How to speed read and comprehend | part 2 banner

Speed reading is more than moving your eyes more quickly. It requires an intuitive and strategic approach to process information more efficiently. These intermediate techniques will further improve your reading speed while maintaining comprehension.

Table Of Contents

  1. The Blinking Method |  Force yourself to read with a wider focus area by blinking between focus points.
  2. Block Reading |  Strategically read in blocks of a certain width.
  3. Eliminate Backtracking |  Break the habit of reactively re-reading text, instead, re-read paragraphs.
  4. Adaptive Speed Reading |  Learn to gauge the importance and difficulty of any text quickly and adapt your reading speed accordingly.
  5. Don’t Multi-task |  Don’t. This includes listening to music with lyrics.
  6. Download This Article
  7. Comments

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1. The Blinking Method

Have you ever noticed that you can read multi-word headers of text like street signs and book titles instantly, but you read books one word at a time?

speed_read_narrow_focus

Narrow focus
speed_read_wide_focus

Wide focus

This phenomenon can be attributed to the width of your focus area. As you can see in the images above, a narrow focus results in a small area of coverage, while a wide focus results in a larger area of coverage. When we are scanning for something, we do so with a wide focus in order to cover the largest amount of space in the least amount time. When we read, we use a much more narrow focus in order to pick up all the minor details. However, your ability to scan multiple words simultaneously when reading street signs and headers proves that you don’t necessarily need to read with a narrow focus all the time.

As you continue to increase your reading speed, you will quickly realize that you can no longer afford to focus on each individual word. In fact, at some point, you won’t be able to stay on any one word long enough to allow your eyes to focus, causing you to read at a slightly unfocused state. This will occur naturally with practice, but one way to speed up the process is by using blinks to reset your eye’s focus.

2. Block Reading

Block reading is when you read multiple words in “blocks” of a set width. So, instead of this:

One key to speed reading is learning to identify and prioritize your focus on those important words.

You read like this:

One key to speed reading is learning to identify and prioritize your focus on those important words.

Tip: Try blinking between each block!

But, block reading works best when combined with selective reading, so it will ultimately look like this:

One key to speed reading is learning to identify and prioritize your focus on those important words.

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!

3. Eliminate Backtracking

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. Here’s why:

  1. It’s a huge waste of time – In the time it takes you to go back and re-read a sentence, you could have read two more.
  2. It ruins your train of thought – Stopping mid-sentence to read a fraction of it again will break your momentum. That’s why backtracking once usually leads to backtracking again, and again.
  3. You usually don’t need to – Oftentimes the information in the next sentence will put it in context and help you recall what you might have missed.

Admittedly, there are times when backtracking is necessary, but instead of backtracking every individual sentence, there is another alternative.

Paragraph Backtracking

Experienced readers backtrack far less often than typical readers do, but when they do, they make it count.

Instead of backtracking on a per-sentence basis, backtrack at the paragraph level. This means completing the rest of the paragraph before backtracking the whole paragraph. In this way, you will not only have a better understanding of the entire paragraph, but you will be able to speed read the whole thing without any obstructions.

4. Adaptive Speed Reading

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. Even within a the same page, some paragraphs can be read at 500 wpm others may require that you slow down to 250 wpm.

While reading, continually ask yourself:

  1. How important is this?
  2. How difficult is this?
  3. Is this information really necessary?
  4. Should I skim this now and review it later?

If it’s important or difficult, you should slow down appropriately. If it’s unimportant, you can either skim it or skip it entirely.

5. Don’t Multi-task

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

In particular, make sure to avoid things that involve human speech. Music with lyrics, though not quite as distracting as a person speaking to you, engages your brain in a similar way (i.e. it causes your brain to process words, which interferes with reading). If you need to listen to music, make sure it’s ambient, orchestral, or something else that doesn’t have lyrics.

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