Published on December 8, 2020

How to Master Speed Reading and Comprehend Faster

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.


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.


    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.



          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 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]


            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


            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)

            Trending in Learning

            1 How to Take Constructive Criticism Like a Champ 2 How To Apply the Stages Of Learning (With Free Worksheet) 3 10 Best Methods of Learning Smarter and Faster 4 What Is Double Loop Learning And How Is It Valuable? 5 7 Reasons You Won’t Start Studying Until It’s Too Late, And What To Do About It

            Read Next


            Published on April 12, 2021

            How to Take Constructive Criticism Like a Champ

            How to Take Constructive Criticism Like a Champ

            Did somebody just say the words “constructive criticism”? Great, just what I need—someone to tell me how to do my job, like I don’t know how to flawlessly execute on my job. Well, maybe not flawlessly, but I think I know what I’m doing thank you very much.

            This is how many people react when they hear the term constructive criticism. And it makes sense, as most of us don’t like to have someone telling us how we did something wrong or how we can do better. We like to feel like we are good at the things we choose to do unless, of course, we are trying something new. We take a certain amount of pride in how we do our various jobs and don’t like to have our shortcomings pointed out to us.

            Before we get too worked up, let’s take a look at what constructive criticism is and how we can utilize it to help us improve at work or wherever we want to. we will learn that constructive criticism can be used to our advantage.

            What Is Constructive Criticism?

            First and foremost, it would be helpful to make sure we have a good understanding of what constructive criticism is.

            When we hear the word “criticism,” our minds typically think negatively and hostile—like one person is standing over another person telling them that the way they are doing something is all wrong. And that is being critical.

            However, this is not the intent of constructive criticism. Constructive criticism is a helpful way of providing feedback that provides specific and actionable suggestions. Instead of one person acting like a manager giving a team member general non-specific advice, constructive criticism is specific to the actions and situation. Given properly, it provides specific and clear recommendations on how to make changes and improvements that will lead to a more positive outcome in a given situation.

            Accepting Constructive Criticism

            As we just read, constructive criticism is provided to help someone improve in one manner or another. It’s not negative generalities or complaining, it’s specific actionable input provided with the intent of helping someone improve on something they’ve done so they get more desirable results the next time.


            This is exactly the context in which you should accept constructive criticism. It is meant to help you improve. Anyone who is interested in getting better and better at their job or craft should welcome it.

            Think about a time when you got a big win at work or were part of a team that scored a big win. What an incredible feeling! Now, think about a time when a big project crashed and burned at work, or you didn’t land a huge new client, or your team played poorly and lost a big game—not a good feeling.

            The way you handle these losses and learn from them to get better and score more “wins” is just like receiving constructive criticism. Learn from what went wrong to make things go right more often.

            How to Handle Constructive Criticism

            Now that we have a clear idea of what constructive criticism is, let’s look at the best ways to handle constructive criticism.

            1. Stop Your Initial Reaction

            When you see that some criticism is about to come your way, recognize it. Make yourself see what’s about to happen and tell yourself you will not react.

            The key here is stopping any sort of reaction you are going to have when your brain realizes what’s about to happen. The challenge is that our first reaction is not generally a good one, and we don’t want to wear an initial expression that comes off as highly defensive or angry.

            2. Don’t Take It Personally

            I’m so happy I fully embrace and believe in the “don’t take anything personally” mentality. It’s important to remember that nobody is doing something to you specifically. They are sharing their personal experience and insights from what they’ve learned and seen. This does not make it universally right, it’s simply the way they’ve experienced it. And we all have different experiences that make each of our points of view unique. It’s not about you, it’s about the situation. Don’t take it personally.


            3. Remember the Benefit

            This is a good thing to do when your first initial reaction of “no” comes into your mind. Receiving constructive criticism is a way to help yourself improve. Remember that you don’t have to digest and implement every single suggestion word for word. Take the parts that resonate with you and use them the next time a similar situation comes around. This is how we learn and grow.

            4. Listen to Understand

            Active listening

            is very important here. Make sure that you are paying full attention to the speaker’s words and body language. You are attempting to understand completely so you are able to truly process the feedback and utilize it down the road. Keep your eyes and ears on the speaker and be present in the moment of receiving the feedback.

            5. Be Thankful

            It’s not easy to be thankful when someone is telling you how you could have done something better. This is where you put on your “big person pants” and tell them, “thank you for taking the time to share the feedback.”.

            If you think about it, they most likely want the best for you. Why else would they be taking the time to share their insights and input with you? If they didn’t care or have a vested interest, why would they take the time? Exactly. Remember this when saying thank you.

            6. Ask Questions to Understand Fully

            This is where you want to ask clarifying questions to make sure you are fully understanding what the person is saying to you. Make sure you are on the same page as what they are telling you. If you don’t take the time to ask questions to clear up any confusion, then, in the long run, this feedback won’t be of much value to you.

            Using Criticisms to Improve

            Now, let’s take a look at how constructive criticism helps us improve, as we’ve read that reviewing when things don’t go right and analyzing why they didn’t go right help us figure out ways to change what we did to gain better results next time.


            1. Feedback Is Always Helpful

            The first way you can use constructive criticism to improve is by acknowledging that feedback is always helpful. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all feedback is beneficial to you. It just means that it’s helpful.

            You may disagree wholeheartedly on part of the feedback you receive, and that’s fine. The main thing to remember is that it’s always helpful. Gathering data, reviewing, and listening to others help you look at situations from an angle different than your own.

            Speaking of which…

            2. You Get Another Point of View

            A great thing about listening to someone provide constructive criticism to you is that you get another point of view. Too many times we base what we think we should do on only our own perceptions of something. It’s very possible to be so close to something that you don’t truly see it in an objective light.

            I know from back when I was an artist, I could get very locked into a certain project or painting. When I finally would take a break and ask someone else what they thought, many times they pointed out things I’d never noticed or thought of. The same concept applies here.

            3. It Shows You Are Worth It

            When someone takes the time to provide constructive criticism to you, it shows that they care and feel like you are worth it. They wouldn’t take the time if they didn’t think it would matter or that you weren’t worth it. This is something to think about the next time your manager wants to offer you some insight or advice.

            4. It Helps You Improve

            If you are willing to truly listen to constructive criticism, it can help you improve greatly. I think about a wide variety of times when I’ve gotten feedback and constructive criticism. I am known to invite it.


            I look at it like this—we are all on the same team (whether that’s an actual team or work team) and trying to work towards the same goal. What can I do better that can help us collectively win as a team? I like to think that I’m pretty good at what I do. I also know that I can always get better. Help me to help you, which helps us both.

            5. It Can Inspire You

            Finally, constructive criticism can inspire you. Sometimes, the person providing you feedback will make you see something you never saw about yourself. This is how another point of view can be so valuable. This can be incredibly eye-opening and sometimes be even one of those “Aha!” moments.


            We’ve looked at what constructive criticism is and how to accept it. We’ve seen how if we allow ourselves to listen and accept the feedback, it can incredibly valuable to our growth and improvement. Constructive criticism can help us get better and better at what we do. Not any less important, we’ve discovered how to take constructive criticism like a champ.

            Remember, getting feedback from others is critical to our growth in many areas of our life. Use constructive criticism to improve yourself.

            More About Constructive Criticism

            Featured photo credit: Mimi Thian via

            Read Next