How can I learn to read faster?
June 8, 2005 8:53 AM   Subscribe

How can I learn to read faster?

I very much enjoy reading but would like to read faster so that I can do more of this activity that I like so much. Obviously I still need to be able to retain comprehension of what I read. It is also very important that when I read for pleasure I still enjoy what I read. I know someone that reads very fast but seldom enjoys reading now.
I don't expect a silver bullet. I'm just looking for ideas, suggestions, methods, etc.
posted by horseblind to Education (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can check out these AskMe questions.
posted by BradNelson at 9:01 AM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: [egg on face.] Looks like I must learn to read first before learning to read faster.
posted by horseblind at 9:11 AM on June 8, 2005

Having grepped the previous answers for "music", "tune", and "earworm"...

Something that was very helpful for me (in going from quite fast to really fast) was to catch myself when I find that I'm subvocalizing what I'm reading, i.e. "hearing" all the words spoken. This needless practice automatically slows me down to the speed of spoken English. (If you already read slower than that, I don't know if this will be helpful.)

To prevent myself from subvocalizing, I try to get a tune stuck in my head, which occupies the auditory centers and lets "me" get on with my reading in peace.
posted by Aknaton at 9:17 AM on June 8, 2005

I took a summer class in speed reading when I was in 6th grade or so My reading was already pretty fast prior to that, though. I don't really remember what we did in there- I seem to remember some filmstrip-type things with text that would scroll down a machine at a desk, and that you could practice the techniques they taught that way, as well as get an accurate estimate of your words-per-minute. You could also take tests on the material you just read to see how much you retained (expressed thusly: "x" number of words per minute, with "y" percent retention).

Some tips: Don't say the words as you read; you won't be able to read any faster than you can speak. Aknaton's advice is sound, although I find I do better by concentrating on my breathing instead.

I tend to read down the "middle" of a page, as opposed to going line-by line, word-by-word. Try to "expand" your sight, (especially looking for key words, proper nouns etc.) so that you catch the text on the outer edges of the page in your peripheral vision. Eventually, your field of vision increases, and you start absorbing more info, more rapidly (the same way a great orchestral conductor/pianist can look at a conducting score with 20 or so separate lines of music [one for each instrument], reduce it in his head to two lines, and play it back on piano).

Practice in short bursts. "Read down the middle of each page" for a few pages, think about what you just read, then go back and read them more carefully. See how much information you really retained. Also, practice speed-reading on texts you've read recently, as well as on new stuff. You'll already know more-or-less what's important in familiar texts, and will be able to get through them faster, I imagine.
posted by the_bone at 9:39 AM on June 8, 2005

I had to take this silly "study skills" class a few semesters ago, and one of the few things of actual value that I learned was about reading faster. Basically the tip was to just read faster. Move your eyes across the lines faster than you normally do. It sounds dumb, but it works. The idea is that we spend so much time processing every word when we read, and we really don't have to. Comprehension is just as good when you don't make yourself understand every word before you move on. The real trick is remembering to do it, because it doesn't feel natural.
posted by Who_Am_I at 10:36 AM on June 8, 2005

I read very quickly and always have, but after I've ploughed through a giant novel in a couple of days I have a hard time remembering the plot - so if you crack the retention problem as well, do tell me about it!
posted by altolinguistic at 10:49 AM on June 8, 2005

You might want to try this java speed reader if you have an etext. Quite effective.

I also found reading Joyce's Ulysses helpful as the density of the material forces the reader to form the good habits of not skimming and paying close attention to the work. Reading anything after goes much quicker and easier.
posted by bobo123 at 11:05 AM on June 8, 2005

I did a bit of web research on how to improve my reading speed about a year ago. I attempted to limit my sources to sites that weren't selling anything, such as university orientation sites, etc. I was also interested in maintaining my retention (no skim-cheating).

Here's what I recall:

Stop visual regressions. Regressions are when you re-read text one or more times. Regressions are often caused by poor concentration.

Don't verbalize. Its tempting to read at the speed that you speak, but this is an artificial barrier.

Read phrases, not words. The intuitive unit of reading is the single word. This is another artificial barrier. One advantage faster readers often have over slower ones is that they "take in" more than one word at a time.

Improve vocabulary. Your eyes "stick" on words you don't know, which slows reading speed.

Practice. Practice the above on materials that you can relax and enjoy. Improvement takes time and a reasonable amount of discipline. This won't save you if you're a slow reader and want to magically pass the exam on The Scarlet Letter...tomorrow.
posted by elderling at 11:05 AM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

There's always the DuVal option: force yourself to read a 500+ page book in one day. Force yourself to read faster via skimming or whatever. I started to use this when I had to read Les Mis day. Sure, I didn't know what the hell happened in the book, but I began to speed read everything and now I can knock out 500+pages novels in a day with decent comprehension. However, thick material such as text books are another problem for me.
posted by jmd82 at 1:37 PM on June 8, 2005

First: ignore all the advice on speed reading. If you are reading for enjoyment and retention, it's useless. Go to the Cliff notes for the "gist" of the book.

Here's some tips that I think will help:

1. Remove distractions: don't try to read with the TV on, where there's lots of other people interrupting you, or even listening to vocal music. Do consider reading somewhere private and listen to instrumental music.

2. Let the writer tell you the story. Too many wrestle with trying to figure out what's going on from the very start, then fight with their misconceptions the rest of the way through. Let the story unfold before you.

3. Slow down! You're doing this for pleasure, remember? So, what's the rush. Enjoy what you're reading, savour it. No one has a timer on you. Yes, there are things we need to plow through, but when you read for pleasure, don't feel compelled to gobble it up.

4. Reread a favorite. You'll find that your comprehension a and perhaps your enjoyment will increase with a second or third reading. But don't overdo it.

5. Read some plays. Get some scripts of modern plays (not Shakespeare to start with) and read them, but let them be staged in your mind, just as if you were sitting in the audience. This is great practice to transfer to novels.

6. Most important rule: always carry something with you to read. You'll find that if you never leave the house without a book you'll find many times during the day - lunch, long waits, breaks, that you can fill by reading for a bit. You'll be surprised at how quickly you can polish off a novel this way.

7. Become a voracious reader. Don't limit yourself to one type of books. Although you may love mysteries, you might find gold in historical novels, comic books, biographies, popular science, and science fiction. Read widely and deeply. You'll find that more experience with more types of books will increase your vocabulary and your understanding of writing and literature. That will also increase your reading speed.

8. Read aloud for someone. Reading to someone, a child, a significant other, is a surprisingly intimate experience. Yes, it will force you to slow down, but you'll find that it will dramatically and astonishingly increase your comprehension and enjoyment. And yes, it may also help increase your personal reading speed as well.

Reading is one of my great joys and pleasures in life. To read widely is a subversive act. Read everything and you can't help but to grow and change how you look at the world.
posted by cptnrandy at 7:20 AM on June 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

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