Simple speed-reading tips to transform your semester

speed reading tips clock books
Slow to get through the piles of books? Try these speed reading tips to zoom through the books and take advantage of your free time. Credit: Colourbox

So many books, so little time: As reading assignments start pouring in this semester, you may quickly recognize the necessity of being able to plow through them at lightning speed.

Paul Nowak, founder of speed-reading training company Iris Reading, helps people ramp up their reading so they have time to do everything else. “If a college student spends 40 hours a week reading, just doubling their speed frees up an extra 20 hours of time. That translates into an extra 1,040 hours a year — 43 whole days,” he says. Whether you choose to sleep, spend time with friends or binge-watch shows on Netflix, chances are that getting on the reading fast track will make you feel more liberated and help you become a more efficient student overall.

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There are several ways to effectively plow through textbooks while absorbing the information. “Use your finger or a pen to guide your eyes while reading,” he advises. This improves focus, reading speed and concentration, Nowak says, “because your eyes are naturally attracted to motion.”

You can time yourself to figure out how long it takes you to read one page of a book. Nowak mentions the average reading speed for a medium-level text is 150 to 250 words per minute. If it’s a technical textbook (hello, physics and math), anything above 300 words per minute is considered superfast. You’ll gradually get faster and faster by turning it into a game to beat your former time.

If you have a huge assignment, Nowak recommends strategically factoring in breaks to review notes. Read for 25 minutes, then take a five-minute break. “Research in neuroscience shows that our brain has trouble focusing on a single task for more than 25 minutes,” he explains. Our brains need rest to absorb information.

In addition, a “preview” will help you grasp the most important points. Read the introduction and conclusion, and then the headings and first sentences of paragraphs. “This distills the most crucial information from the lengthy text. Now that you know what to expect, you’ll be able to read faster with better comprehension.”

If you’re reading Shakespeare or any other non-textbook, you might resist the preview method for the sake of spoilers. But Nowak says previewing fiction may actually boost your enjoyment by helping you read more swiftly and remember more.

Pointers to boost your reading and retention

1. Use a free online tool.
If you’re reading on the computer screen, use a free speed-reading tool like AccelaReader.com, which helps you read faster by blinking words on the screen at a speed that you set. This application utilizes a technology called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation and has been shown to increase reading speed.

2. Take notes.
If you want to remember something for the long run, take notes while reading. Note-taking has been shown to improve reading retention. A good balance would be to follow the 80/20 rule. Spend 80 percent of your time reading and no more than 20 percent of your time taking notes if you want to improve your retention.


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