Discover more from A Frayed Mind
My Speed Reading Guide
My tips which are guaranteed to increase your reading speed.
If you could consume information 3x faster than anyone else for free, would you do it? Well, after my smashing success on the review of Jim Kiwk’s Speed Reading Course many people asked me to collate all the knowledge I have attained on the subject of speed reading. I have taken many online courses and spent hours watching videos on this subject, so what follows are the most effective techniques that I have learnt so far.
Before I start giving the tips there are a few caveats that need to be stated:
This is designed mostly for non-fiction
You need to practice
Measure and compare your reading speed
Before you start implementing any of these techniques, you need to know your baseline reading speed. Set a timer for two minutes and read like you normally would. After the timer is up, count how many lines you read, and average out how many words there are per line. Multiply the amount of lines you read with the average number of lines then divide this number by 2 (60 lines, 8 words per line is 60 x 8 = 480. 480 ÷ 2 = 240WPM). This is your words per minute (WPM) reading speed. Once you start using these techniques and have practiced for a bit you can find out your new WPM by using the same test to see how much you’ve improved. This will motivate you further.
So please, bookmark this blog post and come back here often to refresh yourself of the techniques that you need to implement.
Reading involves a little bit of physical action. It’s not much but this little bit of physicality will be highly conducive to improving your reading speed.
Use a pointer. A pointer is a tool that you use to drag your eyes across the page. What you’ll notice is that your eyes do not have the ability to smoothly look from one place to another, they instead make short rapid movements that jitter across your visual field. Your eyes also have an unhelpful tendency to double back on what you’ve just seen. This is called saccadic eye movement and can be demonstrated best by the picture below.
Using a pointer counteracts this subconscious tendency and forces your eyes to move in a continuous trajectory without double backing and rereading anything. The most common pointers are pens or fingers (preferably one’s own finger).
You might end up a bit self conscious doing this. What if people see you using your finger to help you read and they judge you, thinking you have some sort of learning disability? Well, you just have to ask yourself this, do you place the opinion of strangers above your desire for self improvement? If so, this blog is not for you.
Put your peripheral vision to use by indenting. Instead of starting on the very first word of each line, get your pointer to start a few centimetres towards the centre then drag your pointer across the page, stopping a short distance from the end of the line and repeat. You’ll find you don’t need to directly look at a word to be able to read it. It’s surprising how much your peripheral vision can pick up.
These tips alone should increase your reading speed noticeably.
Want to increase your speed further? Keep reading, or watch my YouTube video below.
There’s more information in this blog post, but having a video to explain the concepts will help you retain some of this.
Your environment is something that more people need to consider when they sit down to read. I’m not just talking about being distraction free, I’m talking about creating a place so that your body forces your mind to switch gears.
Create a ritual that you pair with reading. This could be having a vape or cigarette while sitting outside, or a specific chair that you sit down in with a hot drink. When you start pairing these physical actions with reading, you start to tell your mind to get into a reading mindset and you will end up taking in more information and your efficiency will increase the more that you reinforce this. Try use that space or chair ONLY for reading. It’s not always possible, but having designated areas for each activity will increase your productivity.
Let’s touch on distractions for a bit. The less, the better. No shaking desks, no kids running around, no unforgiving noises, you don’t want anything that could break your concentration and potentially pull you out of the zone. Noise cancelling headphones can do wonders for you. If you don’t have these, earbuds that play some sort of white noise or gentle rain are great at removing unwanted noises.
Some people like to listen to music while reading. I have mixed feelings about this. If you can do it, do it - however I can’t because I know that my mind becomes too focused on what I am listening to, compared to what I am reading. What will end up happening is since you can’t concentrate on both, either you subconsciously block out the music, or you block out what you’re reading, so there’s not much point listening to your favourite artists. I have heard that classical music works, but my guess is that this is more of an individual thing. So test it out and see what works for you.
This is a hard one to get past but… you’re allowed to skip parts of the book. It feels like cheating, I know. This is something you’re going to have to get over if you want to read faster.
People have a tendency to give multiple examples to help explain a concept. Once you understand the idea that they’re trying to communicate, you no longer need to read all the examples. Just gloss over them. You get it. It’d be like explaining the rules of poker to a professional poker player, or teaching a driving instructor how to drive, or pointing out the order of the books of the bible to a biblical scholar, or… (if you didn’t skip these examples, you may have missed my point).
Anything that you already know, skip. I was reading a book and the author touched on scuba diving and the importance of buoyancy. I have done much diving in the past and knew everything he was going to tell me. He was using this as an example that ties in with a greater concept of having safety checks, since I know all about the example I skipped straight to the concept itself.
If you know how Pavlovian conditioning was discovered, you don’t need to read the story about the salivating dogs and the bell. You’ve heard it before, you’ll gain nothing from rereading this. Don’t be gripped by FOMO (fear of missing out), 99% of the time you won’t miss anything. If you feel you need a refresher or just want to hear the story again, by all means, reread it. But don’t feel compelled to do so.
If you have no interest in the particular thing you’re reading, skip it. Books are meant to be interesting. If it’s not keeping your interest you will become less motivated to pick up the book next time. It’s better to skip occasional chunks of a book if it means you keep your habit and enjoy yourself while reading.
When you finally get to the end of the book, skip over the acknowledgements. Nothing is gained from it.
You can skip groups of words easily. If the author has written out “The United States of America” do you need to consciously read every one of those words? Probably not because you’ve seen them together so often. When you glance at a group of words that are often together you can intuitively know what was written without reading each individual word in your head. You can gloss over these small phrases that are often paired together and once you start doing this more you can move to the most advanced step which is …
If you can do this, you breeze through entire paragraphs with no effort and absorb information via osmosis. Or something like that.
Subvocalisation is that inner voice you have right now as you read each word. It’s possible to remove this. You might think that this is a fantasy but in fact, you already have removed subvocalisation in many areas of your life. Take driving for example, when you see a sign that says “STOP”, “SCHOOL”, “GIVE WAY” or any speed sign, you usually don’t read the word, you look at it and the understanding comes to you without having to consciously say the word in your head.
Start with common phrases and increase from there. Eventually you may be able to get to the point where you’re doing paragraphs at a time without ‘speaking’ any of the words in your head. This is truly the most difficult part of speed reading because it feels so unnatural. It feels like you’re not quite reading, but just absorbing the information instead.
Remembering What You’ve Read
This is the entire point of reading. There’s no point reading super fast if it goes in one ear and out the other (I was going to say in one eye and out the other, but that doesn’t sound right…)
If you feel that you’re reading too fast and not taking anything in, slow down. You should be aiming just slightly above what you’re comfortable with so that you force improvement upon yourself, but not so fast that the words become a blur.
Now for some practical tips:
The best way to remember what you’ve read is to write it down. I have a small book where whenever I find something interesting, I rewrite what the author said in my own words. This helps information stick in your mind better than if you were to just reread the passage or write it down verbatim. An added benefit is that if you can read over your notes rather than reading the entire book again.
Alternatively, if you don’t mind ruining your books, you can highlight passages and write notes on the pages of the book itself.
Another great way to help retain information is to take a break and talk about the concept out loud or in your head to an imaginary person (better yet, a real person). My mind does this automatically when it comes across a new idea. I imagine that I am in a conversation with someone and explain this concept to them in my own words; I even try find personal examples in my own life that this idea applies to. Reiterating the information is essential to learning and understanding new things. Don’t be afraid to pause for a couple minutes after reading something and ponder what you’ve read.
Lastly, if you come across a chapter or a certain paragraph that’s salient, write it down and come back to it the next day.
Audio books are becoming more popular, and with good reason, too. You can put on an audio book while exercising, cleaning the house or driving, something that with books - for obvious reasons - you cannot do.
If you’re wanting to skip all of my tips that I have given you and ingest information in the most efficient way possible, audio books will be the way to go. If you choose to go with audio books, that’s fine, but at the very least you need to listen to them sped up. People speak extremely slowly and you can save so much time if you speed it up (even if it’s just 25% faster, but you can easily ingest the same information at 2x speed). I have a full blog post on why this is so important that you can read here.
One of the reasons I love having physical books is not only having a visual collection of everything I’ve read, but also the act of reading, feeling the weight of the book, flipping through the pages, is rather therapeutic to me.
So remember, bookmark this page. Come back to it frequently. And read like you’ve never read before.