Gone are the days when reading meant a long, leisurely evening before a fireplace. In an age where articles and books are on phone screens, the ability to read swiftly and efficiently is more important than ever. When I heard about speed reading, a technique that could supposedly help me read faster while understanding more content, I thought it sounded too good to be true.
What exactly is speed reading, and does it actually work? Speed reading, or "spreeding", is the practice of using skimming and memorisation techniques to improve your reading speed.
The only way to see if it actually worked was to test it myself.
After doing some research and speaking to experts in the field, there were three speed-reading techniques that everyone agreed on.
1 Preview and contextualise
One of the keys to reading quickly is having an idea of what you need to read before you start. In Triple Your Reading Speed, a book first published in 1970 by American author Wade E. Cutler, there is an entire chapter on the importance of "Pre-reading".
The goal of reading is to provide context, so that when you read, you have an idea about what to expect.
Paul Nowak, CEO and founder of Iris Reading, a company that specialises in personal speed-reading training, has a lot to say on the benefits of previewing.
"Once you're familiar with the text, you can read it in its entirety more quickly with better comprehension," he explains. "Before reading a chapter in a textbook, for instance, try reading the headings of each topic. If you're reading fiction, try finding a synopsis of the book on Wikipedia, googling the author, or watching a short video about the book on YouTube."
Sounds helpful! I tried previewing when trying to read The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, which was required reading for my English class. Reading the Wikipedia page beforehand definitely helped me read through the first two sections more quickly.
Practice: Next time you're about to start reading something new, before you dive in, consider the credentials of the author, the purpose of the passage, and try to find a brief synopsis of the text. Keep these details in mind as you read.
2 Eye movements
There are many different theories on the best way to read text. The general consensus, however, is that reading groups of words together is more efficient than reading individual words.
In her ground-breaking speed-reading course, the late US educator Evelyn Wood noted that an important component of speed reading was ensuring that "groups of words or complete thoughts are read, rather than one word at a time".
But why? The science behind this movement is literally eye-opening.
As Nowak puts it: "There is a scientific reason for this and it has to do with the way your eyes move. There are two major eye movements: saccadic and smooth pursuit. A saccadic eye movement is a quick, stop-and-go motion that happens when most people read, leading them to read on a word-by-word basis. A smooth pursuit eye movement is much smoother and only happens when your eyes are tracking a moving object."
Reading in chunks can use both eye movements effectively: one that can rapidly process material while simultaneously moving forward.
I tried out each method while re-reading books from the Harry Potter series. Since the content was familiar, I didn't have to focus particularly on understanding the content, and focused on my eye movements.
For a beginner spreeder like me, the jumpy movements of stop-and-go saccadic reading made me slightly dizzy. I found that using the smooth pursuit technique was the most natural. Magical, indeed.
Practice: When reading through a textbook, instead of looking carefully at each word, try to read two or three words at a time. See if you can speed it up by going through chunks of words at a time.
3 Avoid subvocalising
Another important part of reading faster is avoiding speaking to others - and that includes yourself. This block is called subvocalisation. It's when a reader says the words in their head as they are reading. It's one of the main reasons why people have trouble improving their reading speed.
To help solve this, Nowak offers another useful tip - use a tool that can help keep you moving along. He suggests the simple trick of following your finger along the page.
"By using your hand or pen as a pacer, you can force yourself to pay more attention while reading which will lead not only to a faster speed, but also better comprehension," says Nowak.
I have to admit, I really like reading aloud in my head, especially when reading fiction. However, pointing along the line really helped to speed things up.
Practice: If you say words in your head while reading, try sweeping your finger across the sentence and keeping up with it. Resist the urge to slow down.
So, results: did my reading rate triple? Not exactly. Can I read six books a week? Nope. But can I read faster and understand texts in less time? Yes. Speed reading is definitely not a skill that you can learn speedily. For the moment, these tips can help speed up reading. Here's to devouring more articles on the commute home.