These days, we’re inundated with more information than ever before. Blog posts, news articles and a never-ending stream of books “you just have to read!” In fact, it has been estimated that there is more information in just one day’s worth of the New York Times than people 100 years ago encountered during their entire lives.
For this reason, being able to sift through, read and retain huge amounts of information has become a modern-day superpower, allowing you to leap tall mountains of books in a single bound.
Enter speed reading.
No, I’m not talking about the gimmicky, snake-oil oozing “read a page in a second” speed reading of the 70s or the one-day “triple your reading speed today” seminars you may have seen in college.
Unfortunately, most of that stuff is baloney.
There are, however, a few simple, proven steps you can take to dramatically increase your reading speed without sacrificing comprehension and retention.
1. Reduce unnecessary eye movement
Your eyes make erratic, jumpy movements known as “saccades,” and while they do that, the optic nerve is essentially turned off by a process known as “saccadic masking” or “saccadic blindness.” What this suggests for people interested in improving reading speed is simple: spend less time moving your eyes.
Instead of making the typical eight to 10 movements per line — one for every word — try to move your eyes only one or two times per line. This means you’ll take in groups of words and spend less time in “saccadic blindness” than the average reader.
2. Expand your focal range and use it more effectively
In order to really take advantage of the first tip, you may find you need to train your eyes to recognize wider groups of words. The best way to do this is with a tool called a Schultz table. Stare into the middle of the table, then try to decipher the numbers to the left and right of where you’re focusing. With time, you’ll be able to read with more of your focal span.
But hang on a second, because if you’re not careful, this new focal eye span won’t be used to its full potential. Many readers waste time by reading margins. The fastest readers, however, understand their focal width and adjust accordingly, indenting the points where they focus at the beginning and end of each line.
3. Break “the sound barrier”
When you read, you probably hear the words in your head, right? Most people do, but it limits your reading speed to about 400 words per minute. Your brain, however, can make sense of visual symbols much faster than that, recognizing pictures in as few as 13 milliseconds.
To become a truly effective speed reader, you’ll need to learn to suppress this inner voice (known as “subvocalization”) for the majority of words you read. Though it’s impossible to completely eliminate subvocalization, reducing it by even as much as 50% will dramatically improve your reading speed. By gradually incorporating the above two steps into your training, you’ll be able to help drown out that voice and focus more on the words on the page.
Of course, this stuff takes practice to ensure long-term retention of your new knowledge. Still, there’s no reason you can’t easily double your reading speed from the average of 250 words per minute, which will save you hours in the day and countless headaches at school and work.
Now… get out there and never stop learning!
Jonathan Levi is an experienced entrepreneur, angel investor and lifehacker in Silicon Valley. He teaches the online Udemy course “Become a SuperLearner 2: Learn Speed Reading & Boost Memory.”