The amount of reading you have to do on a daily basis can feel pretty daunting when you’re a student. If making it through all of the reading you need (or want!) to do is a challenge for you, learning how to speed read can help.
But speed reading doesn’t simply mean sitting down with a book or document and skimming over it as fast as you can. In fact, speed reading can be a slightly complicated process that takes some time to learn and master. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to get through your stacks of reading much more quickly.
To help you grasp the skill of speed reading, we’re going to:
- Explain what speed reading is and how it works,
- Cover the four main steps involved in learning how to speed read, and
- Provide a list of five resources that can help you learn to speed read.
Now, keep reading (at a normal rate) to learn all of the essential information about how to speed read!
What Is Speed Reading? A Quick Overview
Speed reading is an umbrella term for a variety of reading techniques that enable people to read entire texts much more quickly than the average reading speed of 250 words per minute (wpm).
The main goal of speed reading is to help people consume more reading material than they would be able to when reading at an average pace. Speed reading can help people learn more, become more productive, and manage their time better.
The mechanics of different speed reading techniques vary, but all speed reading techniques have one thing in common: they involve breaking a text down into blocks instead of individual words and sentences. The speed reading technique then trains the reader to glance quickly at these blocks of text, get the gist of what they’re saying, and finish reading the entire text faster. (We’re going to get into how this works a little later in the article, so don’t worry.)
At the end of the day, most speed reading resources promise to help readers double their reading speed or achieve the ability to consistently read a specific number of words per minute (say, 350 wpm or 600 wpm, for example). The wpm you’ll be able to achieve will likely depend on the type of speed reading technique you choose to implement and how much you practice that speed reading technique!
How Does Speed Reading Work?
Speed reading is based on the notion that the average reader reads inefficiently in terms of time and motion.
In other words, most readers spend too much time looking at individual words and sentences as they read, saying each word silently to themselves (called subvocalizing among speed reading experts), and constantly circling back to look at words or phrases again as they read across a page.
To address this, speed reading techniques isolate blocks of text that the reader skims or scans the text. Briefly looking at blocks of text in rapid succession allows the reader to glean general information from a text to understand its key ideas in a shorter period of time.
Does Speed Reading Work According to Science?
Since the 1950s, many people have praised the effectiveness of speed reading techniques (including President John F. Kennedy’s entire administration!). But what’s the scientific support for speed reading? Does speed reading work?
The answer is yes...and no.
Studies have shown that reading speed does increase with practice, and skimming can be a useful tool when you’re trying to glean information quickly. But other scientific studies have even shown that, depending on your goals for speed reading, the process actually doesn’t work very well. Once you hit a certain number of words per minute while reading (probably around 600), comprehension breaks down and working memory gets overloaded.
Here’s the bottom line about the effectiveness of speed reading: if a) you just need to have a general idea of what a text says, or b) you’re obligated to read a text but have little time to dedicate to poring over it, speed reading can work for you. If you need to really understand what a text is saying—like if you’re learning a hard concept or studying for an exam—then normal-paced reading is the way to go.
Like with anything, speed reading is most useful if you know when and how to use it. If you’re trying to understand the gist of what you’re reading as quickly as possible, then speed reading is a good technique to use.
5 Pros and Cons of Speed Reading
Like with any lifehack, speed reading has some advantages and disadvantages that you might want to know about before you commit to the process of learning how to speed read.
We’ve put together a list of five pros and cons of speed reading—check them out below!
Pro: You’ll Save a Lot of Time
Perhaps the most obvious perk of speed reading is that you’ll save a lot of time. If you haven’t started reading but have a paper to write in 24 hours, an exam tomorrow morning, or a presentation to give this week, speed reading can help you get through the material quickly and move on to the task at hand.
If you’re pushing up against a deadline, then speed reading can be a total lifesaver.
In addition to having your back when you’re really pressed for time, speed reading can help you breeze through mundane, recurring reading. If you’re greeted by an overflowing email inbox every morning or find yourself in a power struggle with a never ending pile of work-related documents, speed reading is a good tool for quickly clearing things out so you can move on to more important tasks.
Pro: You’re More Likely to Finish Texts You’ve Started
Proponents of speed reading say using the method will allow you to finish any text in record time. If you’re one of those people who chronically starts to read something but never actually finishes it because you get bored, then speed reading can definitely help you get across the finish line.
Since speed reading is fueled by setting a consistent pace, staying locked in on the task at hand, and finishing an entire reading task in mere minutes or hours, it’s much more likely that you’ll finish reading longer texts that you set out to read, since you can work through them in one sitting. That way, you’ll be left with the satisfaction of finishing something you started instead of a pile of half-read books!
Speed reading can be a great skill to have, but it comes with some tradeoffs, too.
Con: You’ll Probably Sacrifice Accuracy and Understanding
While speed reading is definitely more efficient in terms of how much time you spend reader, you might be sacrificing comprehension for speed. If you’re reading something that’s really dense or complicated, speed reading can make it difficult for you to understand and retain knowledge of the finer points of the text.
Like we said earlier, speed reading is a good technique to use if you only need a general idea of what a text is about. But if you need to be able to answer specific questions about a text, speed reading may actually make things more difficult. You’ll find yourself having to reread large portions of the text, and you may naturally have to slow down your reading speed as a result. This is especially true if you weren’t already familiar with the material covered in the text before you sat down to speed read it.
Put another way: speed reading is better suited for reading tasks that don’t require you to recall specific details about a text later on.
Con: It’s About Practicality, not Enjoyment
For many people looking to implement speed reading in their life, enjoying what they’re reading may not be a concern. Many speed readers are trying to consume as much information as they can in a limited amount of time.
But reading can also be a hobby. If you’re reading because you enjoy the experience and the craft of writing, then speed reading probably isn’t a good fit for you.
Con: It’s Exhausting!
Speed reading takes a lot of mental effort. First, you have to train yourself how to speed read, which can be labor intensive. Like any new skill, it takes practice and repetition to learn the techniques well enough to use them on a regular basis.
But speed reading itself can be pretty tiring, too. You have to focus intensely on what you’re doing if you’re going to remember anything about what you’re reading. Practice can build up your “speed reading endurance,” but you’ll probably find that speed reading isn’t an activity that you can do for hours at a time.
Our 4-step guide will put you on the right path so you can achieve your speed reading goals!
A 4-Step Guide to Learning How to Speed Read
If you’re ready to learn to speed read, that’s great! While there are lots of methods you can use to learn to speed read, we’ve created a simple guide to get you started.
Of course, there’s a lot more to speed reading than what we’ve put in our list, but these are the general steps you’ll need to take if you want to speed read like a champ.
Step 1: Pick a Speed Reading Guide or Training Program
While you could learn to speed read on your own, you’ll have a much easier time learning to speed read if you learn from a trusted resource.
But how do you choose the speed reading program that’s right for you? The first step involves thinking about what you want to use speed reading for. Do you plan to use speed reading for reading printed texts or eBooks and online articles? Do you learn best through apps, guided courses, or workbooks? And how quickly do you need to develop your speed reading skills?
Luckily, there are a wide variety of speed reading resources available that will fit your specific needs. There are apps, websites, online programs, workbooks, and even in-person classes you can take to develop your speed reading chops.
Regardless of what type of program you choose, completing a course or training guide will introduce you to the specific techniques that are involved in speed reading. Becoming familiar with the speed reading techniques involved in the approach you choose is the first step to learning how to speed read!
Step 2: Select Some Practice Texts
Many speed reading programs courses or guides are going to provide you with texts to use as you learn how to speed read, but it’s a good idea to choose some practice texts as well. Choosing the right type of practice texts can help you develop your speed reading skills even more quickly.
Here’s what we mean: if you’re learning to speed read so that you can get through a specific kind of written text more quickly, then it makes sense to use that kind of text as practice. For example, if you’re planning on using speed reading as a tool to sift through a ton of news articles in mere minutes, it makes sense to use news articles when you practice speed reading. Alternatively, if you want to speed read novels for school, then pick out some novels to use instead!
Step 3: Unlearn Counterproductive Reading Habits
If learning to speed read is your goal, there are some habits that speed reading experts consider to be counterproductive to successfully speed reading. These habits aren’t really “bad,” per se...but they do make learning to speed read a little harder.
In order to achieve maximum reading speed, experts suggest unlearning the following habits:
Reading word by word. Instead, practice focusing your vision on blocks of words at one time.
Saying the words internally as you read them. We already mentioned how subvocalization can slow down your reading. Willing yourself to turn off that internal voice that “says” each word will help you start focusing on reading blocks of text at a time.
Reading linearly. This is a big one if you’re reading a text where you actually turn or flip pages. Train your eye to look for visual cues in the text that indicate important info, like headings, bolded text, or even the first sentence of each paragraph, where the main idea is often stated.
You’re probably thinking that these reading skills aren’t exactly what you were taught in elementary school. And you’re right! Unlearning these reading habits will probably feel pretty hard at first, but training yourself to look at texts differently is a key step in learning how to speed read.
Step 4: Practice, Practice, Practice
The next step to learning how to speed read is to practice...then practice some more...then keep practicing! Since earning how to speed read involves training your eyes and brain to process written texts in new ways, the best way to become comfortable with these new habits is by practicing them.
In fact, if you want speed reading to become a tool you use regularly, you’ll need to carve out time to practice speed reading every day. Since different speed reading techniques are taught in different ways depending on the resource you’re using, the amount of time you might need to spend on learning to speed read daily will probably vary.
The big thing to remember with speed reading is that it really is a new skill. And like any new skill, practice makes perfect.
Now that you know all about speed reading, it's time to start practicing! Our resource guide can help you choose a learning method that fits your needs and your budget.
5 Resources for Learning How to Speed Read
Like we mentioned earlier, picking the right speed reading program is the first step on your journey to speed reading success.
Since there is a wide range of speed reading resources available, we’ve evaluated the options and selected five well-reviewed speed reading resources. We selected different types of resources (like apps, courses, and workbooks), so you should be able to find a speed reading program that works for you.
Check out our top picks in the list below!
If you’re interested in learning how to speed read using OG speed reading techniques, check out the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Dynamics courses provided by Pryor Learning. The course overview guarantees that your reading speed will double by the time you finish the course!
In addition to doubling your reading speed, the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Dynamics course claims that those who complete the course will be able to master some of the more elusive aspects of speed reading. These include remembering ideas and information for extended periods of time, as well as understanding what you read with depth and clarity.
The downside of the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Dynamics course? It’s expensive. You can purchase courses that include downloadable video and audio for about $200 through Pryor Learning or on Amazon. Luckily, you can buy just the eBook for the course for much less (about $15!). But be forewarned: that price is for the book only. You won’t get any of the additional audio or video resources that come with the full class.
100 One-Minute Speed Reading Drills by David Butler
- Where to buy: Amazon
If you don’t have a lot of spare time to devote to learning to speed read, David Butler’s book, 100 One-Minute Speed Reading Drills, can help. Unlike our first pick, which is a complete speed reading course, Butler’s guide provides 100 speed reading exercises that you can complete in one minute, once a day.
The idea behind Butler’s approach to learning how to speed read is daily practice. Ideally, you’d complete one speed reading drill once a day for 100 days. That’s basically three straight months of practice! According to Butler, that’s plenty of time to become an effective speed reader.
So how do Butler’s one-minute speed reading drills work? Each one-minute drill consists of 600 words that are parsed out into individual, meaningful phrases. This “phrase-highlighted” speed reading format teaches you to treat phrases like you would individual words as you read, which will naturally increase your reading speed.
And the best part? Butler’s book is available in Kindle or paperback, so you can choose the reading format that’s best for you.
- Where to buy: Apple store
Maybe you want the option to learn how to speed read on the go, like during your commute or while you’re waiting in a checkout line. Enter Focus, an app that lets even untrained speed readers sail through books and articles that have piled up. Focus claims to help its users double or triple the average adult reading speed of 250 words per minute by autoscrolling text across your phone screen.
Here’s how it works: the Focus app takes a digital text and converts into one long sentence instead of individual paragraphs. Then the sentence scrolls across your screen at a set pace. That way, the sentence moves for you, rather than requiring you to move your eyes. The theory is that by allowing you to focus on the center of your screen, you’ll be able to read faster. You can even adjust the scroll speed to fit your
A minor complaint about Focus: it only goes up to 700 words per minute. So if you’re an experienced speed reader, you may find that Focus actually slows you down! The good news is that most novice speed readers read more slowly, so it’s a great app to help you build your speed reading skills.
- Where to buy: Udemy
If you’re still asking yourself, “How does speed reading work?”, take a look at the Udemy Speed Reading Course. This course teaches about several different approaches to speed reading by providing two hours of on-demand video, seven articles, lifetime access upon purchase, and access on mobile and TV (plus a 30-day money back guarantee). If you’re a person who learns best in a more structured format, then this Udemy course may be a good fit for you.
The Udemy Speed Reading Course creators claim the course showcases the classic speed reading techniques, then “supercharges” them by pairing them with the latest speed reading technology. The course is specifically geared toward people who want to learn to speed read like an academic who quickly works through “huge mounds” of information.
The one downside to the Udemy Speed Reading Course is that it’s on the expensive side of things. The course will set you back about $90, though Udemy generally offers discounts on their classes every few months. So if you’re patient, you can snag this speed reading course at a discounted rate.
Become A SuperLearner: Learn Speed Reading and Advanced Memorization by Anna Goldentouch, Jonathan Levi, and Lev Goldentouch
- Where to buy: Amazon
Some people jive more with good old fashioned book learning. If this sounds like you, the book Become A SuperLearner: Learn Speed Reading and Advanced Memorization might be worth checking out. Become A SuperLearner teaches readers techniques that will help readers “learn everything faster and more effectively.”
While the book is geared toward the more general concept of “superlearning,” which is more about cramming tons of information into your brain, speed reading is one of the three main skills the book teaches. The authors focus on teaching speed reading techniques that help you retain information more effectively. If you want to learn how to speed read in a way that allows you to save time and store and recall high volumes of information, this book might be your best bet.
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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.