Learn the Basics Of Speed Reading! Quick Intro lessons
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May 8, 2006
Whether you're hitting the textbooks in philosophy class, reading long-winded emails from co-workers or just reading the morning newspaper, chances are at one time or another you've wished you could read a little faster. So widespread is the desire to learn speed reading, in fact, that teaching the skill has become big business: a host of companies now offer books, training sessions and even computer programs to increase reading speed--sometimes at a cost of hundreds of dollars. But why fork over your paycheck or student loan money for a speed reading system when you can start reading faster today by following these steps? Check your eyes. Many people who read particularly slowly do so because they have an undiagnosed vision problem. Even if you think you have perfect vision, if you haven't had an eye exam recently, there's no time like the present. Time your current reading speed. It's important to find out how fast you read now so that you can track your improvement through subsequent timings. Not only will timing help you to tell if you're improving, but it will also keep you motivated. You can break out a book and a stopwatch and either time how long it takes you to read a certain number of words on a page or find out how many words you read in a given amount of time. An easier way to time yourself is to take an online reading speed test. There are a plethora of these available: just enter "reading speed test" in your search engine. Many of these have reading comprehension tests, as well, so you can see how well you're understanding what you're reading. Regardless of how you decide to time yourself, be sure to read at your normal speed during the timing, and time yourself on a few different pages--the average of your times should approximate your average reading speed. Get rid of distractions. Even if you think you read better when you have music playing or when you're in a crowded coffee house, you can probably increase your speed if you reduce distractions to a bare minimum. Try to find a solitary place to read, and turn off the TV, radio and cell phone. In order to maximize comprehension while reading quickly, you'll need to focus on the material as closely as possible. Adjust reading speed depending on the material. Often, we must trade off comprehension for speed, so an important part of increasing reading speed is deciding how thoroughly you need to comprehend a particular piece of writing. So before you even start reading, decide how fast you intend to go. If you're reading a newspaper article, chances are you just want to get the main ideas, and you can skim through the passages quite rapidly. If, however, you're reading a math textbook or a demanding philosophical treatise--and you need to fully understand the material--you don't want to rush. Learn to separate the wheat from the chaff with pre-reading. No matter what you're reading, there is frequently a lot of "filler" that you can read quickly through or even skim over. With practice, you'll be able to identify the most important parts of a book as you skim through it. When you get to such a passage, slow down. Before you begin a chapter or book, look over the entire piece very quickly. Try to find patterns of repeated words, key ideas, bold print and other indicators of important concepts. Then, when you actually do your reading you may be able to skim over large portions of the text, stopping only when you come to something you know is important. Train yourself not to reread. Most people frequently stop and skip back to words or sentences they just read to try to make sure they understood the meaning. This is usually unnecessary, but it becomes a habit, and many times you will not even notice you're doing it. One exercise to help you avoid rereading is to take a sheet of paper or index card and drag it down the page as you read, covering each line once you've read it. Try to drag the card in a steady motion; start slowly, and increase your speed as you feel more comfortable. Stop reading to yourself. As you read you probably subvocalise, or pronounce the words to yourself. Almost everybody does it, although to different degrees: some people actually move their lips or say the words under their breath, while others simply say each word in their heads. Regardless of how you subvocalise, it slows you down. To break the habit, try to be conscious of it. When you notice yourself pronouncing words to yourself, try to stop doing it. It may help to focus on key words and skip over others, or you may want to try humming to yourself in order to prevent subvocalising. One exercise to stop your lips from moving is to hold a pencil in your mouth while you read. Read with your hand. Smooth, consistent eye motion is essential to speed reading. You can maximize your eyes' efficiency by using your hand to guide them. One such method is to simply draw your hand down each page as you read. You can also brush your hand under each line you read, as if you are brushing dust off the lines. Your eyes instinctively follow motion, and the movement of your hand serves to keep your eyes moving constantly forward. However, many Speed Reading Instruction books indicate that using a tracking member in speed reading inhibits the process. Try not to become dependent on using your hand or fingers. Practice reading blocks of words. Nearly everyone learned to read word-by-word or even letter-by-letter, but once you know the language, that's not the most efficient method of reading. Not every word is important, and in order to read quickly, you'll need to read groups of words--or even whole sentences or short paragraphs--instantaneously. The good news is you probably already do this to some extent: most people read three or four words at a time. Once you make an effort to be aware of your reading style, you'll discover how many words you read at a time. Now you just need to increase that number. Using your hand as a guide may help, as may holding the book a little further from your eyes than you usually do. Practice and push yourself. While you may see some gains in speed the moment you start using these tips, speed reading is a skill that requires a lot of practice. Always push yourself to your comfort level and beyond--if you end up having to reread a section, it's not a big deal. Keep practicing regularly. Time yourself regularly. After a week or so of practice, time yourself as in step two. Do this regularly thereafter, and keep track of your improvement. Don't forget to pat yourself on the back every time your reading speed increases! Try books with large font to start. A book with small letters might be hard to start out with because it is easy to skip lines by mistake. Start by reading a book or article that you have already read. It will be easier to skip words and keep up a smooth flow if you're familiar with the material. When using your hand or finger to guide your eyes, start slowly, but at a challenging pace. Even if you don't think you're keeping up with your hand, keep going for a page or two and then test your comprehension. With practice, you'll be able to move your hand--and hence read--faster. Take frequent breaks. Your comprehension and focus will be better if you take a five-minute break every hour or half-hour. Taking breaks is also important to keep your eyes healthy and avoid eye strain. You may not want to read some things quickly, even if you can. Fiction for example, is usually relatively easy to read quickly, but you can miss out on a lot of the nuance and beauty of the fiction writer's craft, even if you understand everything that's going on in a story. The same is doubly true for poetry. If you're reading for enjoyment, it may be best to savor the words. While faster reading can actually improve your comprehension by making you a more active, focused reader, reading too fast can also lead to decreased comprehension. You read in order to get important information; if you're reducing your comprehension dramatically, you might as well not read at all. Beware of expensive speed reading products. Try the tips above before you spend money on a speed reading book or kit. If you're still not making progress after a few weeks of regular, serious practice, you may want to consider paying for a product, but do some research and compare your options before you do. Sleep well! You won't be able to have a good understanding of the text if you don't. It will make you spend a lot more time on reading, and even like that, the comprehension isn't going to be as high as you may wish.
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