This post is the second part of the Quick And Effective Reading series which I started two weeks ago with the Quick And Effective Reading – Part 1 of 5 post.
Today I’m going to share with you some of the techniques aimed at overall optimization of your reading process. Next week, I’m going to concentrate more on improving your ability to concentrate on your reading and make the most out of reading a book or an article.
Reading Speed: That Which Is Measured, Improves
First things first: before you try anything, please take your time and find out your current speed of reading. It is important to do this because otherwise you will not see just how much you’ve really improved in a few weeks time. So either test your speed yourself, by using a stopwatch (found even in your mobile phone these days) and reading an ordinary book, or use one of the many online tests available. For some basic speed reading tests, check these out:
If you also want to verify how well you recall the material you’ve just read, please use these tests:
Reading technique improvements
There is a number of things you can improve to achieve the best reading speed possible. The ones I list here are the factors I’ve found to be most important for myself, so they should help you too, but there is no way of telling whether they are the best ways for your improvement. If you find anything else, please let me know!
Improving your eye span: start reading in blocks
If you don’t read in blocks yet, this is definitely one of the most effective ways to dramatically improve your speed of reading. Instead of reading words one by one, try and read few words at a time. By this I mean that your eyes should stop only few times (ideally – once!) at any given line of text, instead of jumping from one word to the next one. The reason you jump from one word to another is because we move eyes with fixations.
When you’re looking around or reading some text, your eyes need to fix on something after the movement is completed, before you can actually process the visual information. For instance, you go through a series of fixations on different objects when you look around your working place and you go through a number of fixations in a single line of text. Without conscious training in block reading, you’re probably going to do a fixation for each word you read.
Talking about books and online texts, you would see 15-30 words in every line of a text. And this means to you, that unless you master reading texts in blocks, you will be wasting precious time by making 15-30 fixations with your eyes as you move from one word to another. The time it takes to move your eyes from one place in a line to another is roughly the same, so this means that even if you simply learn to read just two words in stead of one without moving your eyes, you will already be reading the whole line twice faster because you will effectively cut the number of fixations in half.
Block reading is a technique for developing your eye span. Simply put, your eye span is how many words you can read at once when reading a line. The bigger your eye span, the more words you will read at once, and the less number of times you will have to move your eyes to the next chunk of text. By having regular exercises, it’s quite possible to improve your eye span so much that you’ll be able to read the whole line of a standard book with only one or two fixations.
Most of speed reading software products would have some kind of block reading routine built-in. What they do is hide the whole line and then reveal blocks of words for you to read. You should be able to set the speed at which new blocks reveal their words and the number of words in each block, so that reading is comfortable. Don’t rush things in, because it’s very easy to get carried away and start reading blocks very quickly ignoring the contents of the text, and this is the last thing you want to do. After all, you’re trying to improve the speed of reading AND understanding texts.
Increasing your reading speed: stop reading to yourself
If you’re an average reader just like me, you’re likely to have this habit too: you pronounce the words to yourself as you read stuff. Some people even move their lips as they do this, but even if you don’t, it still slows your reading speed down quite a bit simply because you pronounce every word. Now, it’s not easy to get rid of this habit, but trust me – it’s definitely one of the most beneficial and rewarding things you can learn about the speed reading.
What I found to be most useful is to detach from the text you’re reading. As you read the words, instead of pronouncing them to yourself, start pronouncing something else, and do it out loud. The two easiest things to do here are to either sing a song or to count numbers. You’re pronouncing words to yourself because of a pattern you’ve worked out for your reading over the past years. And in order to break this pattern, you should do something totally different.
So by singing a song or counting numbers out loud you’re going to be silencing this inner voice of yours which tries to pronounce the words you’re reading. Now, it will feel really weird and even funny at start, because you will still hear the attempts of the inner voice to follow the text you’re reading, but as you practice more and more, this voice will start to fade and eventually you’ll hear no voice and have no attempts to pronounce the text you’re reading.
Paying attention: stop re-reading words and lines
This is yet another quite common weakness some of us have. Having just read a line or a whole paragraph, we quite often come back to re-read a word, a line, or a whole sentence or paragraph simply to “better understand the text”. The reality is that while this could help you understand more from the text, it would definitely slow you down by so much that the advantage of better understanding will lose most of its attractiveness.
What you should do is try and train yourself to stop re-reading from happening at all, and you usually do this by using a sheet of paper or a postcard which will help you cover all the text you’ve read through up to the line you’re currently reading. So you have to move this piece of paper down every time you progress to the next line. As you master the skill, you will notice that your moves will become smooth and even, without any jerkiness, and after a while you will learn to pay enough attention to every line without having to read it again.
Another useful habit this exercise will give you is to focus better on the line you’re reading, without even looking anywhere above this line. This is only for the better, as some people find it very distracting and irritating when they unwillingly pick words up from the line just above the one they’re reading. Words automatically pop up in their thoughts and sometimes break the whole pattern of understanding the current line’s contents.
Staying focused: read with the help of your hand
When reading text, you will find it easier to move through the line of words if you follow your hand. Simply move one of your fingers across the line, following it from left to right in a slow and evenly paced motion. As you improve, you will quicken your movements. What you will be trying to do is to follow the general location of your finger, and not track its exact position. Place you finger just under the line you’re reading, and don’t worry about not being able to follow the even movement of your hand at first – this skill will come with practice.
Well, that’s it for this week. I hope you found this entry useful, and in case you want to read more on the subject, here is a couple of webpages I think might help you: