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Published on December 8, 2020

How to Master Speed Reading and Comprehend Faster

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How to Master Speed Reading and Comprehend Faster

Speed reading is a quirky discipline with a lot of disagreements. A battle between scientific studies and sweeping statements of speed reading gurus have been going on for a while. The debate is far from settled, and a lot of people are still wondering whether speed reading is even possible.

I will show you exactly how you can read and comprehend a lot faster than your current speed. Before getting started, you need to know what to expect. Let’s start by looking at what’s possible to achieve, according to science.

Is Speed Reading Legit?

In Tony Buzan’s The Speed Reading Book, he gives the readers a few impressive speed reading stories to make them eager to learn this skill.

Buzan mentions both president John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt as avid speed readers. Kennedy apparently read 1000 words per minute. Most of us read only 284 words per minute on average.

Sean Adam was once the world record holder in speed reading. Apparently, he read a dazzling 4450 words per minute.

But hang on…At that speed, you’re pretty much flipping through the pages as if you’re just looking at a picture book. How can that be possible? Well, both Sean Adams and president Kennedy taught themselves how to speed read from scratch, and they were both starting off like everyone else, plodding along with speeds of 284 wpm.

Is this true? Is it possible to read THAT fast?

Science suggests you can’t read more than about 500 words per minute without a loss of comprehension.[1]

Defying science is usually a bad idea.

But how do you explain fully legit and non-secretive speed reading contests that rate people’s reading speed based on how much the reader has comprehended? Some of these readers apparently read thousands of words per minute.

With such opposing views, it’s difficult to draw a conclusion without consciously taking a side. The best I can do is to give you my opinion.

The Adaptable Brain

Putting aside speed reading for a moment, other more impressive feats that require fast mental processing have been achieved before, and this has been done by people who started off like everyone else and have developed these abilities from scratch.

There are people who memorize loads of information in a few seconds. Some people can do extreme calculations in their head quickly. And then you have piano virtuosos who can sight-read complex pieces that make us go: “How is that possible?”

And yet, we don’t deny that.

Here is the important part. Any skill you practice, you will get better at. If you practice the skill of reading and comprehending text fast, you will inevitably get better at it. This comes down to how your brain responds to your actions.

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When you regularly push yourself to your limit and try to do something faster than you currently are, you tell your brain that in your life, there is a need to do whatever you’re doing faster or better. Your brain has no choice but to adapt. It has to because that’s how our brain has evolved.

The question that needs to be answered is this: Is it possible for most people to reach reading speeds of 1000 words per minute with 100% comprehension?

Unfortunately, I don’t think so.

Not necessarily because of some physical limitation of the human brain, but because most people won’t put in the thousands of hours required to get to this level. If it even is possible to reach those extremely high speeds, the training period is going to consume so much of your life that it might not be worth doing it.

But I have some good news for you.

If you’re an average reader who is not using any speed reading techniques, it’s totally doable to double or triple your reading speed.

It mostly comes down to changing your reading habits.

In this article, you will learn how to read up to 500 words per minute with 100% comprehension. That’s pretty fast.

Speeds beyond this are possible, but that’s skimming. You can still comprehend information with skimming, but in a different way. When skimming, you pick up only the most important information and filter out filler words and passages you deem as less important.

For now, let’s focus on how to master speed reading the right way.

1. Take in a Group of Words

The first realization you need to make is that your brain is capable of reading or taking in the information from 3-5 words at a time instead of just one word at a time.

Instead of spending a fraction of a second on each word in a line…

Reading each word in a line - 3 seconds

    …spend the same fraction of a second on a group of words.

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    Reading a group of words in a line - 1.5 seconds

      Now, you’re probably thinking that your comprehension will suffer as a result of speeding up like this, but it won’t. When you fixate or look at a single word at a time, your brain will try to comprehend each word on its own, but the words don’t really have any meaning when they’re on their own. They gain their meaning when they are grouped together.[2]

      Here is the same sentence again.

      Take in a group of words for speed reading

        Which of these two versions are faster to comprehend?

        I think we both know the answer. Both reading and comprehension are faster when words are grouped together in meaningful bundles than when fixating on each individual word.

        Get Rid of Old Reading Habits

        If this is the case, why are most of us still looking at a single word at a time when reading?

        It’s because of the habit we have from primary school. When you were taught how to read at a young age, you first learnt to look at one single letter at a time, and then you used them to form the words. Over time, as this process got faster, you learnt that you could quickly glance at one single word and all the individual letters in that word made sense.

        But for some reason, it stopped there. No one actually taught you that you could take this a step further and take in a bulk of words in one visual gulp, and this habit hasn’t changed since.

        However, you can still change this habit around. You just have to be aware of your eye’s foveal vision and take advantage of it.

        As I have shown in the image below, we have three types of ”peripheral vision.”

        Types of peripheral vision

          Our peripheral and parafoveal vision can only detect vague shapes and colors, but the further we go in towards the middle of our vision, the more details we can see. There is a small area around our focused vision called the foveal vision. Anything inside this is captured by our eyes with enough detail to comprehend when reading. Taking advantage of this is essential for speed reading.

          When reading from now on, you should change your old habit of reading only with your focused vision, to taking in text with your foveal vision as well. When looking at a page in a book, your foveal vision is around 4-5 cm wide.

          Using your foveal vision while reading will have an amazing impact on your reading speed and might be enough to increase it by 70%.

          2. Focus Your Reading

          Focus is incredibly important if you want to learn how to master speed reading. Focus makes sure you don’t lose valuable time on unconscious back-skipping.

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          Back-Skipping

          Back-skipping is like a tick where your eyes often glance backwards on words you have just read. It’s mostly entirely unnecessary. It often exists due to a lack of focus, and it’s probably your brain telling you subconsciously that you need to take a second glance at a word because you might have missed it.

          To overcome this, you first have to be consciously aware that you’re doing it. Pay attention to this when you’re reading and notice whenever it happens. Then, try to avoid it next time.

          An efficient exercise to learn how to stay more focused while reading and to avoid back-skipping is to read with a metronome.

          Put the metronome on a slow beat so that you have enough time to read and comprehend a full line for each time the metronome ticks. When it ticks, go to the next line.

          Your goal when reading is to have a consistent, even rhythm, almost like playing a musical piece. Using a metronome in this way will force you to pick up the meaning of the text as you go along and get rid of back-skipping.

          Once you get comfortable with the current metronome speed, speed up the metronome. This will force you to read quicker.

          Using a metronome is a bit weird for most people, but it is actually an extremely efficient way to practice staying focused while you’re reading.

          If you do this over a period of time, you will learn how to pick up the comprehension as the words come instead of relying on back-skipping. When back-skipping is no longer an option, your brain and your focus will adapt so that it has to pick up the meaning of the words without using back-skipping.

          Regression

          Regression is related to back-skipping, but it’s different.

          Regression is when you consciously choose to go back and read a word, phrase, or section again.

          Normally, you regress for two reasons, either because you lacked the focus to pick up the meaning of the text in the first place, or because the text itself was tricky to understand.

          While back-skipping is not allowed, regression is, but only when you do it for the right reason. Regression due to a lack of focus should be avoided. However, consciously going back to read a section because the text itself was tricky to understand is okay.

          To avoid unnecessary regression, you need to focus intently on what you’re reading with an intention of understanding what it is about.

          3. Narrow the Width of the Page

          One of the best and most easily applicable pieces of advice I’ve come across is from Tim Ferriss. Tim Ferriss is an entrepreneur and author who has experimented a lot with the capacity of the human brain.

          He has a great suggestion for how to take advantage of your foveal vision. Start reading each line one word further in on the page. Then, go to the next line before your eye goes all the way to the end of the line.[3]

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            If you do this, you will avoid unnecessary eye movements, and, as a result, increase your reading speed.

            4. Use a Reading Guide

            To avoid back-skipping and regression caused by a lack of focus, you need to learn how to control the movement of your eyes.

            An untrained eye is looking a bit too sporadically around on the page, which has a negative impact on your reading speed.

            To control your eye movements, it helps to use a pen or pencil as a guide. Use this guide to sweep across the lines as you read from left to right. This will help keep your eyes where they need to be looking instead of jumping around on the page.

            Combine this with Tim Ferriss’ technique, and start and end the lines further into the page.

            Using a reading guide will also help you get into an even reading rhythm.

            5. Increase Your Language Skills

            There is one more thing that has a huge impact on your reading speed. This is your language skills and vocabulary.

            The whole reason why you’re able to understand what you’re reading is because of your understanding of language. Often, what is holding us back when reading is that we lack an understanding of the words.

            The intro to a brilliant article published by Psychological Science in the Public Interest captures quite well what science currently says about reading speed:

            “The way to maintain high comprehension and get through text faster is to practice reading and to become a more skilled language user (e.g., through increased vocabulary). This is because language skill is at the heart of reading speed.”[4]

            If you want to read faster, read a lot and regularly, and make an effort to learn new words.

            Final Thoughts

            The way to master speed reading is the same as mastering any other skill. The more you do it, the better you will be. However, the field of skill acquisition has one additional lesson to teach us: You need to practice with the intention of getting better. And you need to constantly stretch your own abilities to the limit.

            More on How to Speed Read

            Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

            Reference

            More by this author

            Sindre Kaupang

            Entrepreneur and filmmaker, founder of Productive Headspace and Beyond Music

            9 Remote Learning Tips for Efficient and Effective Learning 6 Strategies For Auditory Learners To Learn Effectively How to Master Speed Reading and Comprehend Faster 4 Proven Ways To Improve Your Memory (And Learn Faster)

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            Last Updated on August 11, 2021

            23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

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            23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

            Whether you’re five or ninety five, the internet has a lot to offer. Particularly when the topic is education, the resources on the internet are endless. Best of all, many high quality sites are completely free. From history to coding, excellent, free online education awaits on the following 23 sites.

            1. Coursera

            Coursera is a website that partners with universities and organizations around the world. This brings a wide variety of topics and perspectives to one searchable database.

            Coursera is a powerful tool for free online education and includes courses from many top universities, museums and trusts. This gives the site an extremely wide range of in-depth courses.

            Coursera is extremely useful if you’re looking to study many different topics, or want courses from different schools and groups. However, the free courses are now quite limited, so you’ll have to

            2. Khan Academy

            Partnering with many post secondary schools, Khan Academy offers a useable, well-organized interface. Also curating many courses from around the web, Khan Academy offers impressive depth on many different subjects.

            Among the more well-known educational sites, Khan Academy is also incredibly user-friendly, which may make it easier to keep learning goals. If you’re looking for a free online education, you can’t go wrong with Khan Academy.

            3. Open Culture Online Courses

            If you are struggling to find exactly the material you are looking for, try Open Culture’s listing of free online education courses. The page highlights 1000 lectures, videos, and podcasts from universities around the world.

            The site features a lot of material found only on universities’ private sites, all in easy-to-browse categories. This means you can find hundreds of university courses without having to visit and search each university’s site.

            Open Culture’s list features courses from England, Australia, Wales, and many state universities around the United States. It’s a very helpful resource for finding many courses in one area of study.

            4. Udemy 

            Udemy’s free courses are similar in concept to Coursera’s but additionally allows users to build custom courses from lessons.

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            Working with many top professors and schools, the site mixes the customizable platform of other sites with a heavy emphasis on top-quality content. This is another site, however, that mixes free and paid content.

            5. Lifehack Fast Track Class

            Lifehack believes in skills that multiply your time, energy, and overall quality of life.

            In this rapidly changing world, traditional education skills just don’t cut it anymore. You can’t afford to take years learning a skill you’ll never really practice. Besides offering some paid courses that will help you become a better self, it offers a list of free courses which aim to train some of the Core Life Multipliers including:

            These are cross-functional skills that work across many aspects of life.

            6. Academic Earth

            Another site with courses from many different schools is Academic Earth. Much like the three sites above, Academic Earth brings together top notch courses from many different sources and focuses on offering a wide variety of subjects.

            Academic Earth lists courses by subject and school, so it might be easier to find what you’re looking for.

            7. edX

            Another great option for free online education is edX. Also bringing together courses from many different schools, the site has impressive, quality information for everyone. edX covers a great range of topics from universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley, meaning a high-quality, free online education is entirely possible here.

            8. Alison

            Unlike the previous sites on this list, Alison is a free education site offering certification in some areas. Alison offers courses mainly in business, technology, and health, but also includes language learning courses.

            It’s a great option if users need a professional certificate for their learning, as Alison also offers school curriculum courses.

            9. iTunesU Free Courses

            A very convenient place for free online education is iTunesU, because it integrates seamlessly with your iPod or any app-ready Apple mobile device. On an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, users download the iTunesU app.

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            Desktop users can access iTunesU on the upper right hand corner of the iTunes Store. iTunesU is also convenient because the store is categorized much like iTunes.

            Users can search learning materials in many different ways, including by genre and topic. However, courses are often a mix of free podcasts or videos and paid content.

            iTunesU does include courses on a variety of topics, but it does not integrate with Android, Google or Windows mobile devices.

            10. Stanford Online

            Your hub for all the online offerings from Stanford University, Stanford Online offers self-paced and session-based courses. While Coursera features some courses from Stanford, many classes are only available via other hosts. Some courses require iTunes, but most are completed in your web browser.

            Stanford Online is a great site for high-quality courses, though the topics are somewhat limited compared to sites partnered with more than one school. If you’re looking for free courses, make sure to mark the “free” option on the left-hand side.

            11. Open Yale Courses

            Open Yale Courses echoes Stanford Online, in that it offers only courses from Yale. While the site is similarly limited to topics taught at the school, Open Yale Courses offers a lot of videos of actual campus lectures. The availability of videos makes the site a great option if you’re looking for quality courses but learn better by watching than by reading.

            12. UC Berkeley Class Central

            Much like the other schools on this list, UC Berkeley has a variety of free online education options. The school has slightly fewer courses than the schools above, but it includes some supplementary lectures, webcasts, and RSS Feeds, making it easy to keep up with the topics you choose.

            13. MIT OpenCourseWare

            Similarly, MIT offers a variety of free courses. The school has a comparable number of courses to the schools above, and it includes very in-depth course materials on the subjects available. MIT also offers free RSS feeds, a convenient way to continue learning.

            14. Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

            Carnegie Mellon’s free online education site is comparable with the other school’s on this list. However, Open Learning Initiative also covers a smaller range of topics, but for the topics that are covered, impressive, in-depth material is available.

            15. Codecademy

            Codecademy is a website dedicated specifically to teaching coding. Where other coding sites follow an example/practice session workflow, Codecademy includes a live practice window. This means you can practice coding while still viewing the lesson material.

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            The courses at Codecademy are well-written and easy to follow, and the website is organized very nicely. Codecademy features a centralized dashboard where you can monitor your progress, and it organizes lessons into complete modules. This lets you learn an entire language without needing to pick the next course manually.

            16. Code

            Code is another website focused on coding and app writing. A site with high-quality courses, Code also features learning options for kids.

            In addition to kid-friendly courses, Code offers free online education classes on a wide variety of technology topics. These classes include app writing, robotics, and Javascript.

            Most of the courses are also geared in a such a way that they can be useful in a classroom setting. This makes Code a great resource for harder to find coding topics, as well as various learning settings.

            17. University of Oxford Podcasts

            The University of Oxford features many different podcasts. Most are public lecture series or lectures from visiting professors, with several different recordings available.

            The advantage to this particular site is that podcasts are organized into series, making it easy to subscribe to multiple lectures on one topic. This is another great site for thoroughly in-depth lectures.

            18. BBC Podcasts

            For the more casual learner, the BBC offers a wide variety of podcasts on many different topics. Most podcasts are updated weekly and focus on everything from finance, to sports, to current events.

            Through the World Service line of podcasts, there are also many in different languages. The focus of these podcasts are less in-depth and theory based, which may be more accessible to the average person.

            19. TED-Ed

            Another great destination for more general learning and free online education is TED-Ed. From the same people that brought you the all-encompassing, motivational web series comes a site chocked full of educational videos. Most include impressive animation, and all are ten minutes long or less.

            Not only is TED-Ed an excellent site for the curious, but it also includes supplemental materials and quizzes on the videos. This makes the site extremely useful in formal education settings, as well as in entertaining ways to brush up on new discoveries and topics.

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            20. LessonPaths

            LessonPaths is another great tool for those looking for a more usable and convenient way to access learning material. On this site, users create link playlists of their favorite learning materials from other sites. Users then rank these collections, making it easy to find many different high-quality, accessible sources on a given topic.

            21. Memrise

            Another impressive free online education site offering ease of use and convenience is Memrise. Available both on desktop and as an app, Memrise is a particularly powerful tool if you are studying a language. The site encompasses many other topics as well, though some of the course material is user generated content.

            Part of what makes Memrise special is their integration of games into the learning materials, mixing learning with entertainment.

            22. National Geographic Kids

            The kids site for National Geographic is another site that makes free online education applicable for younger users. For those looking for kid-friendly education, a large variety of games, puzzles, videos and photos keep kids interested on this site.

            National Geographic Kids doesn’t organize learning into courses, making materials available by topic and medium instead. This makes National Geographic Kids a good option for those looking for a more casual learning environment.

            23. Fun Brain

            Fun Brain is another great option for kids looking for free online education, as it focuses on games and fun puzzles. Particularly focused on math and reading, Fun Brain’s game-based approach can be valuable if the child in question struggles to pay attention.

            Fun Brain offers rewards and challenges as well, and it is another site aimed at a casual learning experience for kids K-8.

            The Bottom Line

            With so many amazing free online education resources, everyone has the ability to boost their skills and knowledge. Whether you’re interested in picking up some interesting trivia for your next party, improve your resume with some coding or business skills, or become a more well-rounded person, these resources are perfect for you.

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            Featured photo credit: Dai KE via unsplash.com

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