How can I read faster?

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Question: How to read fast?

What is the fastest way to read? How fast can I read?

Short answer: Read more!

If you ask about the speed of reading because you are a slow reader, start from reading more!

For a slow reader, the first step to faster reading is more reading!

It is also important to keep your brain in good shape. See this summary: How to keep a sharp brain.

Long answer: Read incrementally!

You must have heard of speed reading. For most people speed-reading is a waste of time. However, it is possible to waste less time while reading fast. The key trick to fast reading with good comprehension is to read incrementally.

Speed reading

The most important role of reading is to gain knowledge. Even if you read for pleasure, you keep learning new things. For a fluent reader, acceleration does not add to pleasure.

If knowledge is the most important goal of reading, the speed of reading should be adjusted to the speed of processing knowledge. Nothing else! You should focus on the speed of flow of knowledge into your knowledge bank.

In reading, the optimum inflow of knowledge is largely independent of reading skills. This is why the speed of reading matters only for slow readers

If you are reading books full of fluff, skimming is a useful technique, and the best way to learn skimming is to skim a lot. However, a better remedy is to always read concise materials or fact-rich materials.

When you listen to a TED talk, you can speed it up on YouTube, however, speakers usually work hard to adjust to the cognitive capacity of their audience. Even 25% speed up may feel as "too fast to process". The exactly same things happens in speed-reading: faster isn't necessarily better.

There never seems to be an end to new ideas on how to speed up reading with a different eye movement, with photo-reading, with serial processing, with improved peripheral vision, with medication, with self-awareness, etc. Before you waste your time on those techniques, try Ken Robinson at 25% speed up, or at 50% speed up (e.g. How schools kill creativity). Now imagine the "gain" if you could speed up Ken 300%. 300% improvement might be your typical target in a speed-reading program.

The speed of processing information that you soak in with reading should be determined solely by your own brain on the basis of the benefit that you sense while reading. At times, you need to pause for a creative association. At times, you need to refer back to your memory. At times, you need to backtrack to clear things up or to make sure. Whatever is left in your head after reading, is your biggest gain from reading. Speed is secondary.

The fastest way of reading

The fastest and most effecive way of reading I know (2017) is incremental reading.

Let me spell out what seems impossible:

With incremental reading you can crank up the speed of reading towards virtual infinity, while still aiming at maximum comprenehsion

This sounds like voodoo. Let me explain.

The speed of incremental reading

The speed of incremental reading comes from employing unlimited skimming without actually missing a detail. The trick is that all skimmed knowledge re-enters the review process, often with substantial delay. In other words, the speed trick is that you get speed today, and arrive at full comprehension incrementally (i.e. in small steps).

Here are some exciting paradoxes of incremental reading:

  • skimming, without missing details
  • speeding, without losing on comprehension
  • digressing, without losing focus
  • ignoring the problem of forgetting, without damaging recall

If this is too good to be true, read on!

Explaining incremental reading

Incremental readers can easily outdistance speed readers in the speed of reading! This is true even for relative beginners with no speed-reading training. The only caveat is that high speed may result in a delay to complete comprehension. In speed reading, you always need to worry about comprehension. In incremental reading, you can balance speed and comprehension at your pleasure. You can read fast while catching just an outline of knowledge. Or you can also read with full comprehension while leaving intricate details or memory consolidation for later. You can also focus on leaving a permanent imprint in your memory. It is speed, comprehension, and/or memory at your pleasure!. It is all up to you. In incremental reading, you can quickly skim through less important portions of the text without worrying you will miss a detail. The skimmed fragment will be scheduled for later review. You can optionally determine when the review will happen and at what priority. You can quickly jump from paragraph to paragraph, get the overall picture, mark fragments for later reading, mark fragments for detailed study, etc. This speed reading method, with a bit of training, is stress free. You will eliminate the greatest bottleneck of speed reading: fear of missing important pieces of information. When you come back to the skimmed fragments in the future, they may have already become irrelevant or less important. You always focus on top priority material and you spend little time worrying about things that are left for later. Incremental reading is speed-reading without the loss of comprehension. Once you speed-read the entire article, you can slowly digest it again from the very beginning. More often, you will review it by reading the most important fragments first.

Additionally, incremental reading adds a jewel on top of the cake: long term retention of knowledge. Speed-reading affects only your short-term memory. Speed-reading gives knowledge for now. In contrast:

Incremental reading gives you knowlede for life

Memories are always subject to forgetting. Whatever valuable information you gather in traditional reading may be forgotten at any time. In incremental reading, knowledge is subject to review via spaced repetition. Pieces that would be retained easily (e.g. through regular use), produce minimum review workload. Other pieces will allow you to never need to come back to the article in question again. In conclusion, all knowledge that you need in the long-run, should be best acquired via incremental reading. Traditional reading can still be used for entertainment, temporary knowledge (e.g. how to install a sound board), curiosity (e.g. news), cramming (e.g. for school), etc.

All speed-reading and speed-learning efforts may go to naught if you do not employ spaced repetition, which ultimately determines the speed of establishing long-term memories. In incremental reading, the volume of the material may be very high, however, the ultimate number of memories, in the ideal case, should be relatively small. It simply takes lots of time to fish for golden nuggets of knowledge that will bring best value in the long term.

Incremental reading carries none of the burdens of a typical hit-and-miss speed-reading. There is no limit on the speed of skimming. The more you skim, the better you skim. The more you hurry, the more you skim. Incremental reading powers your hunger for knowing new things, and the speed at which you devour knowledge.

Further reading

Bad speed-reading advice

The whole lot of advice on speed-reading reminds me of a "great" biking technique: keep your glutes tense. There is also a "great" sex technique for males: keep the flow in. In the quest for ever better optimization, we try to improve upon nature. We get the most comical outcomes when we try to outsmart the brain at what it does best.

Some bad speed-reading advice:

  • shut off your inner monologue? Inner monologue is your creativity speaking. Unless it is irrelevant or unimportant, it can provide extra inights that help you convert good knowledge into excellent knowledge
  • move your eyes in a specific way? Your eyes should move naturally. Their chaotic jerks will ofen be determined by the semantic structure of the sentence. Any attempt of conscious control will be like biking in a straight jacket (with your gultes tense)
  • do not move your eyes? Your eye muscles are a great assistant for your brain. Why make things harder?
  • grab all pages at once? You are not a scanner. This is not possible. Your retina is not a camera. Even your optic nerve would not handle this.
  • expand your peripheral vision? This could help you avoid predators while reading if you happen to live in a dangerous area.
  • read every second page? No comment

For more texts on memory, learning, sleep, creativity, and problem solving, see SuperMemo Guru