How can I speed up my reading?
November 29, 2009 4:22 PM   Subscribe

I love to read but I'm a really slow reader. I avoid reading books longer than about 300 pages because it takes me so long to get through anything longer. I read for hours everyday (mostly online stuff) so it's not lack of practice. Is there anything I can do to speed up?
posted by Andy Harwood to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
wiki has a good explanation of the various methods you could use.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 4:32 PM on November 29, 2009

Put aside an hour a day for reading. Ignore the length of the book completely and concentrate on reading things that interest you.
posted by fire&wings at 4:33 PM on November 29, 2009

Hearsay: reading with a pencil (or similar) pointed at the words helps your eyes keep moving forward, instead of back and forth, so you read faster. Once you've trained your eyes to do this, you can keep doing it even without pointing at the words.

I suppose this (like other speed-reading techniques) is not recommended for complicated texts, but might work for novels and "light" nonfiction.

I also find that after I read something really hard, easy stuff seems to go much faster. I'm not sure if it really goes faster or it just feels like it.
posted by k. at 4:43 PM on November 29, 2009

I am the same way. I considered working on speed-reading, but I felt it would just make reading less fun.

Try thinking of it like this: a slow reader can enjoy a great book for a longer period of time. It's more time with great characters in a foreign world. There's nothing wrong with that.
posted by alligatorman at 4:46 PM on November 29, 2009

Spreeder might help.
posted by yoga at 4:56 PM on November 29, 2009

I think it helps a lot to get out of the habit of sub-vocalizing everything when you're just reading big chunks of text like books. I do it when I'm writing something like this, or when speed doesn't matter, because it does help with comprehension to a degree and it definitely helps with composing sentences that "sound" right, but it does slow you down significantly. If you want to practice this, you can use something like Spreeder, as mentioned above. I recommend upping the number of words per block to more than one, though, because you also don't need your eye to rest individually on each word, it's really better to reduce the number of stops for your eyes and pick up as much peripherally as possible.

I don't think it's really necessary to push for the upper limits of speed, but your brain can comprehend perfectly well even if you're not focusing on and subvocalizing every word. Just a little bit of practicing at higher speeds can improve the speed of your everyday reading measurably.

This kind of practice got me through Deathly Hallows in about eight hours, which is I believe about 400wpm, which is about twice "normal" comfortable reading speed. This is the only book I've actually measured on because I was so determined to finish it as fast as I could after I got it, though!
posted by larkspur at 4:58 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm also a slow reader by nature but found one trick that helps when speed is more important. Some test said I'm an aural reader because I sound the words out in my head, and it was right; I know I do that. That may be the same thing as subvocalizing. If you're doing the same, what helped me might help you: Repeat some meaningless phrase when you need to read quickly. I use 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, etc. But usually I just take my time, take notes, and move on to the next title. I'm also a non-fiction reader, and read maybe one novel every three or four years, so that method may ruin fiction reading if that's what you do. I have to consciously start doing this when I feel like I need to speed up. It's still not natural to me, but it does make me read faster.

I think I read faster on the screen than on paper, maybe because I can tweak the column width, etc., but I haven't speed-tested it. Maybe you can try that to see if it helps? It helps some with scanning.
posted by Katravax at 5:09 PM on November 29, 2009

I read for hours everyday (mostly online stuff)

Online doesn't count unless it is really longish articles, books, etc. If you read real books regularly, and don't have any disabilities such as dyslexia, then you will get better. Even with disabilities you gain speed through practice, but practice is real pieces, not news articles, not fluff, but something that makes you think hard like a novel, a history book, a short story, but not the typical low attention span quick piece on the internets. Reading speed is partly the act of picking up the words off of the page and partly comprehending the text. Comprehension is the hard skill for most people, but really this is what you improve through reading a bit of challenging text.
posted by caddis at 5:27 PM on November 29, 2009

Huh, I'd never heard of subvocalization, I think I subvocalize everything I read.
posted by Andy Harwood at 5:35 PM on November 29, 2009

10 days to Faster Reading
posted by Carius at 5:40 PM on November 29, 2009

I read a book on speedreading when I was a kid, and I truly regret it, because I thought I had to read everything at breakneck speed. Now I'm actually trying to slow things down: not too slow, but not too fast.

You should read this, and the other articles in that series. Keep in mind that sometimes, it's better to read slowly, and subvocalization is perfectly natural, often preferable, arguably unavoidable. It's good to be able to read different things at different speeds, but I wouldn't worry too much about it. With the average book, if you can read a page a minute, you're probably fine, and even if you're slower, don't worry about it.
posted by Busoni at 6:40 PM on November 29, 2009

Speed and retention can be inversely related. Focusing, concentrating improves both.
posted by llc at 8:58 PM on November 29, 2009

I guess it would be more useful to post this.
Speed reading is a collection of reading methods which attempt to increase rates of reading without greatly reducing comprehension or retention. Methods include chunking and eliminating subvocalization. No absolute distinct "normal" and "speed-reading" types of reading exist in practice, since all readers use some of the techniques used in speed reading (such as identifying words without focusing on each letter, not sounding out all words, not sub-vocalizing some phrases, or spending less time on some phrases than others, and skimming small sections). Speed reading is characterized by an analysis of trade-offs between measures of speed and comprehension, recognizing that different types of reading call for different speed and comprehension rates, and that those rates may be improved with practice.[1]

from the earlier wiki link
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:52 PM on November 29, 2009

I always thought about this too until like last week. I've always tried to focus on the words or the spaces or whatnot whenever I've been frustrated with my lack of concentration or speed, but it just got me less concentrated and more frustrated. I asked my sister, a notoriously fast reader in my family, and she said she doesn't think speed-reading, is a very good idea, that you lose something and it becomes less enjoyable.

So I stopped trying that and one day in the middle of a book I started concentrating on making scenes out of what I was reading and visualizing the landscapes and the conversations, etc., and I very quickly got lost in the book. (It seems like something really obvious, but I realized I wasn't doing it so I gave it a shot and it worked really well.) I finished a long book in a couple days that I'd been reading on and off for a month, and (what made me most happy) when I finished that book I reached for the next book on my pile right away. It was great.

The actual problem came when every 10 pages or so my mind would "look up" from the story and congratulate itself for how fast it was reading. That was really irritating! But it made me so happy as my habits gradually changed.

That said, I am a definite visual learner, so maybe that's why it works so well for me, and it might not work for you. Good luck.
posted by freddymungo at 12:45 AM on November 30, 2009

I think I read faster on the screen than on paper, maybe because I can tweak the column width, etc., but I haven't speed-tested it.

Research has shown that people tend to read slower from a screen, yet seem to read faster because they become better in skipping text that isn't directly useful to them.

What this teaches us is that not every word counts in every text. Which is a different approach to speed reading, but maybe a useful one.
posted by ijsbrand at 1:29 AM on November 30, 2009

Nthing caddis.

Speed-reading, in my experience, works for extracting relevant information from manuals and technical articles, but not for novels or any complex or dense texts where you actually want to understand the whole thing. Depending on what you read, speed-reading may or may not be useful thing to learn.

Reading quickly and efficiently is like any other skill. If you do it a lot, you'll get to the point that you can do it quickly without thinking about it. Subvocalizing is, I think, like thinking about it.

Reading paper is different from reading a regular computer screen - it's much higher resolution, not back-lit. So just read more paper on a regular basis, even if it's short texts. Gradually, over time, you'll get faster at it.

I can slow-read really fast, but I don't use a technique, I just do it a lot. (I can speed-read too, but only use it for certain things.)
posted by nangar at 3:51 AM on November 30, 2009

Read How to Read a Book by Paul N. Edwards v4.0. Link is direct to pdf.
posted by iNfo.Pump at 4:38 PM on December 24, 2009

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