skimming

How To Speed Read Without Skimming


Say NO to Skimming

You probably know someone out there who is in a perpetual state of information overload. The main side effect of which, is the inability to properly comprehend and remember the information that reaches them through their many digital devices, and that often results in the practice commonly known as skimming. Perhaps you are even one of those people.

Don’t worry, there is nothing to be ashamed of. As a matter of fact, skimming seems to be what most people do when trying to catch up with their reading nowadays, and who could blame them, right? Today’s information age has forced us to find alternative ways to deal with information and it has also shattered most traditional practices when it comes to our access and consumption of information.

Skimming can sometimes be an effective way to sift through lots of information. The trouble comes with the fact that skimming is not really going to help you remember much of the reading material or help you to actually expand your knowledge from whatever it is you are reading.

Let’s begin by stating some basic facts. The average reader can get through 150 to 250 words per minute (WPM). This can easily be increased given the proper practice and training that our eyes need.

So not only do we need to train ourselves to ignore distractions and minimize old reading habits such as subvocalization, but we also must train ourselves to focus and maintain a strong retention level as we go through the information at hand.

Another important factor is your vocabulary. After all, an important part of being able to read faster while retaining more information is the ability to understand the material at hand, for which building and constantly increasing our vocabulary is essential.

So what can you do in order to properly train yourself to read and retain more of what you read as this never ending flow of information keeps coming at you? What can you do to become an effective speed-reader and not just a skimmer?

Let’s review some basic but useful tips on how to not just skim through our reading list, but too actually remember more of what we read, while maintaining a good level of comprehension.

Reducing Subvocalization

Remember when you first learned to read? You were initially told to read out loud and later told to read to yourself. That voice in your head while reading is known as subvocalization. Saying every word in your head leads you to only read as fast as you talk.

While you will never completely get rid of this habit, you can train yourself to minimize it.

Learn more about subvocalization and how to reduce it here.

Speeding up and slowing down

Training yourself to read faster doesn’t mean reading at top speed all the time. You also need to be able to recognize when and where slowing down can be beneficial. For this you’ll need to keep in mind a few strategies based on the type and structure of the reading material you are dealing with.

Read more about adjusting your reading speed here.

Although it is generally recommended to use a pen or your own fingertip to guide your eyes as you read, it might not be very practical to drag your finger or pen across a digital screen. That is unless you have one of those fancy stylus pens, in which case knock yourself out. But if you don’t, you should instead try reading while focusing on groups of words in specific areas of each line based on the grammar and line length of each paragraph.

Read the excerpt* in the video below to get an idea of how this works. Focus in the area between the light colored parenthesis as they moves along each section of each sentence, and try to keep up.


* Excerpt from Contagion by Katherine MacLean, available at Project Gutenberg


Previewing the material

Another way to read faster with comprehension is to get familiar with your material before you read it. This preview strategy is similar to the idea behind watching a preview or trailer before seeing a movie.

If you’re familiar with what you’re about to read, then you’ll have a better idea of what to expect and will be able to get through the material more quickly without having to skim.

There are a variety of ways to preview your text. You can view more information about this strategy here.

Vocabulary and Its Impact on Reading Speed

Your reading speed is closely related to the strength of your vocabulary. It’s difficult to read faster if you’re constantly coming across words you don’t understand.

Obviously, the more you read, the better your vocabulary gets. But there are also useful techniques to help you memorize words that often may not be so easy to recall or comprehend.

The substitution technique, also known as the similar sound technique, can help you commit new vocabulary to memory. This technique uses the structural composition of words to creatively help you remember them based on more familiar concepts or ideas.

Learn more about the similar sound technique here.

The Fibonacci sequence

Another way to memorize new vocabulary, especially if you like math, is by reviewing your vocabulary at specific time frames using the Fibonacci sequence as a guide.

The Fibonacci sequence is a mathematical series of numbers that includes: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc. (each next number is determined by adding the two previous numbers).

You would use these numbers to determine the point at which you should review your new vocabulary. For example, if you learned ten new words today, you could review them 1 day later, then 1 day after that, then 2 days later, then 3 days later, 5 days later, 8 days, and so on.

Note that the review length increases over time when using the Fibonacci sequence, and works well because of the way that your memory functions. Newly learned information needs to be reviewed quickly at first, but as time goes on, your intervals of review can be spaced apart more widely as the information is transferred into your long-term memory.

Ok, so skimming = bad, speed-reading = good. Now what?

The big difference between skimming and speed-reading really comes down to whether you are willing to put a conscious effort to getting the best out of your reading. It doesn’t matter if you read for fun, work or school, skimming will only take you so far before you realize you need a better way to remember and comprehend the material at hand.

If you’re just getting started on this path to abandon skimming and learn to read faster while maintaining better comprehension, you may want to check out our Speed Reading Fundamentals Course. It contains everything you need to get you started on basic speed-reading concepts and techniques. Or if you’re already familiar with the basic speed-reading concepts, perhaps you’ll be more interested in our Mastery or Advanced Comprehension and Memory Courses.

As with everything else, practice and perseverance are your best allies, and having the best resources at your disposal is essential. So if you haven’t already done so by now, stop skimming and start speed reading.


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Paul Nowak

Paul is the founder of Iris Reading, the largest provider of speed-reading courses in North America. His workshops have been taught to thousands of students and professionals throughout the U.S. and Canada.


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