Speed Reading For Dummies book cover

Speed Reading For Dummies

By: Richard Sutz and Peter Weverka Published: 08-03-2009

Learn to:

  • Increase your reading speed and comprehension
  • Use speed techniques for any type of reading material
  • Improve your silent reading skills
  • Recall more of what you read

The fun and easy way® to become a more efficient, effective reader!

Want to read faster — and recall more of what you read? This practical, hands-on guide gives you the techniques you need to increase your reading speed and retention, whether you're reading books, e-mails, magazines, or even technical journals! You'll find reading aids and plenty of exercises to help you read faster and better comprehend the text.

  • Yes, you can speed read — discover the skills you need to read quickly and effectively, break your bad reading habits, and take in more text at a glance
  • Focus on the fundamentals — widen your vision span and see how to increase your comprehension, retention, and recall
  • Advance your speed-reading skills — read blocks of text, heighten your concentration, and follow an author's thought patterns
  • Zero in on key points — skim, scan, and preread to quickly locate the information you want
  • Expand your vocabulary — recognize the most common words and phrases to help you move through the text more quickly

Open the book and find:

  • Tried-and-true techniques from The Reader's Edge® program
  • How to assess your current reading level
  • Tools and exercises to improve your reading skills
  • Speed-reading fundamentals you must know
  • Helpful lists of prefixes, suffixes, roots, and prime words
  • A speed-reading progress worksheet
  • Exercises for eye health and expanded reading vision
  • Tips for making your speed-reading skills permanent

Articles From Speed Reading For Dummies

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20 results
Speed Reading For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 02-24-2022

You can use speed reading to enhance both your reading ability and your reading enjoyment. Some misconceptions about the speed reading method persist — pay no attention to them. By making slight adjustments to your reading habits, especially stopping yourself from hearing or saying each word, you can move from being an average reader with average comprehension to a proficient speed-reader with excellent comprehension.

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The Importance of Eye Fixations to Speed Reading

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

A major component of speed reading is eye fixation, a point where your eyes come to rest as you read. Readers who make fewer eye fixations read faster because they take in more words with each fixation. The number of words you can process in an eye fixation depends on your vision span, your vocabulary, and your familiarity with what you’re reading. Eye fixations and vision span The wider your vision span is, the more words you can process in an eye fixation and the faster you can read. Acquiring the ability to see many words at a time is essential for speed reading. To see why, consider this sentence: The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain. A slow reader with a narrow vision span reads this sentence slowly in six to nine eye fixations, sometimes taking in only a single word per fixation. A fast reader with a wider vision span can read the sentence in two or three eye fixations. This reader has a stronger comprehension because she reads the sentence phrase by phrase, and phrases convey more meaning than individual words. Eye fixations and vocabulary To see how eye fixations correlate to vocabulary, read these lines carefully and try to understand their meaning: Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche, And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche. Unless you understand Middle English or you’re familiar with the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer (these lines come from The Canterbury Tales), you had trouble with these lines because few of the words are in your vocabulary. You didn’t recognize the words, so you had to examine them one at a time and probably read the lines in 15 (or more) eye fixations, one for each word. Reading this translation of Chaucer’s lines is considerably easier because all or most of the words are in your vocabulary. Notice how much faster you read the translation: Filled with moral virtue was his speech, And gladly would he learn, and gladly teach. You read the translation faster because you needed fewer eye fixations to read it. Because the words were familiar, you didn’t have to dwell on them, and you could read more than one word at a time. The larger your vocabulary is, the more words you recognize when you read. You can take in more words with an eye fixation when you recognize the words, which is why enlarging your vocabulary is essential to being a speed reader. Eye fixations and topic familiarity How familiar you are with a topic is another factor influencing how many words you can see in a single eye fixation. When you read about a topic in your area of expertise or field of interest, you read more confidently, and you’re able to read more quickly with fewer eye fixations because you’re at home with the author’s words and terminology. Your background, your general knowledge, your education — these factors also determine how fast you can read. People with a breadth of knowledge read faster because more is familiar to them. By making reading more efficient and pleasurable, speed reading encourages you to read, which in turn widens your breadth of knowledge and makes you read even faster.

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How to Skim Text

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Skimming — getting the essence from reading material without reading all the words — boils down to knowing what parts to read and what parts to pass by. Following are some tips and techniques for recognizing what is important to read in the act of skimming. Know what you want Before you start skimming, ask yourself what you want to get from the book or article under your nose. Think of two or three terms that describe what you want to know, and as you skim, keep an eye out for those two or three terms. Aimlessly skimming with no particular purpose can cause drowsiness, and eventually, sleep. Read vertically as well as horizontally When skimming, you move your eyes vertically as much as you move your eyes horizontally. In other words, you move your eyes down the page as much as you move them from side to side. Skimming is a bit like running down stairs. Yes, you should take one step at a time, and running down stairs is reckless, but you also get there faster by running. Think like the author Every article, book, and Web page is written to make a point of some kind, and if you can detect the author’s strategies for making his point, you can separate the important from the unimportant material in the course of your reading. You can focus on the original, meaningful material and skip over the material that just supports the author’s argument without advancing it. Detecting the author’s strategies requires you to put yourself in his place. Besides noticing the material on the page, notice how he presents the material. See whether you can recognize how the author places background material, secondary arguments, tangential information, and just plain frippery. Preread before you start skimming Examine an article before you read it. By prereading an article before you skim, you can pinpoint the parts of the article that require your undivided attention and the parts that you can skip. Try to detect the main idea in the introductory paragraphs The introductory paragraphs usually express the main idea, argument, or goal of an article or chapter. Read these paragraphs closely. They tell you what the author’s aim is, which can help you decide early on whether the article or chapter is worth reading in detail. Read the first sentence in each paragraph The introductory sentence of each paragraph usually describes what follows in the paragraph. When you skim, read the first sentence in each paragraph and then decide whether the rest of the paragraph deserves a read. If it doesn’t, move on. Don’t necessarily read complete sentences When skimming, you don’t even have to read complete sentences. If the start of a sentence holds no promise of the sentence giving you the information you want, skip to the next sentence. Read the start of sentences with an eye to whether they will yield useful information, and read them all the way through only if they appear to be useful at first glance. Skip examples and proofs Authors often present examples to prove a point, but if you believe the point doesn’t need proving, you can skip the examples.

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Speed Reading Fundamental: Eye Fixations

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

For your eyes to see anything, they have to be still. You can’t swing your eyes wildly around the room and expect to see anything but a blur. The same is true of reading words on a page. To see words, your eyes must be still, but they must also move left-to-right across the page to take in words in the act of reading. How can your eyes be still and move at the same time? The answer is eye fixations. When you read, your eyes move in fits and starts across the page. They fixate on an individual word or a group of words and then move along to the next word or word group when you have comprehended the first one. In this way, you read across each line of text. For many years, researchers took for granted the idea that everybody reads one word at a time. They believed that fast readers were simply people who could identify and comprehend individual words quickly, one after the next. Starting about 1910, however, researchers conducted experiments to see precisely what happens when you read. They discovered eye fixations. They noticed that the eyes do not move at a steady rate across the page but rather by fits and starts. They also discovered that the fewer eye fixations you have when reading, the faster you read. This discovery was the beginning of modern speed reading. You can conduct your own experiment to see how eye fixations work by following these steps: Recruit a friend who doesn’t mind letting you watch him or her read. If a friend isn’t handy, put on a pair of dark glasses and go to a library or waiting room where a number of people are reading. Give your friend a book or magazine article to read and observe his or her eyes in the act of reading. Notice how the reader’s eyes move. They remain for a fraction of a second in one place and then jerk to the right, where they remain for another fraction of a second and jerk to the right again. What you see are eye fixations. After arriving at the end of the line, the eyes sweep to the left and fixate on a position at the start of the next line, and the eye fixations begin anew. To count how many eye fixations occur on a line, ask the reader to tell you when he or she comes to the end of each line. (You'd better skip this step if you’re watching a stranger read.) Some lines of text require more eye fixations to read than others, depending on a number of factors, including how long the line is, how familiar the reader is with the topic, and whether the words in the line are in the reader’s vocabulary.

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Increase Your Reading Speed by Locating Topic Sentences

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Going straight to the main idea of each paragraph significantly increases your reading speed. This main idea is the paragraph's topic sentence. You don’t have to read as much to get a firmer grasp of the author’s fundamental ideas if you can find and understand a paragraph's topic sentence. The question is: How do you recognize the main idea in a paragraph amid all the details? Understanding topic sentences The topic sentence describes the subject of the paragraph and its main idea. If you can develop a nose for locating topic sentences, you can get the main idea from paragraphs quickly and thereby improve your reading speed and comprehension. Typically, the topic sentence comes first in a paragraph, and the remaining sentences elaborate on the topic sentence. In the following paragraph, for example, the topic sentence makes a simple assertion, and evidence for its truth follows on the heels of the topic sentence: Rainfall has been increasing steadily in Yoknapatawpha County since 1995. In that year, annual rainfall was 32 inches. By 2008, it was 40 inches, with an increase each year between 1995 and 2008, except for 1999, when the annual rainfall level fell to 29 inches. But sometimes the topic sentence isn’t the first sentence in the paragraph. Sometimes it’s buried deeper. In this paragraph, the second sentence is the topic sentence: Looking at rainfall in Yoknapatawpha County since 1995, a clear trend is evident. Except for 1999, when the annual rainfall level fell to 29 inches, rainfall has increased steadily since 1995. Between that year and 2008, rainfall rose from 32 to 40 inches annually. The author of the following paragraph is a bit of a windbag and takes his time getting to the main idea. In this paragraph, the topic sentence is the last sentence: Is it getting wetter or drier in Yoknapatawpha County? A quick look at the record gives a clear answer. Between 1995 and 2008, rainfall rose from 32 to 40 inches annually (although in 1999 it dipped to 29 inches). From this information, it’s plain to see that rainfall in the county has increased steadily since 1995. Locating the topic sentence Because the topic sentence can be located anywhere, how can you spot the topic sentence and get to the main idea in a paragraph? Here’s how: Read the first sentence carefully. Three times out of five, the topic sentence is the first sentence. Consider what basic property or characteristic the paragraph describes. This attribute is the paragraph’s main idea, so the sentence that expresses it is your topic sentence. Think about the paragraph’s purpose. The paragraph most likely wants to impart a particular piece of information. If you can figure out what that piece is, you know the paragraph’s topic and can find the sentence that presents it. Observe the author’s writing style to determine where she likes to put the topic sentence in paragraphs. Knowing your author’s style helps you locate the topic sentence faster.

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Skimming as a Speed Reading Technique

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Speed reading is a good way to absorb a lot of printed information quickly, but sometimes you just need to get the gist of what is being written about, without all the details. That's when knowing how to skim text can be helpful. When you skim a page, you take the main ideas from the reading material without reading all the words. You look for and seize upon words that appear to give the main meaning. Readers skim when time is short or when they need to understand the general ideas but not the particulars of an article or book. Skimming occurs at three to four times the normal reading speed. For that reason, your reading comprehension takes a nose dive when you skim. Studies show that people read and comprehend text on a computer screen more slowly than they read and comprehend printed material. Readers can’t skim as efficiently on their computer screens either. When you read or skim a Web page on your computer, do so more slowly than usual if you want to read and skim efficiently. Skimming is taking the most important information from the page without reading all the words. (The term comes from the act of skimming milk, when the dairy farmer skims the cream — the richest material — from the top of the milk before it’s processed.) Strictly speaking, skimming isn’t a reading technique but rather a scavenging technique. You hunt for the choicest information and hope important material doesn’t pass you by. When you speed read, you skim to the extent that you don’t fixate on all the words. In effect, you weed out some words and focus on the remaining ones. However, skimming takes the notion of passing by some words to another level. In the act of skimming, you focus only on the essential ideas and skip over the insignificant, marginal, and secondary. The first step in recognizing the essential ideas when you skim is knowing when to skim. Some materials and situations practically require skimming: Needlessly lengthy white papers and convoluted business reports are almost impossible not to skim. Newspapers, with their ready-made word clumps, are designed for skimming. If you’re on a time crunch, you often have to skim because you don’t have enough time to read the material. Often, a work’s opening paragraphs and the concluding paragraphs present the author’s main ideas. Opening paragraphs often outline what the author plans to prove, and closing paragraphs explain why the author’s proof is justified. Read these paragraphs closely; don’t skim them.

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Speed Reading in Clumps by Using Your Peripheral Vision

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Reading in clumps means taking in more than one word at a time while you read, and it's essential for speed reading. A clump is a collection of 4 to 16 adjacent words that you read in a single glance. When you read in clumps, you naturally increase your speed because you can’t slow down to vocalize (speak or hear the words as you read them). After all, you can’t speak 4 to 16 words at a time without slurring the words or turning them into corned beef hash. If the notion of reading in clumps seems odd or impossible, consider this point: When you read text in columns, you’re prone to read in clumps, and that increases your reading speed. And if you read a newspaper or religious text, such as the Bible and Koran, you're reading text in columns. You can read words in clumps because you read with your peripheral vision as well as your macular vision. Macular vision is your primary focus. When you look directly at something, you see with your macular vision. Peripheral vision is what you see less distinctly in the area outside your macular vision. Because receptor cells on the retina of your eye are concentrated at the center and are less concentrated toward the edges, colors and shapes are harder to distinguish in peripheral vision (although you can quickly pick up on motion). But you can see to the left, to the right, above, and below the area bordered by your macular vision. When you speed read in clumps, you read words in your peripheral as well as your macular vision. Using your peripheral vision allows you to read with fewer eye fixations because your vision span is wider and you can see, read, and process more words at a time. Instead of reading word-for-word, you can jump ahead by several words and read in clumps. For example, consider this sentence: A thing of beauty is a joy forever. If you read the sentence one word at a time, you read it like this: A — thing — of — beauty — is — a — joy — forever. But if you read it as a clump, using your peripheral vision as you read, you can focus on the word(s) at the center of the sentence and rely on your peripheral vision to take in the words on either side. In this instance, your macular vision focuses on the word beauty, and your peripheral vision perceives the other words. Try focusing on the italicized word and taking in the other words with your peripheral vision: A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

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Speed Reading Pre-Test: Establishing Your Effective Reading Rate

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

The following speed reading test establishes your starting rate so you can see how fast a reader you are and how much you improve in the course of your speed-reading studies. For this test, read without adopting any speed-reading principles you may have already read about; read as though you don’t know anything about speed reading. Follow these steps to take your first speed-reading test: Print out the following PDF of John F. Kennedy's inaugural address. (Note that it's two pages long.) Click here to download a PDF of John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address Using a clock, watch, or stopwatch, note what time you begin reading. Read the inaugural address. Record how long you take to read the speech. Answer the comprehension questions without revisiting the essay and note how many questions you answer correctly (0, 20, 40, 60, 80, or 100 percent of the questions; the answers are at the very end of this article). Comprehension questions What does man have in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of? A. Human poverty and human life B. Human dignity and human life C. Human life and human intelligence D. Human poverty and human dignity What does Kennedy pledge to not replace colonial control with? A. Absolute tyranny B. Unrepentant tyranny C. Iron tyranny D. Iron democracy What animal does Kennedy refer to when mentioning those who foolishly sought power? A. Lion B. Elephant C. Panther D. Tiger What is not a sign of weakness? A. Sincerity B. Civility C. Democracy D. Capitalism What is the only sure reward Kennedy speaks of? A. A good conscience B. An absolute guarantee C. A certain victory D. A sure victory Finding your effective reading rate Now, find the length of time it took you to read in the first column of the following table. The second column reveals your words per minute (WPM) rate. Determine your effective reading rate by finding where the row showing your WPM crosses the column that corresponds to the percentage of the comprehension questions you answered correctly. If your reading time doesn’t match one in the chart (or you just want to brush up on your math skills), you can also determine your WPM rate by dividing 1447 (the number of words in the speech) by the amount of time you spent reading it. If you get a number with a decimal (such as 723.5), round up to the next number. Effective Reading Rates Time (Minutes) WPM 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% 1 1447 289 579 868 1158 1447 1.25 1158 232 463 695 926 1158 1.5 965 193 386 579 772 965 1.75 827 165 331 496 661 827 2 724 145 289 434 579 724 2.25 643 129 257 386 514 643 2.5 579 116 232 347 463 579 2.75 526 105 210 316 421 526 3 482 96 193 289 386 482 3.25 445 89 178 267 356 445 3.5 413 83 165 248 331 413 3.75 386 77 154 232 309 386 4 362 72 145 217 289 362 4.25 340 68 136 204 272 340 4.5 322 64 129 193 257 322 4.75 305 61 122 183 244 305 5 289 58 116 174 232 289 5.25 276 55 110 165 220 276 5.5 263 53 105 158 210 263 5.75 252 50 101 151 201 252 6 241 48 96 145 193 241 6.25 232 46 93 139 185 232 6.5 223 45 89 134 178 223 6.75 214 43 86 129 171 214 7 207 41 83 124 165 207 Answers: 1: A; 2: C; 3: D; 4: B; 5: A

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A Speed Reading Pre-Test: How Much Do You Vocalize?

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

To become a fluent speed reader, you must break the habit of vocalizing, or hearing individual words in your head as you read. How you break the vocalization habit depends on how much you vocalize when you read. Try the following test to determine how much you vocalize. Read this paragraph to yourself, not aloud. As you read, listen with your ears and also be aware of any movement or feeling in your lips, tongue, vocal cords, larynx (voice box), and throat. Did you hear the lark singing in the square? I heard it. In fact, it woke me up. Why that little bird chooses to sing at night is a mystery. The lark sings in my dreams and sings when I’m awake. You can’t stop that bird from singing! Did you detect any movement or feeling in your vocal apparatus when you read this paragraph? Did you hear the words? The degree to which you heard the words or felt movement in your lips and tongue determines how much you vocalize. Reading educators distinguish between three types of vocalization. In order from most to least vocal, they are motor readers, auditory readers, and visual readers. Use the results of the preceding vocalization test to identify your reading type: Motor reader: These readers tend to move their lips and may even mimic speech with their tongues and vocal cords when reading. Their reading range is very slow (150 to 200 words per minute) because they must read word-by-word at the rate they speak. These readers have poor comprehension due to their slow reading speed. Auditory reader: These readers don’t engage their lips, tongue, or vocal cords when they read, but they do silently say and hear the words. They read in the 200 to 400 words-per-minute range. Auditory readers are skillful readers with vocabularies large enough that they can quickly recognize words. Visual reader: These readers vocalize minimally or not at all. Visual readers engage their eyes and minds when they read, but not their mouths, throats, or ears. They can read many words at once because they read ideas, not individual words. They read at a rate of 400+ words per minute. To be a speed reader, you must endeavor to be a visual reader.

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Vocalization and Its Effects on Speed Reading

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Reading educators use the term vocalization to describe readers who hear words when they read. Vocalizers are readers who read with their mouths — they say and hear the words as they read. Vocalizing slows your reading down considerably and is a habit you should break if you intend to become a speed reader. Do you vocalize? Silently read the following nursery rhyme. As you read, note whether you hear the words in spite of your reading them silently: Hickory dickory dock The mouse ran up the clock The clock struck one The mouse ran down Hickory dickory dock I chose this nursery rhyme because it includes several loud, hard consonants (ks and ds) that test your ability to read without hearing the words. Did you hear the ks, ds, and other sounds? If your answer is no, you’re probably not being entirely truthful. Even fast readers vocalize a little bit. Vocalizing as little as possible is an essential goal of speed reading. Vocalizing hinders your reading for these reasons: It slows down your reading. The average person speaks at 150 to 200 words per minute. If you vocalize all words as you read, you can’t read faster than this rate because you have to read the words at the rate you speak them. By contrast, advanced readers read at 200 to 400 words per minute, and speed readers read above 400 words or more per minute. It affects comprehension. If you move your lips or mimic speech when you read, you engage a part of your mind in speech activities when you really ought to devote it to grasping the author’s ideas. It hinders your ability to comprehend through context clues. For example, the first two words of this sentence make no sense until you read the complete sentence: “Sénéchal, bailli — the knight aspired to one of these positions in the royal administration.” Readers who vocalize are baffled by the first two words of this sentence and are slow to comprehend them, but fast readers who don’t vocalize can read the entire sentence in one or two glances, and they know immediately that the words sénéchal and bailli refer to administrative positions appointed by the king. It causes regression. Regression occurs when you’re unsure of what you read and you move your eyes backward over words and sentences you have read already to confirm their meaning. Vocalizing causes regression because your eyes race ahead of your mouth in the act of reading, and your mouth reads one place while your eyes read another. This gap between what the mouth says and what the eyes see creates confusion and causes you to regress.

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