“People say that life is a thing. But I prefer reading.”
I came across this quote on a catalogue for a book shop and instantly fell in love with it. Describes me and my love for reading perfectly. Those who share the same love would empathize with the strong emotions that we book worms (or should I say “Knowledge connoisseurs”) attach to our friends in solitude; our books.
And I don’t read just because I love reading. I do it because it is important. It is a crucial life skill to be in love with gathering knowledge in this profound way. It gives you perspectives you would have never gained otherwise.
It builds a rare kind of intellect, and forgive me for lack of a more apt word, is sexy as hell. The coolest of habits to have, and arguably, the best that parents can pass on to their children.
I admire people with good reading habits. They are not only intellectually more capable, they are also emotionally more stable (having seen much more world than their age through their books) and super awesome to have conversations with.
But, let’s just stop my love letter about my favorite habit here and move on to the main reason behind writing this post i.e. how to make you a faster and better reader!
For starters, there are two kinds of reading – reading for pleasure and reading for information.
This post is for those who read for information. For, those who read for pleasure, read it as an art and have their own methods! They deliberately take out time to read because it makes them happy. But when you need to read to gather information – say by going through journals, articles, manuals, academic studies, this love may not be the right way always. Because then we need to gain and retain much information in less time.
This blog post might just prove to be very useful for people sitting for entrance exams where they need to solve lengthy and tricky comprehensions and passages in a very limited time frame.
What are the strategies you could adopt here?
1. Decide on the amount of time you are going to devote to the exercise. Running on a clock helps finish things in time.
2. Decide why you are reading. This will make you more receptive to the knowledge you want to pick up. Aimlessly going through the text is as good as not reading it at all.
3. Don’t just follow where the author is taking you blindly. Don’t get on to his bandwagon without protest. Think. Draw your own conclusions. Ask questions. Find out more.
4. Make notes. They will be of immense help when you need to refer to the concepts you are picking up from the reading. Underline, make dog ears, use post its – whatever floats your boat.
Now let us move on to the most important part. Here’s your cheat sheet for fast reading:
10 easy ways to read faster and better
If what you are reading is a lengthy and difficult piece of writing, previewing could be like your knight in shining armor. It is an effective way to figure out which parts would be useful for your purpose. Check out the main topics, the index, headings and sub-headings.
How do we preview? For every topic that you think is important, read the first two paragraphs, the first one or two of the remaining paragraphs and the last paragraph. You can understand the easier 50% of your reading by this method in very less time.
You can use this technique to go through less complicated readings like magazines, newspapers etc. Skimming is a lot like running on the pages. You need to force your eyes to run faster and sweep the pages. You only need to pick up key words.
This technique gives you a general idea of the short story / article you are reading. And it reduces the reading time by almost half. But mind you, unless you practice long enough to be able to spot the keywords while skimming, this method will not ensure comprehension.
Takes care of both speed and comprehension which is our main aim. We have been taught since our childhood to read words one at a time, keep your finger on each word, read out loud and what not! Those who love reading overcome this handicap pretty soon. And for the rest, this article could be just the thing you need.
Don’t read word by word. Form groups of words i.e. cluster them together. When you cluster, you need to group the three or four words that you can see in one glance. Clustering comes with a lot of practice too. The more you work on it, your eye span increases (eye span being the extent to which your eyes can group words in a glance) and your ability to make sense out of those clusters also improves. Reading is truly an art.
4. Avoid vocalization & sub vocalization:
Vocalization is the habit of reading the words out loud. And sub vocalization is doing the same in your head. This slows down your speed because read as fast as you can say those words out loud, which is not really very fast.
It especially happens even to highly habitual readers when they start thinking consciously about what they are reading. To avoid this, you need to force yourself to keep your mouth shut while reading. Again, not a mean task. Will need a lot of concentration. And we will talk about more focused reading in a while.
5. Improve your eye span:
You already know what eye span is. As kids we were forced to look at each and every word. Start with one end of the page and go to the extreme. Newsflash: You are not a kid anymore. You need to grow up in terms of your reading habits. Train your eye to take in more.
How do you do that? Utilize your peripheral vision i.e. using the corner of your eyes. You can do this small exercise to improve your peripheral vision – Keep your head straight and fixed and rotate your eyes clockwise and anticlockwise slowly. This not only adds strength to your eyes but also improves vision.
6. Avoid regression:
Yes there is regression in reading as well. Why should statistics have all the fun? Here regression refers to reading the same line or phrase or part of text repeatedly. Often it is unintentional but eats into your reading and comprehension abilities nonetheless. Because after a while, that part starts appearing to be very vague and meaningless if you have stared at it for really long.
To avoid this, you have to start reading actively. Losing pace with the material is quite common. It can be avoided by focusing right from the start. If you don’t begin well, you may need to restart. Tiresome! And beats the whole purpose of reading faster!
7. Be focused:
Reading cannot happen anywhere and everywhere. You need the right environment for getting the most out of it. Get rid of your internal and external distractions. If you read on your table with your Facebook logged in and your WhatsApp constantly giving you an itch, it is never going to work (in fact, it is true for everything in life). You need to be 100% with your reading material. Multitasking while reading is also a major hindrance to speed and comprehension.
And as for your internal environment, you may need to not think of your crushes and your fights with your bf / gf while reading. Give those thoughts some rest for a while. Besides, focused reading often turns out to be a respite from whatever is bothering us. And that’s how people pick up this habit, cut down on your internal monologues while reading. And you will discover the best dialogue between you and the book you are reading.
8. The art of skipping:
Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. The art of skipping means, you need to read with all your time and energy, the things which you know. For e.g. if you are going through an academic piece on concepts of marketing, you can easily skip the explanation of the 7 Ps of service marketing because you already know it.
There will be many such concepts. And often, texts have repetitive paragraphs. Let’s just agree on the fact that not everything we read is of top notch quality but you still have to read them. Skipping the things you know about can add to your speed by saving you a lot of time.
9. Cross linking and highlighting:
Some comprehensive texts require you to understand through examples. Cross link those pages for your reference and try to connect it with the concepts you read about. As mentioned earlier, highlighting important texts and marking dog ears can add efficiency into your reading. If your text has charts, diagrams and tables, do go through them. These are tools which give you a lot of content in just a glance.
Book reading is an art. The book lovers do it well. They know when to skim, preview, cluster, vocalize, and when to read it in an unadulterated way. In fact, a good book is one which forces you to abandon all the above 9 methods (except for vocalization). But all these methods require a lot of practice.
Start with easier texts. And devote 15-20 minutes daily for the above. You can easily take out time while traveling or by cutting down the other useless things which you manage to find time for daily.
Faster and better reading is a crying need among a lot of us, especially those who did not bother to inculcate this brilliant habit in their early days. And it is difficult. So, don’t be harsh on yourself.
But the most important trick is – to want to read well. To want to read faster. And to want to read better. Because you have just one life. And you have so many books to read. Each book with so many lives.
About the Author
Akash Gautam is a popular Public Speaker and Motivator in India. He is a motivator by profession, a comedian by style and an ardent student of life and learning by passion. In a career spanning 16 years, he has been a speaker, writer and a career counselor as well. You may know more about him and his work at: akashgautam.com/motivational-speakers-in-india/