Scott H Young

Double Your Reading Rate


Reading is an incredibly important skill to have. Just about any form of education will involve reading, sometimes almost exclusively. You can often make yourself an expert on an intellectual subject just by reading enough in that area. But despite the incredible importance of reading, most people are wildly inefficient at it. Like a child that never goes beyond a crawl, most people have enough reading skills to move around, but they are far from running.

Over a year ago I picked up the book, Breakthrough Rapid Reading by Peter Kump, an expert in the area of speed-reading. From that purchase I took the time and energy to study other ways to improve my reading skill. I recently got a chance to finish Eckhart Tolle’s, The Power of Now, and I read the last half of the book in under forty minutes.

When I did the initial test at the start of the book, I could read at 450 words per minute. A little above the average of around 300, but nothing spectacular. By using the techniques I’ll describe in this article I was able to increase that rate to around 900 words per minute in average situations, at least doubling of my reading rate.

I believe there are six major keys to improving your reading skill. Like all skills, success only comes through practice, so just reading this article won’t be enough. But if you are interested in how you might be able to make dramatic improvements in both speed and comprehension, I’ve found these six points to be the best start.

1) Remember, Reading is Not Linear

How do you read a book? Likely from start to finish, never going back and never skipping any sections. This is probably one of the most inefficient ways to read. The beauty of text is that it is non-linear. You can skip down to read only my main bullet points, or read them in practically any order. Although the pattern of start to finish might be a simple one, it isn’t always the most effective.

For most books I do read in a roughly start to finish fashion. But I frequently re-read passages that I want to get a greater understanding of and completely skim over passages that I feel are redundant or unnecessary. Good writers generally add anecdotes or metaphors to improve understanding of a concept which you can skim over top of if you already get their point. Similarly, bad writers often go short on explanation of complex details so re-reading can allow your brain the time to form the concepts.

Not only is reading non-linear but it doesn’t have a set pace. Although I read some books at about 900 words per minute, I slow down to 200 if the passage I am reading is particularly information dense or complicated. Similarly I can skim at over 1500 words per minute if I’m reading mostly fluff. Saying I can read at 900 wpm is like saying I can drive at 100 km/h. Speed reading isn’t just about faster but pacing yourself for the specific reading task you face.

Most people read a book as if it were given to them as a speech. They listen to the author and follow along with what he is saying in a purely sequential manner. In order to reach faster rates of comprehension you have to learn to abandon this tactic. You can start this by not subvocalizing.

2) Stop Subvocalizing

When you started to read you probably read out loud. Your elementary school teacher wanted you to read the book and say the words aloud. After you mastered this skill, you were told to simply say the words inside your head and read quietly. This is where most reading education and skill levels end.

To move to a new level you need to stop sounding the words inside your head or subvocalizing. Subvocalizing takes time, more time than is necessary to comprehend the words you are reading. It is almost impossible to go much beyond 400 or 500 words while subvocalizing. Instead you need to train yourself to read without hearing the words in your head.

But for most people this has become such an ingrained reading habit that they don’t realize that subvocalization is a distinct process to comprehension. If I read at around a thousand words per minute, there is no way I could hear the words in my head while trying to process them. Instead I simply see the word and my brain automatically constructs what has been written. I’ll understand a line of text that I looked over in a second, even though it may have taken at least five just to say the words in my head.

Since most people currently can’t separate the subvocalization from comprehension, they are locked in at a rate of about 400-500 words. Moving beyond that rate requires that you practice reading faster than you can actually read.

Edit: I’ve done a follow-up to explain subvocalization more as I think this post may have confused people a little. Check it out here: Speed Reading Follow-Up

3) Practice Reading

Practice reading doesn’t mean reading. Practice reading involves reading faster than you can actually read. Chances are you won’t comprehend much of what you are reading because your brain is so used to going at a slower rate and subvocalizing. The point is simply to see the text faster than you can read so you can untie the habit of sounding the words as you comprehend them.

You can start doing this by taking out a timer or a stop watch and simply viewing as much text in a book as possible in one minute. Use a book you haven’t read before to ensure your brain is actually practicing instead of relying on memory. Mark out where you started and stopped. Count the number of words per line (use a quick average) and then the number of lines you actually read in the book to compute your practice reading rate.

Once you get used to practice reading at a high rate that you can’t comprehend, you should slowly be able to actually comprehend at a slightly slower rate but still faster than if you subvocalized. I would often practice read at between 1500 and 1800 words per minute, and although I lacked comprehension skill, I could maintain it at about 900-1000, over double what I had done when I subvocalized.

But how can you practice read faster than you can read? How do you follow the text but still go faster than you can read? The answer is another of speed reading tricks, using a pointer.

4) Use a Pointer

Your eyes don’t stay fixed in one spot when reading. Eye tracking movements have shown that your eyes actually quiver and move around considerably. And every movement away from your position in text requires a few milliseconds to readjust. These little readjustments in locating your place in a book add up to be very costly if you want to go faster.

Use your index finger to mark where you are on the page at all times. It should follow along with the word you are currently reading, slowly scrolling across each line and then back down one. It may feel awkward at first and it may even temporarily slow your reading rate as you adjust, but using a pointer is critical if you want to improve your reading skill.

Using a pointer is also crucial if you want to practice read. By moving your finger faster than you can actually read, your eyes get used to viewing text faster than your brain can process what is written down. This will break your subvocalization attachment and can easily let you double your reading rate with sufficient practice.

You should use your finger as a pointer all the time. When I first started with the habit I found it annoying to hold the book in a funny position so I could use my right hand to scroll the page. I thought it was silly and maybe even a waste of time. But now I find it hard to read without a pointer. Noticing how much it has helped me focus my reading efforts it is a priceless tool in reading.

5) Eliminate Distractions

As a university student living on campus I’ve noticed a few of my friends who “study” while watching television. Not surprisingly, these tend to be the same people who complain about how much studying they have to do. Reading can’t happen in an environment where external distractions are overwhelming.

If you need a break, take a break. Taking a few minutes to watch a television show, listen to some music or just close your eyes can often improve your focus. But don’t multitask with your reading or you’ll lose any benefits speed reading can offer. Worse, because you have stopped subvocalizing, you might even skim through several pages before you realize you haven’t comprehended anything that was written.

Distractions will hamper regular reading but they will make speed reading impossible. Subvocalization creates enough mental noise that it can hold your attention, but without that it can often be difficult to stick with what you are reading.

External distractions may be a problem, but internal distractions are just as bad. They occur when in the midst of reading you start pondering that conversation you just had with a friend, the movie you want to see or whether you should do your laundry. The way to remove internal distractions comes from clearly identifying a purpose and a motivation.

6) Find Your Motivation

If there was one piece of advice I would offer to improve your reading rate it would be simply to engross yourself in the material you are studying. If you can connect what you are reading to a deeply held motivation, and determine your specific purpose for reading you can maintain a very alert and focused state.

Most people don’t do this. Instead they force themselves to study the book they know they should and end up having to refocus themselves every thirty seconds when their mind decides that this book is boring and would like to be somewhere else.

First, find a general motivation. This is how what you are reading relates to your truly motivating goals and passions in life. When I read my psychology textbook I focus on the fact that many personal development principles come from an understanding of human psychology and that I may discover new ideas if I look carefully. When studying ancient Asian history I focused on the fact that studying a completely different culture could offer insights into how Western and Eastern value systems differed, giving me new thoughts on whether my values are as absolute as I once thought. I also focused on the fact that many great philosophers such as Buddha and Confucius lived during these times with a profound influence on the ideas of these nations.

The general motivation should make you want to read the book. If you don’t genuinely want to read the book, come up with more reasons it is attached to your deepest interests or it is going to be a struggle to move through. You can find a general motivation for reading any book if you are creative enough, so don’t tell me you can’t figure out one.

The second portion is to determine your specific motivation for reading. What are you specifically looking for when reading the book. New ideas? A practical solution to a problem? An understanding of a concept? A chance to flex your mental muscles? Figure out what you want to get out of each reading session so your mind is primed to intake that knowledge.

If you are interested in improving your speed reading, I strongly suggest Breakthrough Rapid Reading by Peter Kump. The book goes from beginner concepts that I’ve detailed to even more advanced ones that I have yet to master (such as reading several lines at once and reading sentences backwards to save time on a pointer backstroke). Speed reading is definitely a worthwhile skill and at the very least your friends will be impressed.


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260 Responses to “Double Your Reading Rate”

  1. Akbar says:

    Hi Scott,

    I like your blogs and guides. Can you please make a guide on how to power read.

  2. [...] Original article by Scott H Young  Pages [...]

  3. [...] are worth a more thorough read, I need to up my reading speed. So, I hope to put into practice these lessons (HT: Alastair), and, also, to make a bit of regular time for this online speed reading tool (HT: [...]

  4. Fred says:

    Eckhard Tolls is retarded but I liked your article. I read it in 2.8 seconds.

  5. RW says:

    Great tips. I think that there are a few more to add to the list, and perhaps pointing might not be the best solution, though it works in the beginning, but overall this is very helpful.

  6. Amit says:

    Hi!
    This is great post!
    a good method to increase the read speed is to try to use the hand
    and to use the finger when you are reading.
    Just go on the lines with your finger.
    it will help you to stay focus and not to read the same line twice…

    Another great website for more speed reading tips:
    http://www.speedreadingcenter.com
    try it!
    :)
    Amit.

  7. [...] Practice reading: In practice reading, you’ll read much faster than you actually do, just to see the text faster and train your brain. [...]

  8. Meerz says:

    Hi Scott, great article! But I’m a bit confused about the subvocalizing part, I think it’s SO hard to do so. Anyways, I’ve read books for Tony Buzan, and he suggests the opposite, he suggests that actually reading out loud and moving your lips in a faster way would actually help you in comprehension and speed reading. I tried to stop subvocalizing, I got lost!

  9. Dave says:

    Vocalization is not a bad habit!

    It is a common habit to vocalize, or at least sub-vocalize while reading. This practice will prevent you from reading any faster than you can say the words. But vocalizing isn’t really just a habit. It actually does help you understand what you read. Sentences are usually made of multiple phrases. Each phrase is an idea, or a separate thought. When you hear a sentence spoken, there are sound clues that indicate these phrases. You may not be aware of it because it’s as subconscious as walking, but listen carefully to the previous sentence when it’s divided into phrases…

    When you hear — a sentence spoken, — there are sound clues — that indicate — these phrases.

    If you listen carefully to the spoken words, you will notice that the first word of each phrase is spoken in a lower pitch, like a lower musical note. Lowering our pitch indicates to the listener that this is the next thought being presented and this makes our spoken sentences easier for the listener to understand. This lower pitch tells the listener that a new part of the sentence is coming. But these audio clues are not available in written text, and so we have a tendency to sound out the words to listen for them ourselves.

    There is a free online application which will take any text and convert it into its natural phrases. It will then display these phrases one after the other at your control or automatically with an adjustable speed control. Go to http://www.ReadSpeeder.com and try it out.

    Although there is often more than one way to break a sentence into phrases, ReadSpeeder’s patent-pending process does a good job of quickly finding the natural, meaningful phrases. When the sentence is presented to you in this way, you no longer need to internally sound out the sentences. You will instantly grasp the meaning of each phrase at a glance, just like you grasp the meaning of words at a glance, without thinking of each letter. Faster understanding will lead to faster reading. This method is really the opposite of most attempts to read faster. The usual advice is to push your reading speed, and try to maintain comprehension, with the hope that, with practice, the comprehension will improve. With ReadSpeeder, you understand faster to begin with. Use ReadSpeeder and no longer will you be restricted to reading at the speed of speech. You will be reading at the speed of thought.

    If you have any questions, you can write me at dbutler@readspeeder.com

  10. Brad West says:

    Thanks Scott,

    Dude I totally need to read the book, I waste so much time reading it is just unbelievable. The is worth allot of money and if I could take the time to master this. I would have tons more time.
    Totally stoked.
    Brad West ~ onomoney

  11. Jason Shick says:

    Scott,
    I am a voracious reader and would love to read more. I’ve thought about studying speed reading for some time. My question to you is, has it made reading any less enjoyable for you?

  12. Scott Young says:

    Jason,

    Speed reading has probably increased my enjoyment of reading, I enjoy the faster pace.

    -Scott

  13. Jon C says:

    This was a great article! I feel like you really understand speed reading.

    To go along with “finding your motivation” I get a lot more reading done by NOT reading some books at all. When choosing a new book to read I’ll jot down all my “books of interest” then rank them from 1 to 10. 1 being really relevant to my needs and 10 not so much. 6 and below I’ll pass immediately and 1 through 5 i’ll take a second look and actually skim through the books. It’s worth the time spent so that way I can focus on more important reading. I also used http://www.revitupreading.com to learn a lot of techniques of speed reading. Loved it.

    -J

  14. [...] Remember your motivation: When reading, keep in mind why it’s important for you to read what’s at hand. [...]

  15. Ray says:

    Great article!

    Finding the motivation is a really good tip.

    I use the Firefox RSVP add-on to quickly read online articles. I think it’s very useful.

    Check https://addons.mozilla.org/nl/firefox/search?q=rsvp

  16. [...] Scott H. Young – Double Your Reading Rate is an excellent piece that includes several different levels of consideration for ways to get the [...]

  17. Robert says:

    Also, reading groups of words instead of word by word is very helpful. Widening the eye span

  18. Marcus U. says:

    This is some great info. I definitely read about most of these techniques when I was using an online speed reading program at Fastreaders (www.fastreaders.com). These techniques really do work if you train yourself and really helped me read faster.

  19. [...] Double your reading rate A post on the subject by Scott H Young [...]

  20. Jose says:

    Scott, this is straight up hogwash. Don’t quit your day job.

  21. Rob says:

    Great post Scott. I’ve been trying this out for the past few weeks, along with doing some more research around the subject and have increased my reading speed by 79%, which I’m pretty proud of!

    I’m keeping track of my progress on my blog at http://www.burgeoninglist.wordpress.com with the aim of getting to 700 words per minute within the next fee weeks!

  22. Katherine says:

    WOW, Scott. I’ve started putting your speed reading tips n’ tricks to practice, and sense that I’m already reading (and comprehending) much more than ever before.

    I love transcending self-imposed limits, as well as all those beliefs I once accepted uncritically. Eg, this is just the (slow) pace that I read at. I am a slow reader. I need more time to process everything. In fact, none of that is true. Those were beliefs that simply manifested a resonant reality. An Exquisite revelation for me.

    Also, thanks for the pointer on becoming clear about why I’m reading. Having a larger purpose to it all behooves me to regularly step it up in ways that bring me into greater alignment with my essential Self.

    With Metta!

  23. Too bad that I only found your site today :)
    Actually, I started ‘speed reading’ while enjoying this interesting post. The biggest problem of ‘slow’ readers, subvocalizing, was also holding me back in getting up to speed when reading. When progressing through this post I more and more forgot about subvocalizing, but it is quite difficult in the beginning. It is like when someone tells you not to think about a pink elephant – all of a sudden you cannot think of anything else than pink elephants.

    OK, thanks for this insightful article – have to hurry to read the next one

  24. [...] 700 articles devoted to one idea: how to get more from life. Whether that involves doubling your reading rate, learning more with less studying, beating procrastination or just understanding other people—and [...]

  25. Febri says:

    i think, i need triple my speed reading. because my speed too slow

  26. [...] HFWL Day 2 By whizzdom Another day, another list of words to memorize. I found a great post on improving your reading rate and reading more holistically : http://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/2007/03/10/double-your-reading-rate/ [...]

  27. Neil Desai says:

    Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ve been trying to speed read for a couple of months now but just have not made any progress. I’m going to give that book a try.

  28. Shanz says:

    Hi Scott,

    I have been in touch wit you sometime actually i have used a lot of programs and Reading Genius beats ALL of them hands down. Reading Genius incorporates most of the advanced stuff of peter kump and trains you by making u read via program which you can customize.

  29. David H says:

    Great post Scott.

    I fell upon a great little web-site t’other day. It’s an online speed reader. Just copy n’ paste your text and off you go. With a little practice 500 wpm is a breeze.

    http://www.spreeder.com/app.php

    If you’re still turning a blind eye to e-books (they WILL dominate in the future, get over it:) I just wrote an informative review on a speed reading book released recently.

    http://tiny.cc/8r0wm

  30. [...] faster will make the learning process a lot faster. Some resources on how to speed up your reading: Double Your Reading Rate and Speed [...]

  31. [...] Remember your motivation: When reading, keep in mind why it’s important for you to read what’s at hand. [...]

  32. Liz says:

    Very handy tips, thank you for sharing. I have tried several books on speed reading with little progress. It wasn’t until I bought speed reading software that used a lot of the same techniques that I started reading faster

  33. I agree with you Dave that vocalization is not a bad habit! Try reading out loudly and this will improve your speech and it helps improving your diction. I love the post! Reading through great speed and correct diction will help your kids and children improve their reading skills! And as parents, we could learn also from it! Reading book can improve writing skills and these will help our children to overcome weakness in reading and writing.

  34. Dave Eaves says:

    To help reduce the number of times that the eyes go back to a previous word or sentence, run a pointer along the line as you read. This could be a finger, a pen, or any pointed material. Your eyes will follow the tip of your pointer, smoothing the flow of speed reading. The speed at which you read using this method will largely depend on the speed at which you move the pointer; so if you want to speed up your reading, you also have to increase your pointing rate.

  35. Dimitri says:

    Scott,

    Thanks for the great post!

    You say:

    “Over a year ago I picked up the book, Breakthrough Rapid Reading by Peter Kump… From that purchase I took the time and energy to study other ways to improve my reading skill.”

    – Does Kump not mention the most effective ways in his book?

    – What is the one one book/website you recommend learning speed-reading from?

    Much appreciated :)

  36. Scott Young says:

    Dimitri,

    Kump’s book is more than enough for a good starting point. I’d recommend it to anyone looking to get started.

    -Scott

  37. JEG says:

    Dave,
    Your posting has inspired me. How old is too old to improve reading speed? I am 55 years old and have always struggled with reading speed. It has held me back from doing things such as academic endeavors and career choices all my life. it has truly held me back from doing many things. I have learned to compensate but I now want to expand my knowledge and want to make a career change which may involve more reading.

  38. Shane says:

    Do you use a pointer for reading electronic materials? If so, what do you use?

  39. [...] myself). Over 700 articles devoted to one idea: how to get more from life. Whether that involves doubling your reading rate, learning more with less studying, beating procrastination or just understanding other people—and [...]

  40. yar says:

    you should try Photoreading by Learning Strategies corporation… research it and see if its for you. Its much faster and easier to retain. search it!

  41. Ryan says:

    Hey Scott!

    I took a crack at Breakthrough Rapid Reading a few years ago. I restarted the book 3 times and didn’t get through all the exercises.

    I’m a biology student and a lot of the text we read is packed scientific vocabulary in every paragraph. One concept builds on another.

    After reading your post, I feel inspired to complete the Breakthrough Rapid Reading exercises. However, I would not want to read fast at the compromise of my understanding. I am a slow reader with scientific texts. This is because I am to understand everything by connecting new concepts with previous concepts. It has worked fairly well for me. What is your experience with reading comprehension vs. reading speed? Any tips to maximize comprehension, while reading fast?

  42. nXqd says:

    I must admit Breakthrough Rapid reading by Peter Kump is pretty good, since there’s a lot of book about speed reading. But they don’t realize or point exactly that speed reading contains speed and comprehension. Like they say, it just work magicly but I don’t think we know anything magicly, it must be clear and precise enough to understand. Maybe it just doesn’t work with me [ PhotoReading is one of those books I've tried ]
    nXqd -

  43. Very interesting advice. Never knew subvocalizing was slowing me down.

  44. [...] you are already engaged. Our very own College Prep 360 Study Skills Coach has an amazing entry on his blog with six simple steps to doubling your reading [...]

  45. [...] 850 articles devoted to one idea: how to get more from life. Whether that involves doubling your reading rate, learning more with less studying, beating procrastination or just understanding other people—and [...]

  46. [...] 850 articles devoted to one idea: how to get more from life. Whether that involves doubling your reading rate, learning more with less studying, beating procrastination or just understanding other people—and [...]

  47. Greg House says:

    Damn, read it in 0.3 seconds, but I’ve no idea what you actually said…

  48. Ameer says:

    I was able to read a little over 200 words in a minute. How come the normal rate is 400-500 and you are doing 900 or even 1800? I feel ashamed.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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