30 day learning challenge: Speed reading edition

books

“The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”  ~ Mark Twain

I spend a good part of every day reading.  Some of that is for pleasure, some for education, some for work.  I read books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, social media, trade journals, research reports, financial statements and regulatory filings. 

Here’s the problem.  I’m a painfully slow reader.  Painfully.  Slow.  Reader.  As a result, I always have a pile of books on my nightstand and stacks of newspapers and magazines on my desk waiting to be read.  I eventually get to most of it, but I’m definitely more tortoise than hare.

With so much room to improve, I thought it was an area that was ripe for a learning challenge.  I’ve spent the last week or so reading everything I could find on speed reading.  My goal is to double my speed (without sacrificing comprehension) in 30 days.  If I can do that, I’ll cut my typical daily reading time in half (from about 3 hours to 1.5) and free up time to either read more or do something else.

Step 1: Test my current speed

To get a baseline, I took a timed reading test at ReadingSoft.com, followed by a reading comprehension test.  I read at about 213 words per minute with a comprehension of 82 percent.  According to the site, that’s about average: 

  • Insufficient reader: 110 wpm, 50% comprehension
  • Average reader: 240 wpm, 60% comprehension
  • Good reader: 400 wpm, 80% comprehension
  • Excellent reader: 1000 wpm, 85% comprehension

Step 2: Where can I most improve

There are a number of techniques to help you read faster and with better comprehension.  After learning about those and thinking about how I read, I feel like I can easily double my speed if I work on three key things: 

  • Stop subvocalizing:  If you’re like most people, when you read to yourself you pronounce the words in your mind.  I know I do.  In fact, prior to reading about subvocalizing, I didn’t even consider the fact that it was possible to read something without saying the words in your head.  It is, however, and if you can figure out how, it will make a huge difference in your reading speed. 
  • Get rid of distractions:  I will often read with music on in the background, my cell phone by my side and/or while sitting in a room with other people.  I’ll often end up getting distracted if my phone beeps or someone asks me a question.  To improve my speed I’m going to start getting rid of the distractions.
  • Improve perceptual expansion:  If you focus on a particular word while reading, you can see several words before and after that word thanks to your peripheral vision.  If you can train your eye to see and comprehend those words without having to read each line of text from beginning to end, you can greatly increase your speed.  Take the following sentence for example: “If you want to have a meaningful retirement, you need to be intentional.”  An untrained reader will read each word in that sentence from beginning to end.  A trained reader will start with “want” and end with “need,” using his peripheral vision to comprehend the rest.  This reduces the total amount of words that need to be read and greatly increases speed.  For more on perceptual expansion, read this post by Tim Ferriss.

Those are the tips that were most helpful to me, but there are many others such as: 

  • Read early in the day
  • Use a flexible reading speed depending on the material
  • Train yourself not to reread
  • Follow text with your finger (to improve eye efficiency)

Step 3: Practice and Measure

For the next 30 days I’ll practice the techniques outlined above.  I downloaded an app called Toggl (get it for free in the App Store) that I will use to time myself and track how long it takes me to read each of the books that I’ll be using for practice this month.

Step 4: Retest

At the end of the 30 days I’ll retake the speed/comprehension test so I can see how much I was able to improve.

As with all of our learning challenges, I’d encourage you to follow along.  If reading isn’t your thing, feel free to look back on our other learning challenges for ideas and read this for a good refresher on why it’s important to be a lifelong learner.

I hope you’re all doing well.  Touch base if I can ever help.

~ Joe

2 Responses to “30 day learning challenge: Speed reading edition”

  1. Thomas March 12, 2014 at 5:58 am #

    Great post. All the best of luck with the project.

    Best regards,
    Thomas
    http://www.timesheetreporter.com

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Bucket List Books: How and why to add reading to your bucket list - Intentional Retirement - February 8, 2015

    […] I used to be a painfully slow reader, so a while back I did a learning challenge on speed-reading. Read through the article for ways to test and improve your reading […]

Leave a Reply