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How Important Is Reading Speed?

To study faster, you would think you simply have to read faster. The way you are currently reading is limiting you in studying faster, right? So the simple conclusion should be to learn how to read faster. But is that truly the case? 

Let’s dive deeper into this and show how you can cover more pages, without the need for traditional speed reading tactics.

How important is reading speed?

  Before we can do that, we have to answer 3 important questions.

Why do you want to read faster?

Reading faster will enable you to read more pages using the same time. This may sound logical until you take your goal of reading or studying into account. Are you simply reading a book for entertainment? Or do you want to learn something valuable?

The main reason most people tell you when you ask them why they want to read faster is they have too much to read. This could be study books or work-related documents. When you learn to read faster you can remove that backlog of information and feel better again.

I think it is funny that speed seems to be the answer to this question. It would be a lot smarter to first identify if you SHOULD read something! When you have a 300-page book, and you decide you can find your information or answers in 1 chapter, you save a lot of time.

Just like with responding to an email, you carefully think about what is important. You don’t read all the emails you receive. You probably take newsletters or promotional emails and often skip them. The moment you need that information, you know you can go into your inbox and read it.

Do the same with your books and other documents. Decide first if this is something you have to go through right now. If not, store it somewhere else. Put it in a drawer for later reading. Or you can even decide you can trash it or give it away. 

Don’t increase reading stress by covering yourself in documents. Information overload should be taken seriously!

Now that you’ve decided why you want to read faster and what you should be reading… it is time to answer a very important question…


Is it better to read fast or slow?

The short answer… it depends. For the longer answer, you have to make sure you match the speed of your reading to the reading material. New and hard-to-understand content should be read slower. Familiar material can be read (very) fast(er). 

You can read material faster when you are more familiar with it. Reading is taking in the words, and understanding them (in context). The better you can understand something you read, the faster you can go. 

You might think: is there a limit to reading speed?

I’ve seen training courses (online) that promise you can read with 20,000 words per minute. Others try to sell you reading speeds of 1,000 words per minute. 

Just to put this in context… a study book is about 300 to 500 words per page. This means that speed reading courses tell you that you can read between 2 and 40 pages per minute!!!

Let’s take a step back and look at our brains first. Research shows that a human brain can process between 800 and 1250 words per minute. When you compare this to average reading speeds of between 100 and 300 words per minute… there is a bit of a difference. 

And it is exactly this difference, that is the cause of you feeling distracted when reading.

When you read at your normal pace, let’s say 200 words per minute. And then your brain is starting to read along with you at 200 words per minute, that is all great. But your brain has room for about 800 additional words per minute! This makes you think about doing laundry, problems at work, issues related to the material you are reading, and more!

natural reading speed

Finding your natural reading speed

By focusing, having the right mindset, and using the right reading skills, you can reduce the noise. This helps you to have better comprehension when reading. 

So to answer the question, yes there is a limit to reading speed. When we are talking about actual reading speed (so not skimming or searching for answers to specific questions), you can increase your reading speed to about 500 words per minute.

Remember that when you are studying, you may reach this reading speed occasionally. When you are reading, you probably have to take notes and digest the material. This slows down the average reading speed. 

When you read this way, you are always balancing quantity (speed) and quality (comprehension). You may increase the speed when you can, you keep the quality high when needed. 

The moment you start reading too slow, comprehension drops because of the inner voice that starts talking louder. Reading too fast doesn’t give you enough time to process the information.

It might look something like this:

inner voice when reading

Reduce the inner voice by reading faster

Finding that point with the best result is something you should aim for when studying and reading. 

HINT: The reason you get so distracted right now when reading, is probably because you are reading too slow. Increasing your reading speed will help you when studying. Think about this, and continue to read. I will share some nice tips and tricks to increase your reading speed. 

But first…


What are the disadvantages of speed reading?

Reading is not brain-friendly. We only learned to read 15,000 to 50,000 years ago. The alphabet was only developed about 5,000 years ago. Our brains have not had the chance to adapt to reading yet. 

This is why one of the major disadvantages of speed reading is that our brains can’t cope with processing all that information. 

Most people who want to become a speed reader, end up disillusioned. They measured incredible reading speeds of over 1,000 words. Yet when they are questioned about what they read, they don’t know what they just studied. 

When you are reading traditional speed reading tactics, you will probably find it exhausting. You can no longer enjoy the text because you only focus on tactics and you miss out on a lot.

Make sure that doesn’t happen to you. Reading and studying must always be something you enjoy. That is the way you can continue to study for a long, long time!


What are the advantages of speed reading?

The biggest advantage, besides being able to read more, is that you will see your brain is very powerful. Before you know it, higher reading speeds are your new normal. This is what I think is the main advantage: experiencing that you can do more.

During workshops, clients often find it so strange that you can increase your reading speed and improve comprehension. Often in only a short session of 20 to 30 minutes.

When you continue to train, you will learn to improve your reading. 

Another benefit of speed reading is that you can CHOOSE to use it. This means that when you are reading a normal book, you may not use it. When you do need to go through your text faster, you start doing that. 

The moment you read like this, we are no longer talking about speed reading. You become a smart reader.  

That is why I don’t see speed reading as a disadvantage when reading. Smart reading doesn’t require you to lose comprehension to gain speed. A smart reader wants to increase comprehension first. 


Do you get faster in reading the more you read?

Yes, you will start reading faster when you read more. That is why we often see the highest reading speeds in university students. The reason for this is simple. These are the people who read the most. 

Only when you continue to read (a lot), you will keep your reading speed and comprehension high. 

Fortunately, reading is a skill that can be trained by doing it. So start reading to increase your reading speed and comprehension again after you stopped reading.


5 simple speed reading tactics you can use

5 ways to increase reading speed

The popular tactics you can use for speed reading are: 

1. Skim the text before you start reading

Just before you read the text, browse through the text. Have a look at headlines, images, and other things that attract your attention. Not only will you see what you are about to read. You will also shift your mindset towards the topic you want to study. You see ideas, concepts, and information that immediately triggers your brain.


2. Reduce sub-vocalization

This is a big one! Many speed reading trainers will tell you this is king! The moment you can stop hearing that little voice in your head, reading aloud what text you see with your eyes… you can read faster.

Yes, for a certain extent this is true. But you don’t need to read 1,000 words per minute to lower that voice. I often find it nice to have that voice reading along with me. As long as the voice isn’t talking about other things… I am completely fine with it.

I may even start reading aloud to myself when I don’t understand what I study. This gives me the power of listening to a lecture while going through the book. 

HINT: When you don’t understand the text in your book, read aloud and use a funny voice (or use the tone of voice of your professor). This small change has a positive impact.


3. Guide your eyes through the text

To not re-read the text, a popular tactic is to use a marker. This helps you to guide your eyes through the text. This is also how children learn to read. 

A marker (or your finger), helps you to focus on the text you want to read. When you don’t, your eyes tend to jump around the line or between lines a lot. 

A side benefit is that using a marker helps you to quickly be able to highlight important parts of your text.


4. Read chunks of words, not individual words

It is a lot of work for your brain, to compile a complete sentence from all the individual words you read. When you also DON’T use a marker… things go crazy. Your brain has to create something that makes sense to you.

Reading in chunks of 2 to 4 words, it will become a lot easier for your brain to do this. Instead of reading 15 individual words, you end up with 3 to 5 groups of words. This is a lot easier to understand and memorize. 

Reading 2 to 4 words at the same time isn’t that difficult. You can start practicing this using 2 words, and then gradually work your way up to 4 words. Try it! You will like this I think.


5. Read more often.

Reading more will help you to recognize more words. This helps you to decode the words on the page faster. Faster decoding means you increase the speed with which you read.

These are what I call the traditional speed reading tactics. They help you to read faster. But as we stated before, speed reading shouldn’t be about reading faster. You have to be able to increase your comprehension, and by doing that read faster. 

The best way to read faster is to make sure you don’t have to go back all the time to re-read what you just read. 

Here is my take on increasing your reading speed…


Simple Tactics to increase your reading speed

Let’s all stop focusing on reading speed as something that helps you to read more pages per minute. I know we are living in a world that loves to share how many books we read per year, or how fast we can read.

4 reading tips

It is time to focus on more important things like:

1. Know your goal for reading

The moment you have a goal for reading that book, you make things clear for yourself. You don’t feel you are reading for nothing. You know you are reading for passing an exam, to become a better (communicator, engineer, programmer, nurse,…).

A simple goal can be that you want to study 10 pages per day. And therefore you should finish and understand these 10 pages. 

A reading goal doesn’t have to be some grand thing in your life. It can be as simple as achieving your daily page count or understanding a certain topic. Whatever you choose, make sure you have a goal. This makes reading much more focused.  


2 Improve your focus (tell yourself you will read with focus)

Many people just start reading when they have their book in front of them. Don’t ever do that. Reading is a very intense activity for your brain. Before you start reading, make sure you focus on the task at hand. And after doing that… you start!

A simple way to do this, it by closing your eyes, relaxing, and perhaps counting backward from 10 to 0. With every count, you tell yourself you are reading with focus, intending to understand the text and create clear notes. 

Then, when you reach zero… you are relaxed and focused. You are ready to start reading.


3 Vary your reading speed!

In every book, some topics are nice to read but not really needed or even useful to you. You know exactly what I mean. This is a good thing. Often the “not so useful” sections, can be read a lot quicker. 

Read them faster so you have more time for the difficult parts in your book. 

A smart adult reader intentionally reads faster on sections that are less important and slows down on the difficult parts. As you can imagine, reading like this is helping you to keep a good average reading speed, while never missing anything worthwhile in your book. 


4 Review what you read and use the information

When you just read, and read, and read… you are missing the point. 

You should not just read for the sake of reading. You read, take notes, and you think about what you read. When you want to move the needle… you make sure you implement what you read. 

Most of the time this is something that you can easily do.

  • A programmer who reads a piece on a certain framework can do some tests.
  • A law student can read more court cases on their article
  • An engineering student can do calculations or even try to build something

My point is, you should always implement what you are reading. Sometimes this can even be done while reading or studying. The results from your experiments will help you to understand what you read. 

Does this take time away from studying? Absolutely! But at the same time does it help you increase your understanding and reading comprehension? After all, you know what you are talking about. 


To Conclude about reading speed

Start improving the way you read. Don’t focus on reading faster. Focus on reading smarter. This includes reading with more intent and using your new knowledge.  

Remember that reading is difficult for most people. The good thing is that you can become a lot more efficient in going through texts. Reading is a skill, and this makes it something you can learn and improve.

Start focusing on the 4 tactics I gave you at the end of the article. The “popular reading strategies” are nice, but they may not work that well in the short run for you. 

If you have any questions about all of this, don’t hesitate! Let me know via the contact form. 

I look forward to hearing from you!

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