The amount of digital information is growing at an annual rate of almost 60 percent – twice as fast as just a few years ago. You can read or filter faster to cope with information overload. Faster reading – also known as speed reading – can save you time. But that’s not all: If you can read texts faster, you know how to separate relevant information from less important ones. We have tips and exercises on how to read faster and still retain more..
➠ Content: What awaits you
Learn to read faster: How speed reading works?
In fact, you can learn to speed read. It’s even scientifically proven. But first you have to understand what happens in the brain when you read. Basically, there are three phases:
- Grasping the typeface
The eye registers a word or part of a sentence and forms a so-called written image from the patterns. This process still happens unconsciously.
- Setting the typeface to music
In our minds, we now set the written word to music. Effect: the voice in your ear. At the same time, the gray cells check if they know the word.
- Retrieving information
Everything the reader knows about the word is now consciously recalled from memory. Several brain areas work together in this process – including those for emotions or experiences. Verbs mainly stimulate the frontal brain, figurative nouns especially activate the temporal lobes.
With it at the same time becomes clear: The more a text appeals to us emotionally and moves us, the more active the upper brain and the faster we can process and remember the text.
Faster Reading App
In the meantime, there are various apps with which you can learn to read faster. These include, for example:
- Read faster
The test winner at Stiftung Warentest is among the most popular and affordable apps. Only the design has been lagging behind for a few years now.
This app promises better cognitive skills with just five minutes of practice a day. Downside: According to test reports, it tends to crash during prolonged use.
This speed reading app offers a free basic version. From 1,99 Euro per month users get the premium version. Rather unsuitable for academic reading.
Speed Reading Techniques: Tips on how to read faster
There are several tips and exercises to help you read faster. With so-called selective or diagonal reading, you look for the information that is relevant to you and save yourself the verbiage around it. Stimulus words help, as do numbers or questions, for example:
- What will the information do for me?
- How will this help me in life?
Doesn’t the text do this automatically, you should at least briefly skim it beforehand and look for such stimuli. They are like anchor points in later reading and keep your concentration, anticipation, and thus emotional levels high. This method is especially suitable for non-fiction books or press articles.
There are readers who generally avoid the introduction and the punch line and only read the middle part of a story. This provides less reading pleasure, but reduces effort. This also helps you get rid of obstacles: colorful images, large headlines – all of these things magically attract the eye and are a constant distraction. Effect: The reading speed falters. But if you have already noticed them before, they become uninteresting. The speed increases.
Tips for faster reading
If you want to read quickly, you have to accelerate the processes in your brain that I mentioned earlier. The following tips will help:
- Capture words visually
Avoid mumbling along with words you read (so-called "subvocalizing"). Try to perceive the words only visually. Researchers at the Japanese National Institute of Information and Communications Technology in Tokyo found that those who can manage it can read up to 50 times faster.
- Recognize word groups
Try to fix and picture whole sentences or blocks of words rather than individual words. Our eyes can read up to four words at once. Slow readers, on the other hand, often jump back to what they have already read. This costs time, but does little for comprehension.
- Assume attitude
The right sitting posture (and also ergonomic office furniture) makes reading easier. It is not so important that you sit stiffly and upright. Rather, adopt a comfortable posture that allows a good view of the text you are reading.
- Avoid skipping back
Jumping back, the so-called regression costs time. It can be avoided with a trick: Imagine you are watching a fast-paced action movie: You can’t rewind it either. To help you, you can use a pen to guide your gaze exactly along the lines.
- Eliminate sources of interference
Anything that distracts you – noises, unpleasant smells, a flickering screen or desk chaos – prevents efficient and thus fast reading.
- Limit the time
Try the Pomodoro technique. Set yourself an alarm clock or smartphone and set yourself a deadline. If you work with concrete deadlines, you are forced to grasp things quickly and are not easily distracted.
Example: How to avoid word-by-word reading
This becomes particularly clear with so-called tongue twisters. Here’s an example of word-for-word reading:
If you read the sentence word for word, you need about seven seconds to do so. If you mumble along and also pay attention to correct pronunciation, you are guaranteed to jump back several times and already take twice as long. At least.
However, if you only read the first two words and maybe even catches the "fish", gets through the text twice to three times as fast. Because the brain automatically completes the rest:
More tips for efficient reading
The following tips will also result in a better understanding of the text. On the one hand, this allows you to better assimilate content. With knowledge about a certain text type or author, you can also read faster:
Get an overview
Try to skim or cross-read texts the first time. In a second step, you can mark important words with a marker or pencil.
Look up important things
Write down unclear terms, technical vocabulary and the like on an extra piece of paper. If you look up directly while reading, it costs too much precious time. One or two things may come out of the context anyway. You can look up the rest in the evening and memorize it overnight.
Look at information about the author for a deeper understanding of your reading. The blurb of the book often contains a short biography, sometimes further research is useful: what books has the author published so far? With which topics he has dealt? The more you know about the author, the better you will be able to understand and categorize their work.
In order to promote your own receptiveness, you should sit down at a text in a relaxed manner. If you have to absorb information under stress or pressure, you won’t get far. Instead, lapses in concentration cause your mind to wander. Various relaxation exercises or the freeze-frame method can help.
Question what you have read
When reading, you immerse yourself in the author’s point of view. For effective reading, you should question the opinions and views you read. Agree with the author? If not, why not? By reflecting on what you have read, you will deepen the content and remember it better. This helps to formulate and justify your own opinion better.
Gain points of view
In addition to your own reflection, the exchange in a study group (PDF) can contribute to a change of perspective. Participate in group discussions on the topic to gain new perspectives and insights on the text content.
If you want to read faster, you have to practice. To do this, you simply need to read more. It automatically expands your vocabulary. Within a certain time, technical terms will thus automatically become second nature, so that you no longer need to look them up. Use your lunch break to read, your ride to work on the subway, or in the evening before you go to sleep. Then you will also benefit from stress reduction.
Speed Reading Exercises: A Simple Trick to Fast Reading
Try the uncovering exercise: Take a sheet of paper to cover and a text. Ideally, you should start with a simple text with clear sentences. Now cover the text completely with the sheet of paper, only glancing at the top line.
Keep writing until you get the sentence or have grasped the line. Then move on to the next line and so on. The purpose of this exercise is to get you used to immediately grasping a sentence as a whole instead of reading it word by word as usual.
What’s in favor of speed reading?
Speed Reading (also called Fast Reading) may not be what you need when you’re leisurely leafing through a novel. But it is suitable where you are exposed to an information overload of texts – i.e. at work, in your studies. Therefore, especially self-employed people, executives, employees and students benefit from Speed Reading.
Being able to read faster has enormous advantages. Increase reading speed by up to 50 percent. This also means: If you only need two thirds of the time to be able to comprehend a text, you can process completely different amounts of texts. This comes in handy wherever people need to acquire knowledge in the shortest possible time. But saving time is not the only advantage:
- Deeper understanding by reading twice in the same amount of time
- More concentrated reading and less mental digression
- Remembering the content more precisely
- Better control of the information overload
- Less fatigue with speed reading as opposed to normal reading
- Less learning stress in study and work
Speed reading also helps to separate the wheat from the chaff: Often, we only need core information, and the rest of the text is a kind of information waste. The faster you read, the more likely you are to fade out this garbage, i.e.: Only the important stuff sticks in your mind.
The limits of speed reading
However, speed reading also has disadvantages:
- Limited absorption capacity
If you skim texts in this way, you should only read for a maximum of 45 minutes at a time. After that you need a break, otherwise you will not retain anything. Only by this pausing and processing new neuronal connections develop and information becomes stored knowledge.
- Wordiness necessary
Critically, the method is ideal for frequent readers such as students, but it requires a large vocabulary: Speed Reading seminars like to trick with popular literature. Of course, it is a completely different caliber to grasp the contents of a scientific text at the first go. Firstly, this is due to the sentence structure, which is much simpler in exercise texts such as newspaper articles or novel excerpts. On the other hand, the scientific literature of universities is peppered with technical vocabulary. Means: the texts are much more complex, a reader consequently takes longer to comprehend them.
- Footnotes hinder
Also critical for non-fiction texts: Footnotes at the end of the chapter. Which require that we jump with our eyes under the main text. But this is exactly what we have to avoid if we want to read faster. On the other hand, from an academic point of view, relevant references can be found in these very footnotes, which is why fast reading can sometimes be counterproductive.
Speed reading takes time
If the success you hoped for at the beginning fails to materialize, keep at it. It is quite normal that you do not fully understand a text the first time you read it. It needs many connections in the brain, which are built up only gradually. It works better the second time you read, you will slowly develop an understanding of the terms and context. And by the third time, you will have grasped 70 to 90 percent of the text.
Should you get tired in between, then you read too slowly. Or the other way around: If you read too slowly, you will get tired faster. You can save yourself again with a trick: lie down for 15 to 20 minutes (no more!) and take a power nap. Afterwards you are much more energetic and can not only read faster again, but also recuperate the timeout. Even if speed reading is only suitable for heavy texts to a limited extent, you have an enormous advantage as a speed reader: for everyday texts such as e-mails it is always sufficient. And unlike the normal-paced reader, you have the choice of reading fast or slow.
PS: By the way, it took you about four minutes to read this text…
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