Learn to speed read: radicalise your learning

If you’ve got someone in your class who’s always finished the compulsory reading as well as the extra material before anyone else, and who finished off the entire series of Game of Thrones before the TV adaptation got to the end of the first few episodes, you may wonder how they’re doing it – and whether they actually are!

Chances are, these students have learnt to speed read. Speed reading is the best way to make use of your time, and ensure you’re covering every base that could help you out.¬†When most people read, they sound out the words their eyes have just seen. Speed reading works to cut out this auditory stage. Instead of forming audible sounds in your head, you’ll learn to create visual representations.

It takes time to develop speed reading skills, so the earlier you master them, the better. Speed reading is a vital ability to have at university, as well as during A-levels. However, it’s not just about getting to the end of the page before the person next to you does. Speed readers not only travel over the words quicker, but take in and absorb the information they have just read. This post will aim to help you start speed reading, with easy and practical tips.

Prevent your eyes from taking breaks

The first stage of learning to speed read starts with preventing your eyes from taking breaks. Using a pen, pencil or your finger, steadily move across the page. Your eyes will follow this, and the process will stop your eyes from getting tired, and your mind from getting distracted. Start with small sections, then gradually move onto entire pages and chapters. Once you’ve practiced enough, you won’t need to use a prop to help you.

Change your reading direction

As your ability increases, shake up the direction you move in. Trace the line from left to right to start with, then right to left, alternating as you move down the page. This will allow you to absorb words and information without having to trawl across the whole sentence. Skilled speed readers move diagonally, jumping down several lines at a time, and only needing to focus their eyes on the words in the middle of the page. Your peripheral vision will learn to pick up the writing either side with more practice!

Read with a purpose

Don’t get bogged down with extra information. Start reading with a clear idea of what you need to learn and pick up, and scan the sentences looking for keywords. Many books will repeat information, so learn to block out this unnecessary material, and focus on what you need to know.


Speed reading isn’t easy: it isn’t just skimming over the words. You need to make a strong mental effort to visualise the words you’re looking at, in place of sounding them out in your mind. To help you absorb and retain this information, use tools like mind maps to document the material you’ve read.

Be practical

Use the book’s contents list. Not everything in an entire book will relate to what you need to read, so save yourself time by isolating the chapters that you think will be of most help. Once you’ve read the important ones, you can go back later and read the rest, if you deem it necessary.

Keep practicing

Check your progress: count how many words per minute you’re reading. There are many ways online that can help you do this; or just set a timer when you start a paragraph, and stop when the minute buzzes to a finish! If you aren’t getting any better, and you don’t feel as though it’s benefiting you, it may be worth reconsidering whether it’s the right skill for you to have.

Reading to learn

It doesn’t revolve around speed: you have to be able to remember, take in and understand what you’re reading. Pause regularly to make notes or to fill out a mind map, to make sure you’re still concentrating, and aren’t just gliding over the words on the page.

Written by JC

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