Speed Reading Techniques

Speed reading techniques are basically what they sound like: a range of techniques that will help you read faster, without any drop in understanding. There’s no magic to speed-reading, it’s simply a set of techniques - some of which you may already use in a limited way without realizing – that increase your reading speed. Any claims of techniques that will help you zoom through books within seconds with full comprehension are just fantasy.

The average person’s reading speed is around 250 words per minute (wpm) with about 70% comprehension. Most reputable speed reading courses claim to be able to approximately double that to 500 wpm, whilst maintaining comprehension. Essentially speed reading techniques are ways to properly scan and skim text, extracting the meaning at faster speeds than normal. Whilst there are some wild claims out there, ignore them, but don’t discount the real benefits of speed reading either. Both Presidents Kennedy and Carter were fans of speed reading techniques.

There are essentially three main speed-reading techniques. Let’s take a look at them:

Environment and preparation

It may seem obvious, but it’s important to make sure your environment and state of mind are right for reading. If you are somewhere where people are talking, or there are loud disruptive noises, it’s going to be harder to focus attention. Similarly, if you are tired, have sore eyes, hungry or lacking fresh air (oxygen that your brain needs to operate at top capacity) then you already at a disadvantage. If you want to read at top speed find somewhere quiet at a time when you've recently had some fresh air and you're not tired or hungry. If you really can't find anywhere perfectly quiet, at least try to avoid being able to hear voices people speaking or singing. Putting some headphones on with quiet or moderate volume of instrumental music can help you block outside noise (music without words is not going to be using the part of your brain that decodes language, so it won't be impairing your ability to read.)

Searching for information rich sections

Whether you are reading an article or a book, there are some sections that are more important than others: four example, before you start reading a non-fiction book, look through the table of contents. This will give you a guide overview of what information is in the book. This will speed up your reading because it will prepare your brain for what to expect in each section of the book. It will also enable you to hone in on the areas you are particularly interested in. If your time is short, don't be scared of just reading one chapter in a book it looks like the only chapter is relevant to what you're interested in. Secondly, the beginnings and hands of both the book ( i.e. first and last chapters) and each chapter, and even paragraph, tends to be the richest information. This also applies to articles. By paying special attention to the start and finish of each section, you will likely to see where the author introduces their main ideas and then summarizes them. If you get lucky, the book or article may even have actual summaries, which obviously can really speed up your reading.

A quick mention of notes taking techniques: if you're reading a book to extract useful information, you need some way of making note of it as you read through. When I'm reading the paper book, I usually use a soft pencil (that can make like marks which can easily rub out afterwards) and then make one or more little star marks next to eat any sections which are relevant to me. I use a five star system: one star for only slightly relevant up to 5 stars for extremely relevant. However, these days I prefer to read non-fiction books on a kindle. Not only is it easier to carry around with me, but it’s fantastic for highlighting text. You can easily underline sections of interest, and (even better) you can then log-into your account on Amazon and see all the sections you’ve highlighted from any book.


This basically involves using your finger or pencil/pen to guide your eyes across and down the page. You can either do this by moving it quickly along each line, or some recommend moving it straight down the page. Either technique can force your eyes to move more quickly and discourage you from pausing or lagging.

Finally, if you are reading lots of text on a computer, and you own the Microsoft Word software, here’s a little trick you can use to quickly extract the gist of the text. MS Word has a little-known feature that will summarize text for you. It basically scans through the text and uses some form of artificial intelligence algorithm to pick-out the bits that are most meaningful and most directly explain the writer’s main points. It then puts these sections into a nice little summary for you.