Increase Your Reading Speed and Comprehension

Almost all students have had some experience like the following: one professor assigned you 800 pages to read, and another assigned you 900 pages to read, both of which must be read by the next class on the same day. Besides the 1700 pages of reading assignments, both of those professors also assigned other homework, such as annotating the content of those 1700 pages. Now, you are left in a quandary because there is no way you can read every word on all 1700 pages and still get the rest of your assignments done.

One of the most prized skills that a graduate student can learn is how to read effectively but quickly. Many graduate students wonder, how can I improve reading speed without missing important information? This is because some students mistakenly believe that reading quickly will impair their comprehension of what they have read, but the opposite is true. The average reader will read at the speed of approximately 250 words per minute but will think at the speed of approximately 500 words per minute; the difference between reading and thinking speeds often leads to distracting thoughts. This forces readers to backtrack and reread, which hinders effective comprehension and recall of information. Learning how to read fast actually enhances comprehension because the brain must concentrate and work harder to understand what the eyes have seen. The following are some reading comprehension strategies that will also help to improve your reading speed:

Understand organization before you begin reading.

Review tables of content, abstracts, introductions, conclusions, and headings before you begin reading so that your brain can anticipate the information it will need to process (as opposed to forcing your brain to process information in the moment). Understand where important information is generally located in basic writing structures—at the beginning and end of chapters, paragraphs, and sentences—and review this information before you begin reading. Take the time to define any words that are new to you either in meaning or in use.

Identify your subvocalizations and internal speech.

Subvocalizations are the auditory sounds that we use to pronounce words, and internal speech is the subconscious images and senses we use to visualize what we are reading or hearing. Internal speech is often related to internal monologue. Subvocalizations and internal speech can sometimes help us understand difficult passages of text but can also slow us down when we are trying to read and comprehend quickly. To suppress your subvocalizations, you can practice counting out loud while reading. Once you have mastered this skill, you can allow your internal speech full reign by involving all your senses in imagining what you are reading. After you identify your internal speech by allowing it full reign while you are reading, you will be better able to suppress your internal speech and to recognize words as concepts without having to rely on visualizations to comprehend the concepts. Practice reading with and without subvocalizations and internal speech, and you will eventually be able to use or suppress those functions as needed.

Refocus your eye movements while reading.

Most people read by focusing their eyes on the left side of a page and fixing their eyes on every word from left to right as they read along. Some readers may move their eyes a little ahead or a little behind of the text they are currently reading to remember what they have already read or to anticipate what they will read next. This method of reading not only slows reading speed but also reduces reading comprehension because this method only engages one hemisphere of the brain at a time. To increase your reading speed and comprehension and to engage both hemispheres of your brain, you should focus your eye on the middle of a line of text and use your peripheral vision to anticipate words at the beginning or end of a line of text; only refocus your eyes on the beginning or end of a line of text if the actual words do not match what you anticipate based on the text in the middle of the line. If this seems difficult at first, you can use a visual guide or pointer (e.g., a notecard, your finger, a pencil) to help you maintain focus on the middle of the line of text. Instead of moving the visual guide or pointer from left to right, move it up and down, constantly positioning it in the middle of a line of text.

Practice speed reading.

How does one learn to read fast? As with any newly learned skill, practice is necessary to break old habits. For most students, speed reading is a new technique that will seem awkward at first. Set aside time each day to practice power reading, even if you must practice with the newspaper that you read over coffee every morning. Determine how many words are in a particular selection of text, and see how many of those words you can read in a given number of minutes. Practice reading that selection of text until you can reduce the number of minutes it takes for you to read the entire selection. You can even use a metronome to help you read at a steady speed.

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