A majority of us read at a rate of about 200-400 words per minute. A minority of others known as speed readers can hit around a whopping 1000-1800 words per minute!
Speed reading is not something that you are born with. It is a skill that one can develop similar to learning how to skateboard or to draw better. Some people take to it more naturally than others, but most every one can do it with understanding and practice.
Breaking down the process of reading
Before we can understand speed reading, we need to understand what reading is and how we comprehend words normally.
There's a difference between reading purely for pleasure, and reading to learn. I'm sure you don't curl up on the couch with a hot cup of tea and open up your latest Additional Mathematics Syllabus to read, right? When you are reading to study, the reading becomes a kind of mechanical process. It requires a whole lot more brain power to take in the unfamiliar concepts and process them in your head.
When you look at a word or a sentence, this is called a "fixation", and it takes about 0.25 seconds on average to happen before you move your eye to the next several words. The movement of your eye to the next group of words is called a "saccade", and it takes up to around 0.1 seconds to happen on average.
After one or two fixations and saccades occur, you pause to comprehend the sentence you just looked at. This takes around 0.4 seconds on average. When you combine all these fixations, saccades and pausing together, you end up with a reading rate of around 200 to 400 words per minute.
How can you shorten this reading time?
Speed readers shorten how long they fixate on a word. By cutting down on the extra 0.25 seconds, they end up reading faster than the 0.4 seconds that the majority of us read at.
Here are 3 type of speed reading methods:
1. Meta Guiding
One of the oldest speed reading techniques, meta guiding is when you use your finger, or a guiding tool like a pen or a pointer, to guide your eyes to specific words. The visual guiding of the eyes allow them to move faster along the words in a passage.
How this works is the visual guidance speeds up your visual cortex and increases your visual span to take in the whole line instead of one word at a time. This increased visual can even help in imprinted what you read into your subconsciousness.
However, in order for this method to work, you will need to train your eyes to view each word with emphasis without regressing. Regressing is what happens when your eyes go forward two or three words and then go back. Regressing usually happens so quickly that we don't even realised we have done it. So, it will take much practice to be able to increase your visual span to view words with emphasis, and at the same time without regressing.
2. Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP)
This method is used by most of the recent digital speed reading systems. Single words will flash across the screen so you end up concentrating on one word at a time. You start off with a reading speed that is comfortable, and slowly speed up how fast the display flashes you words as you get used to the speed.
You can find out your current comfortable reading speed here, and try increasing it over time with practice.
Personally, this method has completely transformed the way I read. Before RSVP, I would almost always lose focus while reading long articles. Since I started training myself, not only was I devouring articles daily, I have also started to chip away at the mountain of non-fiction books that I had hoped to finish in months instead of years.
Pro tips: RSVP technology takes a bit of adjustment, so start off slow and give your eyes plenty of rest in between heavy readings.
Skimming is a practice whereby you glance through the words of a page to find the important parts to read - or the "meat". Most can agree that writers pad the important points with filler words. Fillers words can be analogies to explain a point better, or sentences that build up to their final point.
Instead of the earlier two methods which teaches you to read faster, this method is teaching you to learning what parts you can skip over instead.
By skimming, you are training your eye to sift through the filler words quicker so as to glean the main gist of what you are reading. You look for and seize upon words that appear to give the main meaning. Skimming occurs at 3-4 times the normal reading speed, which also means that you are not fully comprehending everything that you are skimming.
For this reason, I would only recommend skimming for when time is short or when you need to understand the general ideas but not the full details of an article or book.