Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Speed reading: How I started reading 3-4 times faster in just a short time

I increased my reading speed by 3-4x recently. I was a bit skeptical that I could pull it off, but had a lot of hope, because I knew people that could do it. And now here's a couple tips on how I've accomplished it.

First of all, I credit my improvement to a 5 hour class I took at Iris speed reading.

I can share a couple of my notes and things I'm doing now, but a 5 hour class with Iris is totally worth it. It's one of the best 5 hours of learning self improvement type stuff I've done in many many years.

The reason people read slow is usually because of a mix of 3 things:

1) We often go back and reread stuff we just read. Either we didn't understand the last sentence, or we stopped paying attention. Either way, this slows us down a ton.

2) We use our eyes to glance at every single word. Growing up we learn to read by reading each letter at a time. No one teaches us to digest whole words or entire sentences using all of our vision. You absolutely have the ability to digest more characters and words than you are now. You already digest more words and characters in one glance than you did when you were 5 years old. Imagine if you trained that ability.

3) We subvocalize words. Similar to reading every single word with our eyes, often we read by actually vocalizing the words in our heads. Does it sound like you are talking to yourself in your head when your reading? A lot of people hear that voice. It slows you down. You can read a lot faster than you can vocalize words. So you need to force the voice in your head to quiet down.

Training your eyes

So here's one great exercise I'll share that helps stop these 3 things above. There's definitely more exercises, but this one is my favorite and probably the most effective.

Take 5 minutes, a book and just read it as friggin fast as you can.

The key is to just see words as fast as you can. Don't even try to understand what your reading. Pretend it's another language, one that you don't understand. Pretend it's Klingon. You don't need to comprehend anything during this exercise. Just see words, lots of them, and super fast.

Use your finger during this to trace underneath each sentence. Using your finger is exactly what your parents and your teachers wanted you to stop doing as you learned. Which is a shame, because that finger really helps guide your eyes.

Most importantly, it keeps you in a groove and stops you from going backwards.

After 5 minutes, take a break, rest your eyes, then do this exercise 2 more times for a total of 15 minutes.

Go try and read a book now, but this time in order to comprehend the words.

You'll probably be amazed at how much faster you are reading just after doing this exercise 1 time. But just like any other exercise, you can't just do this once. You can't just do this a few times and then be an expert.   

Start with doing it 7 days in a row. Take a break, then do it for 14 days in a row. Just know that you'll need to revisit this exercise occasionally to keep your reading in shape.

Better comprehension from better skimming

So above was all about speeding up your eyes and your brain at seeing more words. But speed reading is also about comprehending better. For that, the technique I use is something akin to better skimming plus repetition.

I read every chapter 3 times.

The first time, I just read the first paragraph or 2 of a chapter and the final paragraph of that chapter. This gives me just enough to know what the chapter is about. I read at a pace that's comfortable for comprehending.

Then I go back to the start of the chapter for my second read. This time, I read the first sentence of each paragraph in the chapter. Sometimes I'll read a couple sentences if the sentence is pretty unremarkable. Again, I read at a pace that allows me to comprehend. I don't try and read fast.

Now, I go back to the beginning of the chapter for the 3rd and final time. This time, I try to read the chapter focusing on speed. I'll try and capture the main point of each paragraph. But I'll feel free to skip paragraphs I remember from my second reading as being kind of useless. And so I go through the chapter very fast.

Afterall, from the second reading, I have an outline already of what's kind of important and interesting in this chapter that I want more information about. I'm amazed at how many interesting chunks I can pull and remember from these books now. I'm learning better how to basically skip things I think are filler (determined from the second pass).

That's about it. Of course, I probably wouldn't read poetry like this or some kind of mystery novel. But this is an awesome technique when you are trying to get read through lots of other material. For example, I love reading business books. This is a great way to get past a lot of the fluff and redundancy. A lot of these books should be about a third as wide as they are now anyways, but that's another story.

Give it a go. But be warned, this is a great way to find yourself spending a ton more money on books. Now I have to manage all this book shopping I'm doing. I'm going to have to get a bit more handy with the public library.

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