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How can I improve my reading ability? I want to increase my reading speed and comprehension.

Do you have experience in increasing your reading. What did work for you? Which approaches failed?

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related question on cogsci.se –  Jeromy Anglim Mar 24 '12 at 4:22
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+1 for asking Which approaches failed? –  SparKot ॐ Mar 10 at 5:52

14 Answers 14

Something I have been taught while studying English and then preparing for tests/exams like IELTS which may be of help here.

  • (this applies to reading which requires level of attention/thinking for comprehension above the average newspaper in terms of content and length)
  • Do not try to comprehend the whole piece in one reading pass (i.e. read once, understand all and know all details): be prepared to read multiple times (but in different ways - see below)
  • Begin with scanning the piece by quickly going through it, looking for headings, figures and emphasized parts to grasp the general idea of what the piece is about.
  • Next, skim-read by reading quickly through the text but without focusing on every word. Almost read every other line and not every line. At this point you may want to have a pencil/highlighter handy to mark the bits that appear to be of 1) importance, 2) that you struggle to comprehend at this stage. You can point greater attention to these in the next step.
  • Now read "properly" and carefully. At this point you will find that you are reading a lot quicker while paying full attention to detail comparing to if you were reading carefully without the first two steps. Slow down in areas which ou highlighted in the previous step to make sure you understand them now. Again, highlight the key ideas now that you understand the whole piece so you can easily refer to them after reading.

From the first look this process may appear to be longer and more convoluted comparing to just jumping right in guns blazing and trying to grasp everything the first time you read the piece. It is not so especially once you get used to this method and get better and scanning and skimming.

This works great with non-fictional, and especially technical or academic reading. From personal experience I can tell you that using these techniques I can read academic journal articles substantially quicker than my fellow post graduate and research university students who read in the "usual" way. This greatly helps when you have limited amount of time to read as well.

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+1: this surely works. Though I don't go into so many passes, bootstrapping with a quick run over the whole document/academic paper/webpage makes the whole process a lot faster. Also this works not only for speed but for understanding too! –  KK. Jul 22 '11 at 15:52
    
“Especially academic reading”, I'm afraid I agree. What about it being too specific ? For instance, this answer seems more broadly applicable. –  Nikana Reklawyks Nov 17 '12 at 6:43

I'm sure others will post fancier responses here, but I really think this one is pretty simple.

Read more.

I have always been a voracious reader and read quite fast (at least material that doesn't require too much thought to digest -- the slower stuff takes longer because you actually have to think about it). The other people I know who read a lot read faster, and the ones who read less read slower.

In other words, it's one of those practice-makes-perfect sort of deals. Reading more will help your writing, too.

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Great point. Though it'd be good to see a "fancier" answer too with actual techniques being suggested :) –  Dmitry Selitskiy Jun 28 '11 at 0:47
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What do you mean when you say "I read quite fast"? Fast is a relative word. –  Christian Jun 29 '11 at 11:12
    
+1 for "Read more". –  Md. Mahbubur R. Aaman Apr 16 '13 at 4:12

I learned speed reading techniques at a very young age (honestly believe that children should be taught to speed read in elementary school, but I digress), and I think it's helped me considerably, since I can cover a huge amount of material very quickly, and retain a high percentage of it.

http://www.evelynwood.com.au is one widely recommended speedreading course, with the book "Remember everything you read" being based on this method. These's also a few free courses online but I don't have personal experience with them - I learned from this book and a college speedreading textbook that I forget the name of.

Regardless of which course you use, the three biggest tips I know are:

  • Break the habit of vocalization. Voicing out the words inherently limits the speed at which you can read - while that's necessary for a child when first learning to read, and ok to do when reading for pleasure, it's also a crutch, and most people never get the chance to realize it's not necessary. My understanding at least is that this is easier said than done - you may need to trick yourself by singing, humming, or engaging in conversation while you read.

  • Scan the pages in a sweeping motion You are trying to take on entire sentences, paragraphs, and even pages at once, not a letter or word at a time. This is easier to build up than breaking the habit of voicing out what you read. Over time, you'll both build speed, and build comprehension.

  • Be aware that some things in a speed reading course are only there to build up your speed and aren't good habits otherwise. As an example, many courses will advise you not to reread or review as you read. This is a good thing when you are trying to build your speeds up because it stops you from second guessing yourself, but a bad thing when trying to apply speed reading in practice when comprehension is critical. You need to adapt the techniques to your own needs after you learn them, rather than treat them as gospel.

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+1 for adapt techniques after you learn them... this is good advice for many of the methods proposed on this site. –  KennyPeanuts Aug 13 '11 at 16:03
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+1 for the last point. –  kami Oct 18 '11 at 23:27
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Technically, you should have an 'inner voice' while reading or thinking. If not, you might be dyslexic, or something. But then, what about this? –  muntoo Dec 11 '11 at 8:52
    
Thanks for the last point. I was looking exactly to resolve the contradiciton between the speed reading advices to avoid repetition and the memorization advices, which oppositely say that you need exponential periodic refresh to memorize it, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forgetting_curve. –  Val Aug 11 '13 at 18:27
    
Here he says more clearly that forgetting curve implies exponintially delaying repetition, scilogs.com/the_science_talent_project/… –  Val Aug 15 '13 at 14:24

As well as reading whenever possible (ie over breakfast, at lunchtime, instead of watching the TV), and reading everything (books, newspapers, technical papers etc) I would suggest using something like Rocket Reader

I haven't used it myself but a couple of my friends who were slow readers used it to improve to a reasonable speed level)

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Ugh, that page looks like it came from the 80s! I don't know if I can trust places that have rainbows AND charge money. Also their usage of the rainbow is backwards: blue = cold = slow and not the other way around? –  glenneroo Jul 18 '11 at 11:04
    
LOL - yeah, that bit made me go 'ewww' but the app seems to work. –  Rory Alsop Jul 18 '11 at 11:24
    
went from 486 wpm to 779 wpm with six minutes of "training". Site says beware of claims of more than 800. So they may only help with 21 wpm? –  MeowMeow Mar 6 '12 at 16:25

Short term benefits can come from applying some of the recommendations in "how to read a book", which focuses on going through the material repeatedly, from high level to low level. You can also ask specific questions raised by the first impressions.

If you are willing to invest more time, you can have a look at speed reading techniques combined with mind maps. Tony Buzan has written on these topics.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Read_a_Book

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Buzen has written a book. Does it work? Did it work for you? –  Christian Jul 14 '11 at 16:07
    
Does it work? This may vary from person to person, looking at studies or experience reports would be needed to really verify this. Dit it work for me? I have only started to apply some of the techniques described in Tony Buzan's speed reading book. Note that they are similar techniques than @DmitrySelitskiy mentioned. Reading speed: yes, I see definite improvements. Reading comprehension: this is unclear, I need more speed reading practice to give you feedback on this. For now, a lot of information does not require the highest level of comprehension. Retention: mind maps helps here –  Bernard Vander Beken Jul 14 '11 at 18:48

I've never really got into speed reading, or any learn to read fast guides, so I can't really comment on that part.

But at least from my experience, if you are reading technical or any skill oriented book, having some knowledge in the area will improve your reading speed drastically.

I've been programming for about 10 years now, and every time I read a new book, I can read it A LOT faster than my friends who aren't as experienced in the field, because I don't have to spend that much time thinking about the content.

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It depends on what you are reading. If it is lighter matter, you can look at speedreading techniques/software (search on google). It helps your eyes jump words so you have are physically reading faster.

For technical reading, the limit tends to be comprehension speed. In which case, outlining, skimming and going back can help you retain more. Not so much faster, but you get more out of it. Of course, skimming is faster. Just less useful.

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We were writing very similar things at the same time weren't we :) –  Dmitry Selitskiy Jun 28 '11 at 1:02
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Yes. You wrote more so I posted first :). –  Jeanne Boyarsky Jun 28 '11 at 1:07

My mother tongue is not English. So i 'learned' to read English fast.

There is one book which guides you all the way how to increase your reading speed.

http://www.amazon.com/Read-Better-Faster-Norman-Lewis/dp/0690015283

Since my speed was not that great in the beginning i was able to increase my reading speed at least twice. You'll find all the good points mentioned in the answers (and those which will be mentioned in subsequent posts) in that book. It works.

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Tim Ferriss has done some good writing on speed reading, which doesn't require tools and teaches you to read fast in less than half an hour: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2009/07/30/speed-reading-and-accelerated-learning/

As a summary:

  • First, start tracing words with a finger. You want to prevent regression (going back). You also want to practice pausing your eye movement at words; the eye cannot read when moving, so speed reading requires moving your eye quickly, and pausing for brief periods of time. Go as fast as possible.
  • Start and end reading at the third line from the margins. This means you start at the third word in the line and end at the third last word. Your eye can read around 6 words at a time while it's centered on one word. Use this to move your eye less often.
  • Go a little faster and try to read more words with one eye pause.
  • Practice this for 5 minutes on some easy to read text. Go faster than you can comprehend with good technique. After that it's fine to read slower, but you can pick up to that speed comfortably.

Don't speed read everything! Difficult text should always be read slowly. Speed reading will improve your maximum speed for reading, but not comprehension.

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+1. Thanks for the summary. His webpage was somewhat abstruse. –  Upvote Law Area 51 Proposal Jun 24 at 9:26

I'm afraid that my experience is that the 10,000 hour rule holds true for reading. Getting something you already want to read and getting started is likely the best way to improve speed and comprehension. When you need to read something that holds no intrinsic interest for you, the skills you developed reading stuff you enjoy will often be transferable. There are a few things that might help in the meantime:

Narrative

In some ways, fiction is easy to read efficiently since human minds are well tuned to story and narrative. Therefore it's relatively easy for us enjoy reading stories quickly; if we miss an important plot point in our haste, our brains easily fill in the detail. For that reason, it's rarely worthwhile to re-read parts of the story for comprehension. It's entirely possible to exploit this fact in order to quickly read fiction without sacrificing much comprehension: skip every other page.

What you lose in the process is descriptive detail and you sacrifice a measure of enjoyment. Depending on your goal, that could be a worthwhile short-term trade. (In high school, I passed several tests on Shakespeare plays by reading every other page during Physics and Calculus.) In the long-term, the technique does not pay off since it reduces pleasure from reading. It also doesn't help if you need or want something besides plot from your reading. (Many years later, I reread the plays I'd speed through and discovered how much I'd missed.)

Reference

It's a bit dangerous to lump all non-fiction into one bin, but traditional study techniques are geared toward non-fiction textbooks. Non-fiction tends to be organized logically, categorically, and hierarchically, which make such texts useful for just-in-time learning. Instead of reading textbooks from cover to cover, it can be useful to read introductory material first and then search detailed material as needed. In this way, you can benefit from the structured nature of the material.

One of the reasons Stack Exchange sites are so useful for learning is that they provide excuses for searching the documentation for something specific. On Stack Overflow, you never know which portion of the manual a particular question will take you to. As you attempt to apply and explain what you've discovered, you will naturally learn a great deal about some otherwise obscure portion of programming knowledge. That act of discovery solidifies the information in the mind better than any amount of study ever could.

Generally

You might be optimizing for the wrong thing. Being able to read for comprehension more quickly can be a worthy goal. However, developing a love for reading will serve you much better over the course of your lifetime:

We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading. Knowing the contents of a few works of literature is a trivial achievement. Being inclined to go on reading is a great achievement.—B. F. Skinner

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Speed is inverse to comprehension - at first.

I tested highest in my class for reading comprehension in 8th grade, yet I read at a snail's pace. Later on, in college, I learned how to speed-read; this technique takes advantage of consistent types of fonts, but it is mainly useful for fonts with serifs and in narrow columns.

The idea behind speed-reading is that words are a vocal medium when we're young. Speech has to take time. Sight goes nearly the speed of light, so it takes a lot less time. When you see a picture, you immediately understand what it means (a lot of the time). Just take the ability to recognize pictures a step further and apply it to whole words (or paragraphs).

Comprehension is different. It's something you only gain by reasoning about the text for a while. While you're reading, take a few minutes out when the text sparks an idea; let your mind go on a tangent. Then return to the text with your (much more personal) understanding and feel the plot move on. Your understanding of fictional text (though perhaps not your appreciation) will transfer fairly well to non-fictional text.

The understanding of specific words is not quite the same as reading comprehension.

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Comprehension at faster speeds can be trained. It's the same way a race car driver can drive several hundreds km/h with a very low probability of getting into an accident. But the training requires forcing yourself to get used to reading at faster paces. It involves being able to visualize words while reading at high speeds. The brain stores images far better than words, and one needs to practice changing key points in the text into images. –  Muz Jun 27 at 11:42

While the skimming and scanning method helps speed reading invariably,it is less likely that you will interpret everything that the author desired.

There is so much to read,you will always miss something.

Reading is rather beautiful when done gradually.You got to be involved and enjoy it much like a good meal,absorbing everything that was meant to be.Reading just for the heck of reading seems to be a bad idea for me atleast.

Try this for good comprehension.Nothing Special but just 3 steps.

  1. Scan the index thoroughly(observe the pattern).
  2. VISUALIZE : the most important thing.Visualize things that you read.Our brain likes pictures more than texts.Connecting dots becomes a lot simpler when you remember the dots.Most people tend to over-ride what they read previously with what they read currently.
  3. Dont focus on the end.
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To comprehend something your brain must be focused and indulged in the content.

Reading topics, headlines, scanning, skimming are all in order to keep your brain indulged in the content.

I mean you must constantly have a supposition or hypothesis about what you are reading, then gradually try to complete it as you go further or reread the text, like completing a puzzle.

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I having been using a program called 7 speed reading, and its helped a lot. a few of the main topics to increase your speed are:

  • remove vocalization repeating words in your mind or out loud only slows you down. your brain knows what you're reading you don't need to repeat it.
  • Use peripheral vision, it's easy to read word by word but if you can expanded your sight so you're reading five or six words at a time you'll speed up.

Those are the two habits that slowed down my reading speed. Good luck

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Welcome to Personal Productivity. Please note that this site requires you to mention any affiliation to recommended products. –  THelper Oct 20 at 7:23
    
Could you quantify with what you mean with "helped a lot"? –  Christian Oct 20 at 15:42

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