There is so much to read in the world, but so little time! We have all been there, we have a bunch of articles open in our browser but we have to go out in an hour, or we just ordered 10 books off Amazon and want to read them all at once. Unfortunately, for the majority of us, reading takes a large amount of time. We end up with articles piling up in our 'Favourites' tab on our browser, or the bookshelf read to unread ratio shifting confidently towards the latter. Wouldn't it be much easier if we could read faster? Well this short 20 minute exercise helped me nearly double my reading speed in one session, if repeated and practised this can increase your reading speed by 300%! Imagine the productivity if we could read three articles in the time it usually takes to read one. This is going to be a fairly short article, because you can't speed-read yet, so you don't have time for a long article right?

Learning To Speed Read

Speed Reading - The Theory

Just a short theory lesson for you all. This guide is based on the PX Experiment conducted by Tim Ferriss at Princeton University. This was a cognitive experiment aimed to increase reading speed of readers from five different nationalities and even worked on dyslexic people. It is based upon several neurological theories:

  1. We do not read in a straight line, we take mental 'snapshots' of our focus area in a series of visual jumps.
  2. We reread too much, consciously and subconsciously we spend up to 30% of our total reading time reading content we have already read.
  3. We don't use enough of our peripheral vision, in each of our visual 'snapshots' during reading we ignore up to 50% of the words in that snapshot because our peripheral vision is untrained.

Now we know where the downfalls in our brain are, we just need to fix them. This is what I aim to do with this article.

Speed Reading - The Tools

There are only a few things you will need to learn how to read faster. You can get started right away, and I suggest that you do.

  • One 20 minute time slot, this exercise should be completed together, so take 20 minutes and do it!
  • One book of over 200 pages that can be laid flat on a table when open.
  • One pen, lid on.
  • One timer, your new shiny smart phone is ideal.

Speed Reading - Tracking Your Progress

So you now have the theory and the tools you need to increase your reading speed, so you just need to know what to do with this newly acquired knowledge. There are three main sections to this tutorial:

  1. Learn speed reading technique.
  2. Learn to apply these techniques with speed.
  3. Learn to apply these techniques with both speed and comprehension.

Before you start learning these methods, it would be helpful to track your progress by determining a words-per-minute baseline before the activities.

In your practice book count the number of words per line on five lines, write them down. Now add them up and divide them by five to determine the average number of words per line. Next, count the number of lines per page on five pages. Add them up and divide by five, you have your average number of lines per page. Multiply you words per line by your lines per page and you have an average words per page figure. Here's a simple example:

Words per line numbers:

10, 12, 11, 10, 10 = 53

53 / 5 = 10.6 words per line

Lines per page numbers

28, 30, 31, 30, 31 = 150

150 / 5 = 30 lines per page

Words per page numbers

30 * 10.6 = 318 words per page

Now, to determine your baseline reading speed start at the top of a page. Set your time for one minute and begin reading at your normal pace. When the one minute is done count the lines you have read and multiply it by the average words per line, this is your current words per minute rate. Note it down.

Speed Reading - Technique

Now you know the theory and have your baseline, it is time to start learning the technique. This revolves around tricking your brain to reduce the amount of time you spend rereading the same content over and over again. This is where your trusty pen comes in.

Learning Technique

Take your pen, ensuring that the lid is on, and use it to track your reading. Do this by underlining each line and keeping your vision fixated slightly above the tip of the pen. Keep the pen moving at a consistent speed to eliminate rereading. Set your time for two minutes and begin this exercise, making sure you do not spend more than one second on each line. A few bullet point tips

  • Focus on your consistent speed and technique
  • Do not be worried that you can't read fast enough, this exercise is about technique, not comprehension.
  • Try to read, but make sure it does not slow your pen down, you must take no longer than one second per line.

Speeding Up Technique

Use the technique you learned in the last section. Set your timer for three minutes this time and double the speed at which you were 'reading' in the last exercise. This means spending no more than 0.5 seconds on each line. Your main focus is on keeping your focus above the tip of the pen, you will probably comprehend absolutely nothing during this exercises, that's fine.

Speed Reading - Utilising Peripheral Vision

Peripheral vision is always there, but vastly underused. At the moment, you probably use about 40% of your total vision 'reading' the blank margins on each side of the page. You can increase reading speed dramatically by utilising your peripheral vision.

Learning Technique

Use the previous method of using your pen as a tracker and set your timer for one minute. Now, keeping speed at a consistent one line per second start reading from one word in from the first word of the line and end one word in from the last word of the line. As with the previous exercises, keep speed consistent and it doesn't matter if you don't comprehend any of it.

  • Example sentence: "Apples are like oranges but a different colour." You would begin reading at 'are' and end reading at 'different'.

After you have completed this exercise, set your timer for one minute again and repeat the exercise, this time starting reading two words in and ending two words in. Using the example sentence above, you would start reading at 'like' and end at 'a'. As always, focus on speed and consistent technique.

Speeding Up Technique

Set the timer for three minutes and begin reading three words in from the start of the line and end three words in from the end of the line. Increase your speed by staying on a line no more than 0.5 seconds. As always, you will probably comprehend nothing, but this is fine. Your focus is on conditioning your brain to use your peripheral vision and eliminate rereading. 


Speed Reading - Tracking Progress

Now you have learned the techniques and practised them, it is time to calculate your new words per minute rate. Put your pen down and, for the first time in 20 minutes, focus on comprehending what you are reading. Set your timer for one minute and begin reading, read as fast as you can, whilst ensuring you are comprehending what you're reading. When the timer is done use the original method to calculate your new words-per-minute rate. This one simple 20 minute exercise should have increased your reading speed significantly. If this is practised fairly regularly your reading speed should increase further.

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Tim Ferriss conducted this speed reading experiment, and in this book he explains how it is possible to learn any skill in record time.