How To Stop Reading Slowly
This post outlines how I doubled my reading speed in less than a month.
Every book I read in preparation for this project focused on the same three points:
- Increase the speed that your eye travels across the page,
- Decrease the number of time it fixates on each line and
- Stop vocalising what you read in your head.
You will need a book, a metronome (just google for one online), a timer, a pen and some paper.
Start with Your Baseline
Count the number of words on five lines of text. Divide the number by five for an average number of words per line. Read for exactly one minute. Count the number of lines and multiply this by the average number of words per line. This is your current reading speed.
The speed reading protocol I followed lasted ten minutes. It’s taken from Tim Ferriss’ blog and it is free for everyone to read here.
- 2 min at 1 line per second (which means setting the metronome to 60 beats per minute)
- 3 min at 2 lines per second (which means setting the metronome to 120 beats per minute)
- 1 min at 1 line per second, starting and ending one word into each line.
- 1 min at 1 line per second, starting and ending two words into each line.
- 3 min at 2 lines per second, starting and ending three words into each line.
This is NOT a reading exercise.
It is an eye exercise.
You are not expected to comprehend anything. Run your eyes from one side of the page to the other before the beat of the metronome. This can be disorientating at first but it gets easier.
If you test your new reading speed after this exercise it will be high. The first time I did this I started at 250 words a minute and ended up at 510 words a minute.
Measuring your reading speed after an accelerated eye exercise does not reflect improvement. The momentum wears off after a few pages.
I took a five-minute break and then read for ten minutes (no metronome this time). I worked out my reading speed at the end of the ten minutes. I repeated this process three times and averaged the speed for all three bursts. This gave me a more accurate metric of my day-to-day improvement.
I practised four days a week. The results were as follows:
As you can see, I did not get better and better. I got better, worse and then a lot better. If this happens to you, know that it happens and stick with it.
By the end of the three weeks, my average reading speed went from 232 to 430. An 85% increase from less than an hour of effort four times a week.
What About Comprehension?
Speed reading critics argue that learning to speed read is nothing more than skimming. Reading faster doesn’t mean you are reading better.
Comprehension tests ask you a series of questions about a piece of text you have read and then quantify your comprehension as a percentage of how many questions you answered correctly.
I don’t think comprehension tests do a good job of measuring comprehension. I’m not someone who pays attention to names and dates when I read books. I know that I can always refer to the book later if I need to.
Other times I read a book at half my normal speed and remember nothing. Comprehension has little to do with speed or focus, and more to do with purpose.
If I want to know how to speed read, I will have excellent comprehension of the bits that tell me how to get started.
Reading at double speed feels exactly like it used to at half speed. The only difference is that I don’t waste time reading words in my head and I backtrack less.
One could argue that this exercise does not teach you how to read quickly, it shows you how to stop reading slowly. I have not tried to double my reading speed a second time, I doubt it would work as well.
Reading at 250 words per minute was boring. Reading at twice the speed has only made things more enjoyable. I have no interest in learning to read even faster. I will focus on choosing better books instead.
On the other hand, learning how to speed read is a complete waste of time if you want to read fiction. Speed reading fiction is about as much fun as watching a movie in fast forward.