How can I read faster without missing anything?
December 24, 2003 10:33 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone got any tips about reading faster? Watching the BBC's Big Read, I was amazed at how quickly some people were able to absorb books, even taking into account working patterns and use of leisure time. It takes me at least a week, sometimes two to work my way through a typical novel. What's the best way to get through without missing anything?
posted by feelinglistless to Education (8 answers total)
I have wondered about this as well. I read fairly quickly, roughly 100 pages an hour of a typical novel, slower for something more complex, and maybe half that rate for technical texts.
I know there are tricks to improve reading speed, but I've never used them. Essentially my secret is this: when I was 9 I had no friends, I spent my summers from 9 through 11 in the local library, devouring everything. It was a small town, my mother would call the librarian and ask her to send me home for lunch.
The shorter answer would be: practice. It helps to have at least an hour of free time, as I generally hit my stride after the first ten or so minutes.
I wish I could help more, but all that I can say is, read for fun, and read frequently.
posted by Grod at 10:40 AM on December 24, 2003

I don't read as fast as I would like, but I can testify to the fact that it is possible to speed-read. I had a friend in high-school who could read literally a page every 5 or 10 seconds with good retention. I don't know if you can learn to do it or you have to be born with it, but it can be done.
posted by callmejay at 11:12 AM on December 24, 2003

I am also a frustrated slow reader. I find that I plod through slowly and obsessively, sometimes turning a page only to turn back again, check the page numbers, and re-read the last sentence on the previous page, just to make sure I haven't messed up and flipped more than one page. This obsessiveness really slows me down, line by line, page by page.

When I am fully alert, I am able to read about 2x faster if I concentrate. Here's my trick: I find that I read more slowly than I really need to because I'm over-afraid that I'm going to miss something. Literally, I just speed up my eyes, and don't allow them to stall or stop on anything. If I get a flash of the sensation I've missed a word, I just power through it to the end of the sentence anyway. 95% of the time, I realize I didn't actually miss anything.

Just don't stop. Make your eyes fly. If you get to the bottom of the paragraph, the bottom of the page, and feel lost, you're going too fast. Obviously, it depends on what you're reading and what kind of retention you need. But you may be surprised how fast you're really able to read if you discard your trepidation about double-checking every single word.
posted by scarabic at 11:32 AM on December 24, 2003 [2 favorites]

I read a page in about 30 seconds, mostly by not reading. You can get the general gist of a paragraph by just skimming through for keywords, you don't need to read character names, just the first few letters, and you certainly don't need to bother with "a", "the", etc.

This method of reading does cause some problems - occasionally I have tripped up and missed a major point, which I have to go back to, and I find it impossible to read aloud. I read internally about three times faster than I can speak, so I just end up in a muddle.
posted by Orange Goblin at 12:01 PM on December 24, 2003

I bought one of those 'learn-to-read-faster' books in '96, and in a week, my pace improved 5 fold. Over the years, my pace has improved to where I can read a standard college textbook in about 10 minutes with what I call average retention that lasts about 1 week. If I reread that book during the week (again at 10 minutes), my retention becomes quite good and lasts 10 days. A third 10-minute reading results in excellent retention that lasts up to 3 weeks.

I should add the retention is for new concepts, not necessarily new vocabulary.
posted by mischief at 2:28 PM on December 24, 2003

Mischief, care to give any tips about how to do it? What is the method? Do you remember the specific books?

I asked a speed-reading English teacher once what her secret was, and she said that she didn't look at specific words and skim a line left-to-right, but rather looked at the space between two words, and let her eyes focus on the three or four words around it, and so swallowed a chunk of text at a time.

I have tried this, and it seems to increase my speed a little, but I still don't do more than 50 pages an hour. Excellent retention though, if I do say so myself.
posted by Hildago at 8:50 PM on December 24, 2003

I don't know how to speed read, but I do know that I read fairly slow. Basically, when I read, I am reciting in my head what I see on the paper. Is this wrong?

I guess that speed-reading has to do with seeing sentences the same way you see a word and not a collection of letters.
posted by tomorama at 2:18 PM on December 25, 2003

tracking people's eye movements when they read shows that almost no proficient adult reader actually looks at every word. rather, their vision skips along the page, pausing to looking at maybe every one word in three (these jerky eye movements are called saccades). during saccades, while your eyes are in motion, everything is a blur - perception can only occur during the stops. the words that aren't actually perceive visually get filled in by unconscious inference. the trick to speed-reading is simply increasing the size of these jumps, transferring more of the workload from perception onto conceptual inference.

you can train yourself to do this by moving your finger along lines of text as you read them and synchronizing the speed of your reading with its motion. then, start moving your finger slightly faster and make your eyes keep up. it takes practice (and it feels rushed and weird at first), but if you keep at it, and keep increasing your finger speed as you improve, you'll eventually get proficient at zipping along really quickly, at which point you can dispense with the finger part altogether and just speed-read.

the catch is, the more you rely on inference, the more you introduce the possibility of misinterpreting or missing subtleties. this is much less of a problem than you might think - our inferential abilities are remarkably good. reading novels and texts on topics you can grasp easily or already know something about is no problem. if you're reading james joyce or quantum physics, though, you may be in trouble.

[god, i don't post here for three years, and then my psych geekdom comes in handy twice on one night. sweet!]
posted by lardgrass at 6:43 PM on December 25, 2003

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