Most people learn how to read in elementary school and don’t have any developmental reading training afterward. As a consequence, they are probably trying to meet adult reading challenges with outdated, child-appropriate methods. “10 Days to Faster Reading” is here to mend this: get ready to learn how to read like an adult and prepare to become skilled at speed-reading!
Determining your reading speed
First and foremost, you need to find out your current reading speed with regard to comprehension. Marks-Beale suggests a simple exercise:
- Time yourself. Browse the internet for a speed-reading test or a 500-word article that comes with a Q&A worksheet. Without any preparation, start reading – and simultaneously start your stopwatch!
- Respond to statements. Now, see how many worksheet questions you can answer without looking back at the reading.
- Check your responses and calculate your comprehension rate. Compare your responses to the answers provided and calculate your comprehension as a percentage. For example, if you have five correct responses out of ten, your comprehension rate is 50%.
- Figure your words per minute (wpm). Divide the number of words in the article with the time you needed to read the article in full. An average reader can read between 200 and 300 words a minute with a comprehension rate of 80%. Anything below makes you a slow reader; anything above is good. If you can read more than 400 words per minute with the average comprehension rate, you are already a speed-reader and don’t really need this book.
The ten most common reading fallacies
Generally speaking, reading 400 words per minute with a 70% comprehension rate is not as good as reading 250 words per minute and understanding most of them. However, in many cases, the former is far better. The only two reasons why this claim might seem strange to you are your teachers and the outdated educational practices of our schools. Simply put, merely getting the gist of a school lesson will probably not help you get an A, but remembering everything in a text is rarely necessary after you graduate.
This is only one of the ten reading lessons your elementary school teachers have probably taught you wrong. The other nine are the following:
- You have to read every word.
- You need to sound out every word aloud or in your head.
- Don't use your hands or fingers to help read.
- You need to completely understand everything you read.
- Go for quantity — the more, the better.
- Don't skim, that's cheating.
- Don't write in your books.
- It doesn't matter what you read as long as you read.
- Speed is not important.
The three passive habits for losing the reading race
The three most common passive reading habits are mind-wandering, regression, and subvocalization. It’s impossible to get rid of any of them – but reducing all is the first step toward becoming a faster reader. To achieve this, you have to first become aware of their nature:
- Mind-wandering. Mind-wandering – or daydreaming – means thinking about yesterday’s work meeting while reading a book about Michelangelo. This is passive reading since it doesn’t help you acquire information – it actually prevents you from it. However, thinking about the last time you saw David in Florence while reading about the history of the sculpture is not daydreaming, but brain-gluing. This is active reading and helps you not only with comprehension but also with memorization. “Everything you have learned and experienced is your brain glue,” illuminates Marks-Beale. “When you stretch it and stick new information to it, then you are active. If you wallow in it without stretching or adding to it, then you are passive.”
- Regression. Regression, as defined by Marks-Beale, is “a flick of your eyes back to a word or words previously read.” As with mind-wandering, there is active and passive regression. The difference lies in the focus and the nature of your intention. If you’re going back looking for what you missed, then you’re regressing actively; however, if you’re going back because you’ve failed to understand a passage due to daydreaming – then you’re regressing passively.
- Subvocalization. Subvocalization means “mentally reading word-for-word or physically moving your lips while reading.” This is not necessarily bad: reading a 16th-century play, a modern poem, or the fine print in a legal document while subvocalizing is actually the preferred way: it’s better to read, experience, and even remember every word in these cases. However, there’s no good reason to subvocalize and slow yourself down in any other case – like while reading a book on speed-reading.
Ten ways to get back on the focus track
Becoming aware of the habits that slow your reading down is only a start. Especially today – when many things can distract you: other people, your phone, your inbox, music, television, the material you’re reading, or unrelated obligations. Fortunately, there is a way to deal with all of them:
- Squirrel yourself away. If you can’t read at home, go to a park, a restaurant or the library. The fewer acquaintances in your vicinity, the greater the chances you’ll read with focus, speed, and comprehension.
- Let technology work for you. Instead of being a constant slave to your email and your phone, set designated times to check them. “Putting yourself on a schedule gives you freedom to concentrate on other tasks,” writes Marks-Beale.
- Turn off the TV and turn on Mozart. The TV is never a good companion to reading, but Mozart’s music boosts concentration and retention. So, if you can’t read in silence, playing some classical music in the background is the next best thing.
- Brain dump. If you have a lot on your mind, write down everything you’re thinking about before you open a book. And if something gets stuck in your mind while reading, make a quick note about it – but don’t interrupt yourself unless you really need to.
- Take short breaks. Forced interruptions are not respites – but deliberate respites aid in concentration and prevent burnouts. So, plan five-minute breaks for every half an hour of reading – and you’ll read a lot more and with much better comprehension.
Three speed techniques for your eyes
While concentration is the best way to improve your comprehension rate, it helps only partially in terms of speed-reading. Becoming a faster reader has a lot to do with fine-tuning your biological mechanisms – such as widening your eye span to be able to take in more words at a glance. The following three techniques should help:
- Stopping on keywords, thought groups, and phrases. Passing over a few words in a sentence or a paragraph on a page is not cheating – it’s just smart management of resources. Not every word or phrase in a book is important: many are there just because we haven’t found a smarter way to organize arguments. To become a faster reader, start training your eyes to stop only at the keywords – these are usually longer than three letters and carry the meaning of the sentence. While doing this, you are actually expanding your eye span and training your eyes to focus on more in one glance or eye stop. Detecting thought groups and key phrases should be even easier: if a paragraph only explains a bolded key idea that’s comprehensible to you at once, why shouldn’t you be allowed to merely skim it?
- Reading between the lines. This technique can help you break the overlearned habits of focusing on every word in a line. By focusing on the white space just above each line, you should be able to understand everything, while training your eyes to move more swiftly across the page. “When you read between the lines, you become aware of a new sensation of freedom from individual words as fixation points,” remarks Marks-Beale. “This sensation will be uncomfortable at first but can lead to considerable increases of speed.”
- Indenting. Indenting means stopping your eyes on the first line about half an inch inside the left margin and ending it about a half an inch before the right margin. As a result, Marks-Beale says you can eliminate a total of one full fixation each line. For the first few times, you can even draw the lines down the sides of the page to remind yourself that merely glancing at the last word – as opposed to making another eye stop – is enough for comprehension.
How to create a pre-view map
Taking a car trip without directions is no fun. Unfortunately, this is what most readers do when taking a “reading trip.” Reading unfamiliar material makes focus and comprehension a challenge: it’s not that different from being stuck in the middle of nowhere without any idea how to get out. In both cases, you need a map.
In reading nonfiction, a map is the background knowledge you gain from the material before actually reading it. Marks-Beale calls this strategy “pre-viewing” and defines it as “a deliberate skimming process” that provides readers with the writer’s outline so they can know the direction of the reading before they begin. As a result, you can decide whether the reading is worth your time and, if so, establish a more specific purpose.
In some cases, “pre-viewing” can even serve as a replacement for reading everything in detail! “What you find in the pre-view road map is what I consider to be the meat of all nonfiction reading material,” writes Marks-Beale. “These clues give you about 40% of the key information. The remaining 60% is filler, fluff, or explanation.”
The best news is that you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to find the main clues:
- The subtitle of a nonfiction book already gives a good idea of what the book is about.
- The introductory paragraphs usually state the main problem which the author will deal with throughout the book.
- The concluding or summary paragraphs reveal the author’s solutions while disregarding the argumentation; if something seems inconsequential, you can always skip to the relevant chapter.
- Bold and italicized print makes known the keywords or ideas on a page and saves you the time to scan over the page to find them.
- Margin pullouts (or pull quotes) have pretty much the same function; if present, these are usually well-formed sentences that define or describe the main point.
- Finally, the author’s information and copyright dates give you the necessary context.
There is no exact order in which clues must be “pre-viewed”. The only rule is to prepare a reading map that best suits your needs.
“10 Days to Faster Reading” hardly justifies its title: even though structured as a 10-day seminar, mastering some of the skills shared by Marks-Beale requires months and even years of effort.
But don’t let that discourage you from giving this book a try. It’s very readable, highly informative, and extremely actionable, as it includes tens of specially designed reading techniques to make you a better and faster reader.
Even if it succeeds only partially in this – it’s still a huge life improvement!
Don’t read every word on the page. Instead, try to scan over the page until you find the desired information and get a gist of the content.