’s highly recommended that you do some light physical activity (walk, jog, stretch, etc.) before you start, as well as periodically between reading sessions. This ensures adequate oxygen and blood flow to the brain and eyes to maintain the high-energy state.

4. The Pointer Method

This is a great beginner technique to force your eyes to adapt to a faster reading speed.

  1. Grab a pen, chopstick or other thin stick-like object (your finger works too, but a pen works better because of its sharper tip)
  2. Trace under the words and let the tip guide your eyes. The pen is just a guide; don’t draw on the book.
  3. 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:

  1. It ensures that you read at or near your current top speed
  2. It helps you maintain a consistent speed
  3. It reduces instances of you losing your place

If you’re the type that always seems to get distracted and lose your place in the text, the pointer method have a more meaningful impact on your reading speed.

5. Embedded Dictionaries

For some, in particular ESL students, the lack of vocabulary is a more significant contributor to slow reading rather than technique. The best way to overcome this issue is by using applications that allow you to instantly look up words and bookmark them for later review.

  • ChromeGoogle Dictionary
  • SafariDictionary
  • FireFoxDictionary Pop-up
  • Internet ExplorerDictionary Reference
  • Apple Macs – Right click (or 2-finger click) any word and select “Look Up in Dictionary”
  • eBook Readers – Most modern eBook readers and eBook applications have built-in dictionaries. All you have to do is highlight the word in question.

Read Part 2 of Speed Reading