Like many other mental processes that we develop throughout our lives there’s an innate instinct combined with a learned practice which allow us to perform certain activities. You may be completely unaware of certain reading habits that you’ve established over the years, and the first step to ridding yourself of such habits is to recognize them and understand how they may be hindering you. So lets look at how to improve reading speed by watching for the following habits:
Poor memory is one of the primary causes of slow reading. In relation to reading, it’s defined as the inability to recall the subject of a previous sentence, or the summary of a previously read paragraph. Things you can do to increase improve your memory can include:
- Reading sentences and paragraphs slower to ensure comprehension before moving forward
- Taking small breaks while reading
- Getting enough sleep
- Eating small meals throughout the day to avoid post-meal fatigue and maintain energy levels
- Avoiding multi-tasking while reading in order to maintain focus
- Avoiding caffeine
- Setting realistic goals, whether it is reading a full-page or finishing an entire book
The re-reading of previously read words and sentences is a common reading habit among both adults and children. However, this habit disrupts reading flow and can cause one to lose comprehension of what they’ve read. Most of the time regression back to previously read sentences comes as a result of the feeling that you haven’t read the sentence to complete comprehension-which in turn actually makes it counterproductive when you think about it. To avoid this, slow down your reading pace and if possible use a pointing device such as an index card or pen (even a finger) to pace yourself when reading. This will reduce the habit of jumping back to read sentences over again.
Single Word Focus
Focusing on each individual word when reading can pull attention away from the overall sentence or phrase as a whole. If you find yourself focusing too intently on single words, try grouping (aka “Chunking) words together to read them blocks at a time. Gathering an understanding of the summary of a sentence or group or words will help you to move through passages faster and increase comprehension rates at the same time. Start slowly with only as many words as you can, then try to add more words as you become more comfortable with this approach.
Sub-vocalizing or sounding out words in your head is probably the most common reading habit. More than likely it’s derived from our introduction to reading as children where we’re taught by teachers to “sound things out” as we’re learning vocabulary and pronunciation in our earlier years. However, this process of saying the words in your mind can be a handicap to adult readers as it slows down reading time. To rid of this habit try to remain aware of it when reading and if possible, read blocks text faster (as fast you can comprehend it comfortably, also known as “Chunking”) as it will be challenging to sound out and vocalize groups of words. You can also try adding some “white noise” to your reading background which will help keep your mind busy and take attention away from vocalizing each word in your head.
Reversing the sequence of words in a sentence or paragraph is another common reading habit that can inhibit the speed at which one reads. To overcome this, try concentrating on reading the words as they are written along with a pointing guide, such as a pen or even your finger (aka “Pacing”) to move from word to word to ensure that you are reading slowly enough to note the correct order of the words and to understand how the groups of words work together to summarize the sentence or phrase.
Low Concentration and Erratic Eye Movement
Lack of reading concentration makes it very challenging to absorb the content and focus on the structure of the sentences & paragraphs. Erratic eye movement, which is when the eyes wander the page in an attempt to spot keywords or locate the most recently read sentence, is another reading habit that derives from a lack of concentration on reading materials.
Consider the following to overcome these habits:
- Reading when you are alert and focused: Trying to read while you are drowsy or distracted will only slow you down and contribute to challenges with trying to retain or remember the content, especially if the content is of a technical nature or just a challenging read in general. Take the type of reading material into consideration when setting aside reading time, covering difficult material when you’re at the most alert and energetic parts of your day, and allow yourself time to actually absorb material before moving on to new something else.
- Reading in a quiet environment: Try practicing in a quiet environment that is free from distractions such loud, sporadic noises and excess movement.
- Focusing solely on reading, not other tasks: Turn off calendar and task reminders, cell phones, and other possible distractions to allow yourself to focus for at least 30 minutes at a time without interruption.
- Looking for keywords: By counting a page for the primary words in a sentence or paragraph, you can speed up your reading and also glean the primary meaning.
Doubling or even tripling your reading speed can be a realistic goal when you can identify the bad habits may be holding you back. The key to overcoming these habits is be conscious of them and correct them as soon as they’re recognized. Spending 20-30 minutes a day reading and monitoring these behaviors (training your mind) can speed up the time that it takes to purge them and will definitely speed up your reading speed!