Reading blog posts, reading for work or leafing through a book: most likely you do some kind of reading every day. But trudging through complicated text passages can be time-consuming, mentally exhausting, and hard on the eyes. If you want to read faster while maintaining the same level of understanding, you’ve come to the right place.
Here are five techniques to improve your reading skills, with all the benefits that come with it. Being more informed, or simply reading your favorite authors for fun, can greatly improve the quality of your life.
Your goal must change your reading style
Think about your goals. What do you want to learn by reading? The author’s goal, for example, might be to describe the entire history of ancient Rome, while your goal might simply be to answer a question about the role of Roman women in politics. If your goal is more limited than the author’s, plan to find and read only the relevant sections.
Also vary your reading style based on the type of material you are about to read. If you intend to read a legal or scientific text, you should probably plan to read certain passages more slowly and carefully than when reading a novel or magazine.
Attention is everything
Reading quickly with a good understanding requires concentration. Minimize outside noise, distractions and interruptions, and be aware when your thoughts wander as you read. If you notice that you are fantasizing instead of focusing on the text, slowly bring your attention back to the material you are reading. Many readers read some sentences passively, without concentrating, then spend time going back, and re-reading those passages to make sure they understand them. This habit – called regression – will slow you down considerably, and make it more difficult to get an overview of the text.
Reading selectively can help a lot
General readers or students may not always have to read every section of a textbook or article. Unless you are reading something extremely important, skip sections that are not relevant to your purpose. Reading selectively will allow you to digest the main points of many texts, rather than having time to fully read just a couple of them.
Read sentences not words, and don’t subvocalize
To increase your reading speed, pay attention to what your eyes are doing. Instead of reading each word individually, move your eyes in a crawling motion, jumping from one block (three to five words) to the next block of words. Take advantage of your peripheral vision to speed up around the beginning and end of each line, focusing on blocks of words, rather than the first and last words.
Marking with a finger or pen on each block of words will help you learn how to move your eyes quickly over the text, and encourage you not to subvocalize as you read. Subvocalization, or silently saying every word in your head as you read, will slow you down and unnecessarily distract you.
The power of the summary
Your work shouldn’t end when you read the last word of a page. After you finish reading, write a few sentences to summarize what you read, and answer any questions you had before you started reading. Did you learn what you hoped to learn? By spending a few minutes after reading to think, synthesize information and write down what you have learned, you will consolidate the material in your mind, and have a better memory of it later. If you are a more visual or verbal person, draw a summary with a mind map, or tell someone what you just learned.