How to up Your Reading Game

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We all know we should read more if we want to live a better life, but our time is limited. What if there was a shortcut, like, speed reading?

Is Speed Reading a Myth?

You may have pondered the idea of speed reading, but speed reading is not a proven science. If you google the term, you’ll see many well-meaning articles describing various speed reading techniques in detail, like this one, this one and this one

In general, all speed reading methods advocate one or more of the following techniques to read faster:

  • Scan more words at a time and at a quicker pace. 
  • Read without subconsciously vocalizing the words in your head.
  • Don’t go back to re-read any of the text you’ve already read.
  • Spend exactly the same amount of time reading each line. 

However, this article and this one provides compelling reasons as to why speed reading doesn’t work. Here’s a summary of their arguments:

  • The faster you read, the less you will comprehend.
  • Vocalization is the way we have learned to read, so it may be hard-wired and impossible to do without.
  • Regressive eye movements are required because messages may not be laid out in a linear fashion.
  • Certain passages and words are harder to understand than others, so they take longer to digest than the easier parts.

The evidence seems to suggest that speed reading may just be another term for “skimming”. Skimming isn’t very good for literacy development. If you want to get better at reading for literacy, you need to read to understand. In general, the faster you read, the less you will remember, and therefore, the less you will be able to use the information to your benefit. 

So how can we actually get better at reading?

The simple answer is simply to read with greater focus more often. As you read more and with more focus, you’ll get better at recognizing language structures, become familiar with certain literary formats, and get more used to the very practice of reading. You’ll gain more knowledge in certain areas, enabling you to understand similar ideas at a faster rate. 

Reading is an activity similar to running or lifting weights. There are some basic techniques to get you started, but what’s most important is to do it regularly so that your mind and body adapts to it over time. Once you feel comfortable generating more focus into your reading, you can incorporate additional techniques such as skimming.

The real speed reading techniques to help you focus better:

  1. Choose your books wisely. Read well-written books about subjects you’re interested in, or about things that you need to get better at.
  2. Make quality time and space. Set aside time and space just for reading, in a clean, quiet and well lit environment. 
  3. Use the pomodoro technique. Concentrate on a task for 25 minutes, then take a break for 5 minutes to do something completely different, before resuming for another 25 minutes. After the third 25 minute period, take a longer 15 minute break. 
  4. Get healthy. Exercise, eat healthy, and sleep well. Keeping your body healthy and feeling good might be the quickest way to boost your focus.
  5. Read with a dictionary. Increasing your vocabulary is a fantastic way to increase your literacy.
  6. Jot down notes. You can create a simple journal by cutting regular printer paper into 4 equal sections and binding them together, or place individual notes in specific locations throughout the book.
  7. Recall important points. After each reading period, try to recall the main points of what you’ve read without looking. Try the same recall practice just before your next reading period. 
  8. Read about speed reading techniques like skimming, peripheral reading and non-vocalization. Skimming and other speed reading techniques can help if you’re already applying these tried-and-true methods of learning.

Conclusion

Skimming can be a useful tool if it supplements more careful and more frequent reading. It can help you gain better reading objectives and to map out locations of interest in the text before a careful re-read. However, by itself, skimming won’t help you learn things faster. To actually get better at reading and learning, you should implement the focus techniques listed above, and read more often using them.

To learn more about the literacy resources on our website, please check out these links:
literacynowburnaby.ca/resources
literacynowburnaby.ca/literacy

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