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Published on December 8, 2020

How to Master Speed Reading and Comprehend Faster

How to Master Speed Reading and Comprehend Faster
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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 July 21, 2021

            How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done

            How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done
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            Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

            This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

            As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

            But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

            How Serious Is Information Overload?

            The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem.

            This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

            When we see some half-baked blog posts we don’t even consider reading, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it.

            We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

            No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on.

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            The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

            That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

            Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control.

            Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it.

            But first, admit that information overload is really bad for you.

            Why Information Overload Is Bad for You

            Information overload stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here.

            When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

            Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

            The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.

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            You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work or enjoy your passion.

            How to Stop Information Overload (And Start to Achieve More)

            So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with setting goals.

            1. Set Your Goals

            If you don’t have your goals put in place, you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

            Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

            Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

            Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

            2. Know What to Skip When Facing New Information

            Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks, you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

            First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans, then skip it. You don’t need it.

            If it does, then ask yourself these questions:

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            • Will you be able to put this information into action immediately?
            • Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks?
            • Is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away?

            If the information is not actionable in a day or two, then skip it.

            (You’ll forget about it anyway.) And that’s basically it.

            Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

            You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant.

            Self-control comes handy too. It’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future, then SKIP IT.

            3. Be Aware of the Minimal Effective Dose

            There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour BodyTim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs.

            Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose, no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

            Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life.

            Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.

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            4. Don’t Procrastinate by Consuming More Information

            Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article, we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

            This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

            Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

            The focus of this article is not on how to stop procrastinating, but if you’re having such issue, I recommend you read this: Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

            Summing It Up

            As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance.

            I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over.

            I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

            More Resources About Boosting Brain Power

            Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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