Double Your Reading Rate

This is an older article I originally wrote about speed reading based on my personal experience. I’ve since posted a critique of the original methods, backed by more significant scientific research. Please read here: I Was Wrong About Speed Reading: Here’s the Facts.

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.

  • Scott Young


    There’s nothing wrong with 200 words per minute. I started a bit faster, but I would say 200-300 is pretty typical. The suggestion from the speed reading books is that the tactics themselves become useful only once your natural rate is above about 350–and the best way to do that is just increase the amount you read.


  • Business Genius

    I definitely agree with you. I also read this book and it really helps me in article writing job. These really improve my reading skills as well.

  • Nikki

    Hey Scott,

    First: thanks for the blog. I’ve only come across you in the last few days but a lot of what I have been reading has been serendipitous :). For instance I decided last month to learn French as well as start some 30 day challenges for early rising and speed reading. I came across your site accidentally from zenhabits and am pleased to find you.

    ANYWAY I got out Breakthrough Rapid Reading from my local library based on your recommendation and am enjoying it so far. I’ve done the first four exercises. My initial reading speed was about 260 (I’m a bit tired from my new 5 am wake ups, but I shouldn’t make excuses!). When used the finger pointing technique I found it jumped to over 600 almost immediately. Admittedly it was ‘easier’ material (at the authors recommendation) but I must have seriously been all over the place before :).

    I have tried my own speed reading tactics before (reading paragraphs backwards) which does increase my speed as well as retention somehow but am keen to hone this skill through these new methods as it seems really helpful for increasing my overall potential. Thanks for the article- it really helped a lot :).

  • Kris

    Hi Scott,

    Please answer this question:

    I guess it is not specifically related to THIS specific post, but I’ve been reading close to all your blog entries within the last week or so. I have an exam within a few days, but I haven’t studied at all. What’s kept me from studying is the knowledge that I can study smarter, not harder. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do so. I had a biology exam 3 days ago and only just passed. I just can’t seem to figure out how to create metaphors; seems like it takes me too long to figure out a proper one!

    For instance; mathemathics – how am I supposed to use your 5 techniques? I simply can’t figure it out, but am dying to!



  • Scott Young


    You can only get better at the techniques by actually studying with them. As you practice them, you’ll get better and can eventually scale down your studying. In the short-term though, it doesn’t give you a pass to avoid studying.


  • Kris

    Oh well. Bummer.

    I’ll get cracking with the usual hours on end studying then.

    Definately will buy your book and read it over the summer.

  • phil okongor

    i realx want 2 increase my reading speed and my rate of understanding. I wil be so pleased if that is accomplished

  • NCPhillips

    Great post.

    Speed reading is one of those things I have been inconsistently trying to get better at over the past couple years, and rediscovering this post has got the subject back in my sites. Along with breakthrough rapid reading, I just started using the EyeQ speed reading programs, so we’ll see how that works out.

  • Chris

    I think you said something significant without realising it, so i’ll re-word it a bit, let me know what you think:

    If you can connect what you are doing to a deeply held motivation, and determine your specific purpose for doing it you can maintain a very alert and focused state.

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  • yasmeen

    i tried to speed my reading rate but when i did that i couldn’t remember many points that i read …how can i remember all of the points?????

  • Thomas

    Hi Scott,

    Have you tried speed reading the Bible? How fast does it take to read the world’s largest selling book?

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  • Deepak

    Excelent work ! Thanks for ur time to help so many people…

  • Rex Tang

    Speed Reading is the best answer when talking about making your reading really faster !!!The fact it will really help you achieve your goal to really read faster as ever!So if you want to speed up your reading skills don’t hesitate to go for speed reading!!

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    I think the most important part of reading faster is reading more than one-word-at-a-time. There’s an interesting article which explains this pretty well at

  • Dickson

    I just got into med school and i am very happy to have stumbled over this blog.I am already trying the methods of speed reading and hopx that my slow readx habit is gox to improve.If you have any more suggestions on how i can improve my ready ,please do help me be email:

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  • Carlo

    Hi Scott,

    Nice article! Just recently started reading “Breakthrough of rapid reading” I’m now in the chapter about using your finger as a pointer when reading to help you read faster. Question though, would you recommend doing that when reading from a computer? most of my reading materials are in PDF’s, when I try to do the finger pointer technique on a computer, my hand gets tired moving around since your trying to move your finger on a computer monitor, what do you suggest should I do? should I skip the finger pointer technique if reading on a computer?

    Thank you in advance!

    – Carlo

  • BartTheFastReader

    I’m sorry Scott, but you are TOTALLY not right reposting this subvocalization myth. Ask Tony Buzan. Or me, I’m reading between 4000-5000 words per minute and never cared about subvocalization. In fact: “To move to a new level you need to stop sounding the words inside your head or subvocalizing.” is exact opposite – every time you move to a new level you’re subvocalizing LESS, naturally. Killing subvocalization is not worth the effort. I found it very difficult and really annoying. It’s possible, probably, but it’s like changing left-handedness. Pointless. Sorry.

  • Scott Young


    I’m inclined to agree with you. In my more recent articles on speed reading I don’t talk about subvocalization because I agree it tends to naturally disappear when you start reading faster. That said, I don’t go back and rewrite all my old articles whenever I have a change of opinion.


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  • Owen Marcus

    Good advice.

    I took a speed reading course in grad school that showed me that I was dyslexic. Now that I healed much of my dyslexia I can do what you suggest.

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  • Matt

    Great points.

    I just went to test my own reading speed at a website. I had to read an extract from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and see how long it took me. The text was written in a vernacular style with words distorted to mimic regional accents. Such a text almost forced me to sub-vocalize and it took a *long* time.

    Of course, writings in which the authors have focussed on the poetry of their writing deserve to be read a little slower. But if one is still pressed for time a mixture of skimming and slow reading would be a good combination. There’s no point reading a literary classic to get a plot overview; people have already written those. However, if you skim the boring/straightforward bits and occasional drink in the deep poetical style and take some time to picture the scenes that are being woven, then you are truly experiencing the book.

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  • Adi Setia

    Interesting, i haven’t seen this method before and will give it a go. Of course it will take some practice, but it’s bothering me that i read more slowly than i used to – and i was never a fast reader! I’ve always put that down to having a brain that prefers the visual,
    which in this method will help instead of hinder.

  • Wantei

    Truly a very informative post. I also wish to speed read. I’ll bookmark this blog for later.

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  • Andrew

    You might want to check out an app called reading trainer it trains you to speed read.

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  • poo yee

    can i use pen instead of finger ?

  • Toby

    Here’s another method that I’ve found also works pretty well –

  • Eric Nyikwagh

    Nice post.I really found creative insights to improve my reading culture but the steps offered have to be tailored to meet peculiar needs of different people.

  • Eddie

    Thanks for this easy way of explaining what it takes to learn how to speed read. I am just getting started and still have the subvocalizing in my head, but sometimes it is gone for short while, meaning I am getting better ad it.
    This is my second visit to your site, but this time I bookmarked it to make it easier to find it back.
    Although I am 57 and learning is not so easy anymore I continue to learn new things all the time.
    Thanks for the great info.

  • Chris

    Are there exercises for improving my ability to read backwards? My comprehension, even when I slow down, decreases when I read every other line backwards.

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  • Michael

    Speed reading requires you to think in a very fast way. Presence of mind is the key to this. All your capabilities will follow if you just make your reflexes do the talking. For analytic person, you just need to think!

  • Daisy

    Hi! I’m almost finished with Breakthrough Rapid Reading. I just want to ask what your six month plan was. Maybe it’ll give me idea of how I should for my six month plan.

  • Zhou


    Thanks for your tips for rapid reading! I learned it and took it into practise these days, and I found that I can read faster than before, but I am still a freshman in rapid reading. Here remains a question in my mind: once we get used to reading at a higher rate, our comprehension will also become faster than that in sub-vocalization, as you mentioned in your article, and I wonder how can I examine whether my comprehension improve or not since there is no practise item?

  • Fabian Markl

    Hi Scott,

    I am already practicing rapid reading for quite some time. Your questions is very important. I was discussing that with my fellows at the German Speed Reading Society, but came to no clear solution on how to monitor comprehension as well.

    The simplest thing you could do is:
    1) read through an unknown section of a book for 3 or more minutes and determine the numbers of words you have read during that time

    2) test your retention by noting down all items you could remember from the material you have just read and count them

    3) note reading rate as well as number of remembered items down and monitor your progress from time to time.

    All in all it takes time for your brain and eyes to attune to each other.
    Hope that I could help you.

    All the best,
    Fabian Markl.
    Member of:
    -International Reading Association
    -Society for the Scientific Study of Reading
    -German Society for Speed Reading

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  • cj

    Reading fast is like juggling too many things at once. The brain can perhaps recall few or even half of what you just have read but are you fully understanding its meaning? Seeing it from the intellectual perception, a person may injured his ability to reason if he or she reads at the speed of light. In my observations from the philosophical stand point, it will be an injurious act to punish the brain at such speed. Of course like every muscle in your body requires fitness so does the brain but we must not injured ourselves in such haste because even a muscle can tend to be fragile if we are not careful. If we speed read, our brain is only capturing snaps shots or fragments of the idea and not the full meaning of what the material is about. Leaving the brain faulty and foggy without fully understanding its content from beginning to end.

    Speed reading or Reading fast is multitasking— which distracts the brain from our full potential to make sound decisions in real life. In my opinion there is no
    need to rush. A child learning how to walk does not begin by running first, she or he takes its time to understand the mechanics how her body works to tell his or her legs to walk. Though in later life he or she learns how to run but even running is bad for your knees. So what may be good for you now, it may not be later on in our lives. So if we accustom our brain to read in such haste when is time to make sound decisions perhaps you will jump to such conclusion in haste without understanding whats being presented to you. Why because you have accustom and trained your brain to think fast without adding consideration to the meaning of your subject matter. Even a dog knows the difference when is being tripped over, versus being kicked.

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