HUGH CULVER

How You can Learn to Read Faster in Just 10 Minutes

Updated to Habits on December 14, 2022.

I took a speed-reading course and read ‘War and Peace’ in twenty minutes. It involves Russia. -Woody Allen

How do you read a book? Are you a ‘skimmer’, flying through the pages, gleaning only what is valuable for you? Are you a ‘starter’—slowly reading each word for the first five chapters and then losing interest or getting distracted with a new book?

We have become a society that doesn’t read books – nearly one quarter of Americans didn’t read a single book in the past year. That’s scary.

Not only is this bad news for all authors and the book business, it means we’re losing the deep satisfaction and learning only books can bring. I blame it on school.

I was taught to read words – one by one laboriously working my way down a page hoping I wouldn’t miss whatever was on the test the next day. No wonder YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat get millions (even billions) of daily users – it’s more fun.

READ FOR HEALTH

Just like a good conversation, you can’t replace reading. It’s how I get a deep understanding of an author’s arguments, enjoy the twists of a great plot-turner, and escape with a cup of tea into another world.

Just like a good conversation, you can’t replace reading.

The trick is to get what the blog, article, or book has to give you without getting bogged down in the act of reading every word.

The average person reads at about 200–250 words per minute. With a few small improvements and a bit of practice, you should be able to double your reading speed and still have a comprehension rate of at least 75%.

Just for fun, you can take the speed reading test by Staples here (according to this test I should be able to read War and Peace in 12 hours and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 1 1/2 hours!).

Here are six quick tips (reading time: 10 minutes) for reading faster and getting better retention almost immediately (you can practice them as you read this post):

HOW TO READ LIKE A ROCK STAR

1. Have a goal. You can quickly calculate your reading speed by averaging the number of words on a line and multiplying that number by the number of lines on the page. From there, it is easy to measure your speed for reading the page. Set a goal to double your reading speed. You will save time and probably not miss anything important.

2. Plan to read. You will have greater speed and retention if you read in a quiet place, at a time of day when you are fully awake, and when you have committed time to read. My favourite time is the hour before bed. The house is quiet, the day is done, and I can easily dive into a good read.

My favourite time is the hour before bed. The house is quiet, the day is done, and I can easily dive into a good read.

3. Read the table of Contents. To get some idea of the flow of the book before you get buried in the pages, simply scan the Table of Contents. The Table of Contents will give you a heads up for the parts that have the most value and parts that can be skimmed.

4. For each chapter, read the first paragraph, then the sub-heads, and finally the last paragraph. Decide whether the chapter has any value for you. If not, move on to the next one. Remember, the goal is not to “read” the book – you want to get information and ideas, or for fiction, entertainment and then move on.

images_2_key5. Stop re-reading. Re-reading, or regression, can be your biggest barrier to increasing your reading speed. Notice as you were reading this post how often did you move back up the page to re-read a section? Instead, use a device—a piece of paper, a ruler, or your finger—to move down the page, keeping your eye moving along with the device. Keep moving at a steady pace, slightly faster than comfortable.

6. Skip words. You don’t need to read every word to get sufficient comprehension. Start by reading the third or fourth word in from both ends of the line of text. This will prepare you to take “snapshots” of lines, rather than reading every word. Read my post on how I use Evernote to quickly capture key points and quotes.

For your next book, do this.

Set a goal based on 500 words per minute – now you have a challenge. Commit to reading in concentrated periods of at least 15 minutes. Start with the Table of Contents, scan each chapter first, and use your finger or a ruler to keep a steady pace, moving down the page.

I think you’ll be surprised how quickly you can burn through your next book, have great retention, and maybe even read more books this year. That’s good for you (and good for authors, like me).