Most speed reading tips don’t work, here’s a guide written from my own experience on how to blaze through books and articles.
1. Improving Speed
Ok, first start with a speed test to create a benchmark. It’s a great way to measure improvement and it also gives you a sense of how fast you should be reading at any given moment.
The biggest improvements I saw came from reducing three bad habits.
The first is the tendency to go back and reread words or passages due to a lack of focus. When I analyzed my behaviors, I quickly realized that I did this a lot and that this practice made me very inefficient. This happened regardless of the difficulty of the material and it felt like my brain had gotten lazy.
This habit is wasteful, but you can train yourself to read more effectively the first time. Simply use a piece of paper or card to cover up parts of the text that you've already read. This made me very anxious at first, proof of how reliant I was on rereading. Do this any time you feel that you are backpedaling too often, to retrain your eyes.
Next up is our tendency for excessive sub vocalization—your inner monologue where you say the words you read in your head. Unfortunately overdoing this will slow you down to a snail’s pace. I also found that if I eliminated it completely, I would stop comprehending what I was reading. There needs to be a fine balance.
Lastly, you simply have to stop reading every single word. It doesn't aid comprehension, though it’s easy to assume so. Some words are filler, other words are unimportant and can be glossed over. When I started focusing on key parts of the text and skimmed the rest, my reading speed improved. This also helped to reduce my sub vocalization.
One thing to note is that it’s clear that not everything you read will be of similar difficulty. Often in order to aid comprehension you will need to read every single word, possibly more than once. The theoretical math textbooks of my undergrad will back this up. The idea is to constantly tune the balance between comprehension and speed.
2. More Comprehension
Thankfully there are also a few ways to improve comprehension without directly sacrificing speed.
Skim first before reading normally. By previewing what you read, you can form an overall mental model in your head, that you can gradually make more detailed. First begin by reading the beginning, the end, and all major headings.
Also, constantly question what you are currently reading, to deepen your understanding of the material. Question why the author thinks a certain way, and on the presentation of the facts and arguments. To do this you’ll need to know a little bit about the context behind the text. Learn about the author beforehand and their professional and life experiences. Don’t skip the foreword, and check out the Amazon reviews.
Finally, never read without first knowing your goal. It’s hard to absorb and remember all of the information contained in an article or book. Reading is much easier when you know exactly what you want to learn. It’s okay to skip large sections of the text that are irrelevant. I find that knowing your goals also keeps you more focused and alert.
Few techniques that I didn't find helpful.
Some people use a pacer, such as a finger or a pen, to guide your eyes down the page as you read. Supposedly this helps you keep focused, but when I get distracted so does my pacer. It’s worth trying out however, your results may vary.
Others claim that you can widen your peripheral vision with practice to read multiple words or lines of time. I spent a fair amount of time trying this out, but the only result was less comprehension. I think this practice is mostly bunk.