How reading fast helps me stay on top of things
What if you could read twice the books in half the time? Would you practise a new skill?
Speed reading is controversial and complicated. But being able to read fast is undoubtedly a useful skill to have, just in case.
I had read a speed reading book when I was in school. That was the last time I intentionally thought about the subject, till yesterday when I was asked to document how I read.
There are a few things from “speed reading” that has helped me to read fast. And then there are a few things that I’ve discovered on my own. I will write about both of them in this post.
Speed reading “official” techniques
These I found in book:
Avoid subvocalization. This was the most important insight. When we read out aloud, we are slowed down by our muscles. When we read “in our mind”, some people tend to mimic the same thing they do when they’re reading aloud. They focus on each syllable and pronounce them fully (in their mind). This is very slow. Instead, we should just look at the word and then move on. This is tricky in the beginning, but our brain adapts very quickly. Once you stop subvocalization, you’ll at least double your reading speed without losing any comprehension.
Don’t bother reading every word. Your eyes can move very fast and your brain can process things even faster. (Think about how a batter faces a spin bowler). Just move from one part of the sentence to another part very quickly. Your brain will adapt to quickly reading the words in between.
Don’t bother reading every sentence. Same as above, but applied to paragraphs. This helps with loose prose where sentences are stuffed into paragraphs with not much new content within each sentence. Sometimes you can just read the beginning and end of a paragraph and make as much sense of it as you would if you read all the sentences.
Auto-scroll. Use a pen or finger to keep your position (so that when your eyes jump they don’t lose context) and also to make you move forward faster. The speed of your finger will determine the speed of your reading. With computers you can do auto-scroll.
Not all sentences/paragraphs/writings are created equally. When reading something there are plenty of sections you can ignore because they’re irrelevant or things that you already know. When you start a paragraph and you know that you agree with the paragraph’s content from the first sentence, you can probably skip the paragraph.
- Think while reading. The above becomes true when we’re actively interacting with the material that we’re reading. Our mind should have a rough idea of what the author might be saying from the title itself. Then, every paragraph becomes one of:
- an idea you already know - which you can skip
- an idea you hadn’t thought about but you understand - which you can quickly read to confirm your understanding
- an idea you disagree with - which you will have to slowly read so that you understand
- not an idea, just fluff - which you can skip
Focus on the new. When I’m reading something, I’m always categorizing stuff and looking for the new ideas (the ones I hadn’t thought about and the ones I disagree with). I slow down and make sure that I assimilate these ideas into my worldview. For the ones I disagree with I might even have to stop reading and come up with a reason why the author might have written it down that way (so that I can still accommodate in my worldview about other people’s worldview).
- Read with purpose. If we read something without a question in our mind, we’re going to be slow and we’re going to be bored. I pick up books only when a review leaves me sufficiently critiqued. I pick up articles only if it sounds like there’s something in it that I do not know. I quickly scan through to find this and finish reading.
In essence, speed reading is about intentional reading. It is about focusing on reading as a way to assimilate information, rather than reading for the sake of reading. And it is about cutting the cruft from our reading behaviour. There’s no controversy or cheating in that.
Footnote: I started writing this blog post using ChatGPT. But then I started feeling nauseated by how different it was from me. So I deleted everything and wrote this myself.