Speed Reading for the SAT and ACT

If you're taking the SAT or ACT, learning how to speed read is an easy, fast way to improve your reading scores.

Speed reading is as powerful as it is misunderstood, so let me start by saying this: Speed reading not only makes you faster at reading, but it also improves your comprehension of the material.

In this short crash course, I'll show you exactly how to master the basics of speed reading, and to work it into your test-taking repertoire.

What is speed reading?

Speed reading isn't some sort of "trick" or "cheat" — it's a way of reading that properly utilizes your eyes and brain. When it comes to reading, most of us have terrible habits which are reinforced throughout our lives. Speed reading breaks these habits by forcing you to absorb information the way that it should be absorbed: directly from your eyes into your brain’s comprehension centers.

Do you hear yourself when you read?

If you’re like 99 percent of people, you hear your own voice in your head when you read. This doesn't mean you're crazy — this is called "subvocalization," and almost everybody does it. It's how you were taught to read when you were a little kid. As you move along the words, you can hear your voice (or what your brain imagines as you voice) inside of your head, "reading the book out loud" to you.

Here's the problem

When you "read out loud in your head," you’re reading at about one-fifth your potential reading speed. Subvocalization makes you an extremely slow reader because it forces the words you're reading to take the following path:

  1. The page
  2. Your eyes
  3. The part of your brain that forms speech
  4. The part of your brain that recognizes speech
  5. The part of your brain that translates speech into meaning
  6. Meaning

In other words, when you "hear" the words that you're reading, your brain is literally going through the process of forming the words, reading them, then hearing them, comprehending them, and turning them into meaning. This is incredibly slow and inefficient. Speed reading follows this path instead:

  1. The page
  2. Your eyes
  3. Meaning

Regular reading methods will allow you to comprehend about 80-140 words per minute, since that's how many words your brain can comprehend when someone is speaking. Speed reading methods allow you to comprehend 500 or more words a minute (and much more once you become an expert) because your brain can easily absorb 500 or more words a minute when it doesn't have to convert and re-convert the words into internal speech!

The main idea is to "suck the words into your brain through your eyes" rather than having an internal conversation with yourself while you read.