Methods to Improve Speed Reading and Comprehension

Today's hectic society makes time management skills more important than ever to master. If you're crunched for time, speed reading techniques will make a real difference, without short-changing comprehension and retention of the material. As Virginia Tech notes in its handout, "Suggestions For Improving Reading Speed," active readers take in around 500 to 700 words per minute. With some dedication and practice, you can double that rate -- and improve your comprehension, too.

Avoid Rereading Material

The average student reads 250 words per minute and rereads 20 words per page, according to Virginia Tech's handout. However, resist the urge to reread words and phrases that you've already seen. This habit of regression only slows reading speed and comprehension. Instead, adjust your pace to match a passage's difficulty and relevancy. Detailed elaboration of familiar concepts requires less time than complex directions and technical material, for example, or abstract terms that you don't already know.

Don't Talk to Yourself

One of the biggest barriers to reading speed is vocalizing, or moving your lips aloud, according to Dennis Doyle, a reading specialist and English professor at California's Glendale Community College. For similar reasons, avoid subvocalizing, or talking to yourself mentally as you read. Both habits tie reading down to speaking -- which is a slower activity, Doyle states. You're also less likely to reread familiar words and phrases, which impacts comprehension. Instead, treat reading as an activity of the eyes and the brain.

Double-Check Your Comprehension

Although you don't want to waste time rereading the same material, it never hurts to periodically revisit what you've just learned. One way is to circle or underline difficult passages in the margins, which reminds you of difficult words and ideas that require further study, according to Providence College's reading comprehension tips. When you skim or speed-read a particular passage, stop and ask, "What have I just learned?" If you struggle to answer, reread the material, or ask professors or classmates for clarification.

Preview Difficult Passages

To maximize reading time, Doyle recommends skimming complex passages first in 30 to 60 seconds. Then develop questions that improve your comprehension of the material. For example, a chapter title or heading devoted to the Civil War's origins might inspire you to ask, "What caused the Civil War?" Focus your "previewing," as Doyle calls it, on a section's first and last paragraphs. Then skim each subsequent paragraph's first sentence. This method promotes a focused approach that boosts overall reading speed when you read the material in depth.

Vary Your Rate

The material's overall difficulty and purpose determines how quickly you read it. An active reader understands this principle, while a poor one maintains the same slow rate, Doyle notes. For example, complex legal texts require a slower reading speed than newspaper or magazine articles meant for quick review. Keep this distinction in mind, especially in dealing with materials designed for reading aloud, such as poetry and plays.