I started at 300 wpm (words per minute) with 80% comprehension and by the end of the book was up at 480 wpm with 80% comprehension. Outlined below is the road to faster reading and how you too can go from 300 words per minute to 480 in 10 days.
— Ernest Semerda (@ernestsemerda) January 31, 2016
I never thought of myself as a fast reader. Yet I had no quantitative data to back my feelings. Feelings are subjective right. I think this feeling came from the fact that English was not my 1st language. Polish was. And as 2016 arrived I set a goal to be reading more books this year. Maybe like Bill Gates does, knocking over at least 1-2 books per week.
But to get there I needed to start with a small goal of at least 1 book per month and then go up from there.
So this is the way I see it:
More Books => Faster Reading == Better Comprehension => More Blogging
Then Casey Neistat reminded me of something Seneca said about time and how we use it:
“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.” ~ Seneca
I think I can do this!
BIG opportunity. Think back to what life was like only 100 years ago where only distinguished and affluent had access to knowledge. Now we all do. But today we are time poor. But there’s a way.
“The road to knowledge begins with the turn of a page.”
We all know foundational skills are important. A house without foundation is a sitting duck. What if what I learnt at school was wrong. Or out of date with modern times. Or not enough. It was time to go back to basics of reading and find out what I could do better when reading. So I picked up a book by The Princeton Language Institute and Abby Marks Beale called 10 Days to Faster Reading. Fitting title for what I wanted to achieve. The book starts crushing school fallacies. They include “you have to read every word”, “hear the sound out words in your head”, “don’t skim, that’s cheating”, “you need to completely understand everything you read”. Ok book, you have my attention.
The basic foundations
What does an average reader actually look like? They read at 200-300 words per minute. Take a look here.
|Slow reader – move their lips and probably read to themselves
|Average reader – whisper when they read
|Good reader – may talk a little when they read but not as much as average reader
|Above average reader
- Humans talk at 100-150 words per minute.
- Humans THINK upwards of 400 words per minute.
What happens to the delta between talking and thinking? Well, that’s your wondering brain as you read. Hence, why slow readers sometimes fall asleep while reading.
Reading speed alone isn’t enough. Good comprehension is also required. Good comprehension falls between 70-90%. If your comprehension is below the 70% then you need to work on your vocabulary.
Your comprehension is better than you think. We underestimate our abilities. The brain works in mysterious ways. Thus, you should TRUST your brain more and believe that you are capable of better comprehension.
The 3 most common passive reading habits:
- Mind wandering
- regression and
It is impossible to eliminate them. But you can reduce them. First by becoming aware of their presence and then by learning to read fast while trusting your comprehension. 1 & 3 can be reduced by using techniques to read fast. Remember that you brain works at a faster pace. Don’t give it the delta to wander around (ie. day dreaming). And 2 trust your mind that it understood the context of the message. Contrary to what you were taught, you don’t need to read word by word.
Techniques to Faster Reading
What I found useful throughout the book is the end of chapter tests. Each chapter introduces you to a technique with wisdom followed by a reading test. You should do the reading test. It gives you quantitive data on you reading speed and comprehension using a lookup table in the appendix. This played a role in giving me confidence I could do this. Goodbye old school fallacies.
“Your brain is prewired to learn language. But not reading. Learning to read faster is like understanding how to decode words in a more efficient way.”
Technique 1: Pacers
Use your hand, a pen or a blank white card to increase your reading speed. These are called Pacers. Think of a pacer as a stick shift. Pacers force the eyes to move in a directed pattern down the page to help you get up to speed. Pacers function like a pace car in a race. You know, that 1st car which guides the rest around the track to a certain speed before moving out of the way.
The general rules for any pacer is:
Keep your pacer moving down the page not across and Do not stop or go back.
PS: a finger as a pacer is also ok.
Technique 2: Widen your Track
To read fast you need to see more words. Access your peripheral vision. You don’t need to be focused on 1 word at a time. Phase Flashing is a means of grouping words together into thoughts. The book has a technique there to teach you this called The Eye Span Pyramid. Give it a shot. Even if its just to see how wife your peripheral vision is.
Technique 3: Concentrate, Focus!
Focus. Find a quiet place where you can concentrate. Reading in bed won’t work. You sleep in bed. You will quickly drift away there. Anything lying down is going to put you to sleep. Cut off all distractions like background music. You also need to be sitting up to stay awake. Ever tried to meditate while laying in bed? Yeah you fall asleep pretty fast.
I found the library is a perfect place to concentrate. It is quiet and has a purpose for studying/reading. It has that energy around it that it’s what people do there and forces you to concentrate and read while sitting up. If you need a tool to help you focus on 1 thing at a time then take a peek at GSDfaster’s Pomodoro Technique. It uses a timer to help you focus on 1 thing for a period of time. Sitting down for hours often breaks your focus. This way you group your reading into periods of 30 minute intervals with breaks between. No burnouts.
Technique 4: Have a Purpose
This is more powerful than you might realize at first. Ask yourself:
“WHY am I reading this?” and
“WHAT might I need this information for?”
This is a powerful motivator. It helps you uncover your purpose and responsibility. It literally says: this is important. It must be done. It’s like a personal trainer. If something isn’t important then it can be done at any pace and at any time. The WHY and WHAT set a level of importance and urgency.
Technique 5: Reading Between the Lines
Speed up your reading and comprehension by stopping on the white space just above each line. Not on the line of print.
Example – see pic below; which is easier to read?
“Faster reading then becomes a tool to help you get the comprehension you want.”
There are other techniques in the book you might want to explore. The ones I mentioned above resonated with me.
Turbo Comprehension: Getting to the Gist
It’s no use reading fast if you cannot understand what you just read. The context. The score in the book states that anyone with <70% comprehension lacks vocabulary. Better comprehension is proportional to the breath of your English vocabulary.
Here are 2 useful techniques:
Use the 5Ws and H: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. Pre-View or read looking for these to give you context. These clues will give you about 40% of the key information. The remaining 60% is filler, fluff or explanation.
Expand your Vocabulary. The more words you know the better. When you come across a word you don’t understand reach for the dictionary and learn it. A Dictionary is a great tool to learn new vocabulary. Especially if English is not your 1st language. The more words you know the easier it is to not only read faster but also with great comprehension. Comprehension takes 3 forms – Literally, Interpretively and Applied. Make sure your comprehension spans all 3. The book has great examples on these.
“It takes time to save time.”
End of Chapter: Time Trial
The book has time trials at the end of each chapter to test your words per minute (wpm) and comprehension. At first, I was resistant but soon I became a convert and found this section super useful. There is nothing like tracking and comparing progress. Especially if it improves and you start seeing the value in what you are learning. So how did I perform? Better than I imagined. I started at 300 words per minute (wpm) at 80% comprehension and finished up on 480 wpm.
|Pg8. All About Reading
|300 wpm (1:18s -> 1:20)
|Pg26. Battling the Worry Bug
|265 wpm (1:28s -> 1:30)
|Pg50. A True Athlete
|345 wpm (1:08s -> 1:10)
|Pg69. The History of Speed Reading
|Pg122. It’s All Relative
|345 wpm (1:03s -> 1:10)
|Pg131. The Ties That Bind
|400 wpm (56s -> 1.00)
|Pg159. Books Join the Electronic Wave
|400 wpm (56s -> 1.00)
|Pg177. A Few Words
|480 wpm (47s -> 50)
|Pg192. April Fool’s Day: A Real Kick in the Pants
|480 wpm (49s -> 50)
Now that I have quantitive data, I can make better decisions. This changes how I felt about my reading ability, speed, and comprehension. I feel more positive about myself than I did before. This is a huge win!
My top 3 takeaways
- Trust my brain that it will understand (comprehend) what I read.
- Use a pacer to keep my eyes and mind focused on content.
- It is ok to skim. Ref point #1.
Final note. Reading this book alone is not enough. You need to do the end of chapter exercises and then practice. The book is a wealth of knowledge breaking down old barriers and giving you tools you wish you had earlier in life. Now that you know, you need to program your brain through repetition of movement and activity. Apply these techniques and thought patterns daily to get faster!
Book mentioned in the blog post: 10 Days to Faster Reading by The Princeton Language Institute and Abby Marks Beale.