How to Read Faster and Still Understand It: Advice That Works

Summari Inc
January 10, 2022

Some of the most successful American businessmen, from Warren Buffet to Bill Gates, spend the majority of their days reading. Meanwhile, the average American reads around 12 books a year.

If you want to step up your game and get on par with the best of the best, you'll want to learn how to read faster. But it doesn't stop there - you want to understand and remember what you read, too. 

Here are some top tips from experts on how to consume more information by reading faster.

Test and Time Yourself

By challenging yourself to read faster, you're engaging in an experiment in personal growth. So, you need to determine your baseline: how fast do you read right now?

Maybe you already read at a decent clip, but struggle to recall what you've read. Or, maybe you have excellent recall, but it takes you hours to finish individual chapters.

Understanding how you read means you can find personalized strategies for improving. And there are a few things to take into account as you test and time yourself.

Note the Level of Difficulty

You may fly through contemporary novels, but what about textbooks? Or dense news articles? As you test your current ability, take into account the difficulty of your material.

Many news sources like the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, are above a 10th-grade reading level. Seems fairly basic, right? That's high school level.

But actually, that difficulty level is high compared to the average American's ability. The reading level of approximately 54% of Americans is comparable to that of a 6th grader. 

So as you test yourself, choose a variety of materials. For reference, an article from MSNBC will sit around the 12th-grade level. A James Patterson novel is likely closer to 7th grade, and typical nonfiction reads fall somewhere in-between.

Run Minute-Long Tests

Once you've got your materials, pull up a timer on your phone and set it for one minute. Then, choose your easiest material first and read until your timer runs out. When it does, record the number of words you read in that minute.

Don't want to count all those words? Look at a couple of the longer lines and take the average of the number of words in them. Then, multiply that number by the number of lines you read. That will give you an estimate of how many words you can read per minute.

Repeat that test a few times with the same material. Then move on to the harder ones. You'll get a sense of the reading level at which you start to slow down. 

Want to know how to measure up? The average reader reads about 240 words per minute, while "speed readers" clock in closer to 700. But don't worry about making such a huge jump all at once.

Practice the techniques below over time, and repeat the timed tests to track your progress.

Avoid Reading Each Word in Your Head

Now that you have a sense of how fast you read and what types of material give you the most trouble, you can start practicing speed reading techniques. The first is to stop reading each word in your head. 

Wait, what? Isn't this what we were all taught in school? To say each word in our minds as we read them on the page?

The issue is, forming each word in your mind as if you were saying it out loud slows you down. It's similar to how actually reading out loud is typically slower than reading internally. So, if you want to consume more information faster, you have to ditch the habit of reading in your head.

The good news is, you don't have to read each word individually in order to retain information or remember what you've read. Take it slow and try to quiet your internal reading voice. Moving your eyes across the words faster, before your mind has the chance to "read" them, can help.

This takes practice. But once you stop in your head, you'll be on your way to improving your speed without losing comprehension.

Read Multiple Words at a Time

Alongside reading internally, you were probably taught to read one word at a time. But this also limits your potential speed. Instead, aim to read multiple words at once.

Set a new goal of reading in chunks, starting small with 3-4 words at a time and moving up to larger sets of 7-9 words at a time. The good news is, once you silence your internal reading voice, reading in chunks will be much easier.

What you want to do is practice reading with your finger on the page. Place your finger between the second and third words on the first line. You'll find that, though your eyes are focused on those words, they can also see the first and fourth words, too.

Practice this technique in small bursts at the start, reading just half a page and then taking a break if needed. It's a whole new way of using your brain to read, so don't expect to master it all at once.  

Skip Sections You Already Understand

Another tip on how to read faster and increase productivity? Skip what you already know. If you're in finance or consulting, and you're reading the latest Dave Ramsey, skip the sections that cover topics you're familiar with. 

You may want to brush up on old topics, and that's fine. But you'll save time and improve your reading speed if you don't read every section. What's more, you'll save the mental energy you'll need for processing new ideas and information.

In other words, save your brain space for what's new. Don't waste time or energy rereading topics you've already mastered.

Connect With the Material

Okay, now you know how to improve your reading speed by finding your baseline, quieting your inner monologue, and reading in chunks. But what about your comprehension? One way to improve your reading comprehension is to connect with the material.

What excites you about it? What do you find interesting or intriguing? What questions do you want to have answered after you've finished reading?

If you're a student taking general ed courses, try to find at least one point of connection between you and the material. It may be hard, but forging a personal connection or getting curious about your reading can help you remember the information.

Better yet, turn what you've learned into a story. Research suggests that information conveyed through stories is easier to recall.

Read When You Can Focus

Another tip about how to learn faster and remember what you read is to read when you can focus. Don't try to read for maximum comprehension when it's lunchtime and your stomach is growling or when the kids are playing loudly in the next room. 

If you're not a morning person, don't try to do your best reading first thing. If you're cramming in reading before you get off the train for work, the extra pressure won't help you either.

Set aside intentional reading time when there are minimal distractions. Give all your attention to the material. When your mind is pulled in different directions, you won't retain as much information.

Use a Summarization Tool

Another way to retain information as you read is to use summaries. One method is to jot down a quick 5-8 word summary next to each paragraph you read or a few sentences at the end of each page.

You'll train your mind to look for the main ideas as you read so you can summarize them. And, writing them down will allow your mind to recall the information again.

Alternatively, you can make lists of bullet points at the end of each chapter and review those. However, it can be challenging to remember all the key points after you've read. In that case, using a summary tool may be to your advantage. 

Summary tools use AI to synthesize the information in a news article or book. They churn out the main points in an easy-to-digest format. It saves you time by giving you a list of what to look for as you read.

Text summaries are a great way for professionals to absorb more information faster. Or, for students to review their assigned reading before they dive in to study it. 

Keep Practicing How to Read Faster

Now that you know the techniques you'll need, keep practicing! Learning how to read faster while maintaining high comprehension takes time and effort. Don't be discouraged if it feels hard at the start. 

Always remember to use the tools that are available for you. Try an online summarization tool like Summari. To sign up and start upping your reading game, click here.

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