Quite frequently, someone will ask me, a former English teacher, “What can I do to read faster?” I tell him or her that he can greatly improve, even double, his reading speed with no loss in comprehension by practicing for 15 minutes a day for six weeks. What follows is a self-administered program for anyone interested in reading faster.
First, determine how fast you read now by opening any book at random and reading it at your normal speed for one minute. Count every word you have read to establish your words per minute (wpm) reading rate. Jot the number down. Slow reading is 200 wpm or less, average reading is 250 wpm, fast reading is 400 wpm or more. A good reader’s speed is flexible rather than fixed. Sometimes, he may want to read slowly, especially difficult material, but at other times he may want to and should be able to turn up the speed to 400 wpm when he wants to read a great deal of material in a short period of time. This program addresses this flexibility and is therefore especially worthwhile for high school and college students. So we’ll make 400 wpm the target speed for this program.
Second, find a paperback novel which has, on average, 400 words per page. A family member or a friend should act as a timekeeper who makes sure that you read 15 pages in 15 minutes or the rate of one page per minute for 15 minutes a day for the first week (7 full days). It is very important to read every word and to try to follow the story line, no matter how difficult this may seem at first.
For those who normally read at 200 or even 250 wpm, some of the meaning will not be grasped. Do not be discouraged by this because you are reading at a rate you have never attempted before. In due time, as you get more and more used to this new rate of speed, comprehension will increase. While you read, it is very important for the timekeeper to keep precise time and to say out loud, at the end of each sixty-second interval, “Go to the next page.” Your job is to keep pace with the timer by reading exactly one page per minute. If you are reading too slowly, speed up, but don’t skip any lines. If you are reading too fast, slow down. After just a few pages, you should have little trouble judging and maintaining the 400 wpm pace.
Expect to be uncomfortable during and a bit exhausted after the first 15-minute session but that’s the small price you have to pay to undo the inefficient reading habits of a lifetime. Slow reading is just that inefficient reading. What slow you down are the many fixations or stops that your eyes make per line. By pushing for speed, the eyes learn to take in longer groups of words in a smooth, sweeping motion.
At the end of the first day’s session and every session thereafter, it is recommended that you try to summarize in writing what you have read. This should take about five minutes and is extremely worthwhile because it makes you see that even at this speed you do get something out of what you read and that you grasp more and more each succeeding day.
Since this program, like a physical exercise program, is built on increased increments of work, you will be asked on the first day of week 2 to push yourself to read for 15 minutes a day at 500 wpm. This means that the timekeeper will now tell you to “Go to the next page” at 50-second intervals. Continue for seven days.
During the third week, read 15 minutes daily at 600 wpm or one page every 40 seconds. During the fourth week, read one page every 35 seconds or 700 wpm. And during the fifth week, read one full page every 30 seconds or 800wpm. This is extremely fast but it is only through greater and greater increases of speed that you habituate the eyes and the mind to a more efficient way to read. In fact, as you begin to see more words and even entire lines in one eye span, you are on your way to reading not so much across the page as down the page.
This whole enterprise takes an unexpected and dramatic turn at the beginning of the sixth week because instead of reading at 900 wpm, as you might expect, you return to 400 wpm. Once again, as during the first week, read 15 pages a day at the rate of one page every 60 seconds. Something very startling will happen. This speed which seemed so demanding five weeks ago will now seem slow. You will discover that you can read 400 wpm quite comfortably, with pleasure, and with the same comprehension as when you began this program.
The value of having pushed yourself to read at faster and faster speeds for all these weeks will now become evident. You are a new reader, a more flexible reader, who is no longer stuck at the rate you tested out on at the beginning of this program.
It is important to remind you that you may not want to read everything at 400 wpm. But you can now do so at any time because your “reading metabolism” has been permanently raised. In my experience, a person who reads fewer than 200 wpm initially is the one who benefits the most from this program. The six weeks of practice will increase your everyday reading rate by 25% or 50 words per minute.