How to Improve Your Reading Speed: 5 Strategies for Efficiency

What if you could read faster and increase your comprehension at the same time? How would that propel your learning and productivity?

In 10 Days to Faster Reading, Abby Marks Beale and the Princeton Language Institute say that speed-reading isn’t just a nifty ability. They argue that the skills entailed in speed-reading are important for focus, comprehension, productivity, expertise, and even reading enjoyment.

Let’s take a look at how to improve your reading speed with their strategies.

Strategies for Reading More Efficiently and Effectively

Once you know how to improve your reading speed, you can learn new information more efficiently, rid yourself of unhelpful reading habits, and understand the things you read on a deeper level. We’ll discuss a selection of the authors’ practical strategies for improving your reading rate, reading more, and getting more out of your reading. Here’s what we’ll discuss specifically:

  1. Carefully selecting your reading material to make the most of your time
  2. Familiarizing yourself with the content before you start reading
  3. Reducing common unhelpful reading behaviors
  4. Increasing the amount of information your eyes take in
  5. Reading only essential words in a text

(Shortform note: The authors say you can practice and incorporate their strategies into your reading toolkit over 10 days, to show that you can improve your speed-reading skills in a short time. However, they note that many of the strategies can be learned and practiced in any order. To boost clarity, we’ve reorganized the strategies chronologically, starting with the techniques you’d use before reading and ending with the techniques you’d use while reading the body of a text.) 

Strategy #1: Be Selective When Choosing Your Reading Material

The authors note that you can get more out of your reading by being selective about what you read. Before you begin reading any text, the authors suggest identifying why you want to read it and how you might use the information in the text later on. If you can’t answer these questions, skip reading the piece. 

Your “why” for reading something will vary from text to text. For example, you might read a book about procrastination to learn strategies for making better use of your time. This information could help you further your professional goals and feel less stressed about getting everything done. Or, you might read a fantasy novel purely for enjoyment—the story expands your imagination and helps you relax.

Assessing a text before you begin ensures that you don’t waste any time reading material that isn’t useful to you. Additionally, this process helps with focus and efficiency—when you start with a clear “why,” it’s easier to keep your attention on the text in pursuit of your goal. When you’re paying closer attention, you don’t reread or daydream as much, so you get through the text faster and comprehend it better. 

Strategy #2: Familiarize Yourself With the Content Before You Begin

According to the authors, it’s helpful to briefly familiarize yourself with the content of a nonfiction text before you begin reading in earnest.

In addition to assisting you with Strategy #1, this strategy helps you meet the following three goals:

1) Getting a sense of the structure and topics covered. Almost all nonfiction writing follows an internal outline that offers a map of the topics covered. This strategy takes advantage of that framework to give you a clear overview of what you’re about to read.

2) Improving your reading efficiency by giving you context and direction for a text. When you don’t familiarize yourself with a text beforehand, you don’t know where it’s going. Therefore, you may be unsure what you’re supposed to get from it. This often makes it more difficult to concentrate and understand what you’re reading. As you struggle to figure out what you’re supposed to be learning, you read more slowly.

3) Reviewing a text after reading it previously.

To pre-familiarize yourself with the contents of your nonfiction reading material, the authors suggest identifying and reading certain elements of the text before working through its main body. We’ll highlight two sets of elements here: 1) the title, introduction, headings, and conclusion, and 2) details about the author and the book’s copyright.

The Title, Introduction, Headings, & Conclusion

According to the authors, reading the title provides your first clue of what the text covers. Then, read the introduction (usually the first paragraph or paragraphs of the text). Once you know where the text is going, move on to the headings, which communicate the text’s content and structure. Finally, read any concluding paragraphs at the end of the text—these will often offer a synopsis of the main ideas.

Author & Copyright Details

According to the authors, details about the writer of a piece offer insight into their unique perspective. For instance, background about their life may indicate why they’re writing about the topic.

The authors also recommend inspecting the book’s copyright details, as they tell you when it was written. This will give you historical context.

Strategy #3: Reduce Unhelpful Reading Behaviors

According to the authors, people commonly engage in several behaviors that slow down their reading. One way to improve your reading speed is by addressing three unhelpful habits, which we’ll further explore. 

Behavior #1: Mouthing or Speaking the Words

The authors state that one of the main behaviors that slow readers down is mouthing, reading aloud, or silently reading the words in a text at the rate of speech—also known as subvocalizing. The rate at which we speak is much slower than the rate at which we can think and read, so if you’re reading at a speaking rate, you’ll get through a text much more slowly.

To reduce subvocalization, the authors suggest putting your pointer finger against your lips, as if you’re telling someone to be quiet. This will remind you not to speak.

Behavior #2: Unintentionally Rereading

Another slow reading behavior the authors discuss is rereading parts of a text by accident. As untrained readers move through a text, their eyes often unconsciously drift back to portions they’ve already read. This adds time by slowing their progress. Readers often do this because they’re unfocused.

To stop yourself from unintentionally rereading, take a blank note card and place it at the top of the page. As you read, move the notecard down so it covers the portion of the text you’ve already read. If your eyes drift, the bottom of the notecard will indicate where to resume reading.

Behavior #3: Getting Lost in Thought

Finally, people often read slowly because their thoughts drift to subjects that have little to do with the text. According to the authors, this affects reading speed and comprehension, as you continually have to redirect your attention back to the text.

However, consciously directing your thoughts toward topics that are related to the text can help you remember what you read. Our brains remember new information by connecting it to things we already know, so connecting what you read to existing knowledge creates a lasting memory. For example, if you’re reading about the diet of a giraffe, you might connect what you read to a memory you have of feeding giraffes at your local zoo, creating a mental map between your past experience and the new facts.

Strategy #4: Increase the Amount of Information Your Eyes Take In

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the basic structure and content of a text, decided it’s worth your time, and reduced some of your unhelpful reading habits, turn your attention toward reading the body of the text efficiently. To do this, the authors say you must increase the amount of information your eyes take in at one time.

The authors note that you can read faster by expanding your vision field—the full extent of what you’re able to see when your eyes pause. As you read, your eyes flit from one part of the page to another in rapid movements. When your eyes pause on a spot, they absorb information. Expanding your vision field allows your brain to take in more information each time your eyes land on a piece of text.

Practice the following technique to expand your vision field:

Technique: Widen Your Peripheral Vision

In this technique, the authors describe how to train your eyes to see more to the left and to the right of your peripheral vision when you’re looking at a fixed, central spot. Start by creating a page of several rows of randomized characters (such as numbers or letters), putting three per row. In the first row, space the characters closely together, and widen the space between the characters in each subsequent row. 

Starting at the top, go down the rows, keeping your eyes trained on the central character in each line. While focusing on the center, you should still be able to see the characters to the right and left in your peripheral vision. As you move through the rows, it becomes more difficult to see all three characters because your eyes must work harder to take in the information on either side. Practicing this regularly with ever-widening spaces between the characters will help you expand your peripheral vision and read with greater efficiency.

Strategy #5: Read Only Essential Words

Finally, the authors argue that you can read more quickly by focusing your eyes only on the most important words in a sentence. You’ll still be able to understand the meaning of each sentence, but you won’t waste time reading every single word. 

(Shortform note: Other speed-reading experts suggest pausing from time to time while reading a text using this strategy. Pausing to reflect on what you’ve read ensures you’re comprehending the text and not jumping so quickly that you’re missing important information. Summarize what you’ve read to yourself, and think about how you might use the information. Also, consider how the knowledge fits with what you already know; what you still want to learn; and what’s unclear.)

Important words are essential to understanding the meaning of the sentence. For example, look at the following sentence:

Monarchs migrate to overwintering groves along the California coast.”

The most important words are in bold—if your eyes jump from bolded word to bolded word, you get the salient information you need to understand what the text is about. 

When you’re just getting started with this technique, you may want to highlight or underline important words in a text before you begin reading in order to guide your eyes. The more you practice, however, the more automatically your eyes will jump to the most important words. 

(Shortform note: As you begin practicing by highlighting or underlining important words in a text, consider focusing on nouns and verbs. These represent the subject or actor, the action the subject is taking, and the object or target of the action. Thus, they offer a lot of the information you need in order to understand what a piece of text is about. Meanwhile, articles, prepositions, and conjunctions will likely repeat more in the text, and they probably aren’t as necessary to read.)

Exercise: Try a Speed-Reading Strategy 

The authors offer a variety of strategies to increase your reading speed. Consider how you might apply some of these strategies to get more out of your reading time.

  1. Describe one way increasing your reading speed could benefit you. (For example, maybe you feel out of the loop with new developments in your industry, and reading faster will make advancing your professional knowledge seem less daunting. Or, maybe you want to read articles and books for your university courses more quickly so you can spend less time studying and more time with your family.)
  2. Which of the authors’ speed-reading strategies appeals to you most? Why? (For example, maybe identifying and reading key words appeals to you because your habit of reading word-for-word slows you down and makes reading feel like a chore. Or, maybe familiarizing yourself with the content of texts before fully reading them sounds appealing because you often struggle to understand what you’re supposed to take away from a text as you’re reading it.)
  3. Create a brief plan for how you’ll implement your chosen strategy. (For example, maybe you can select an article about your industry to read every week and start identifying key words by highlighting them in the articles. Or, maybe the next time you get a reading assignment from your professors, you’ll make notes about the title, intro, headings, author information, copyright information, and conclusion first.)
How to Improve Your Reading Speed: 5 Strategies for Efficiency

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of The Princeton Language Institute and Abby Marks Beale's "10 Days to Faster Reading" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full 10 Days to Faster Reading summary:

  • Speed-reading techniques to help you learn more efficiently
  • How to rid yourself of the common unhelpful reading habits
  • How to teach your eyes to take in more information at once

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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