These Speed Reading Tips Will Help You Get Through Your TBR Pile

As a proud bibliophile and professional book reviewer, I hate to hear someone say they don't read, but whenever I do, the excuse is almost always the same: not enough time. It isn't always easy to find a few minutes, let alone the actual hours it takes, to sit down and crack open a new novel, but with these 10 speed reading tips, anyone can get through their TBR pile, no matter how big it gets. Take it from me: there's always enough time to read, even if it means not reading every word.

As a book reviewer, I get sent a lot of different things to read. A lot. Any given week, my reading list increases by three or four books, and to get through them all would take more than a lifetime. Unfortunately, "forever" isn't exactly a workable deadline, so I had to come up with a different strategy to help me find the way to the bottom of my TBR pile: speed reading.

On average, the reading speed in the U.S. is 200-300 words per minute, or approximately one-half to one page per minute. Those considered to be fast readers can increase that speed to 400 words per minute, but that still means it would take over two and a half hours to read an average length book, about 64,000 words. (Given the amount of time we spend sitting in front of Netflix and binge-watching shows, 160 minutes may not seem like a long time, but for most people, sitting still for that long when it isn't for the Gilmore Girls revival can feel like an impossible eternity.)

Speed readers, however, can cut that time down by more than half, and with can reach speeds of up to 1,000 words per minute. While it's true that reading faster can result in lower levels of comprehensions, with practice, speed reading can be an effective tool for getting through more text in less time.

Reading is a mechanical process, and getting faster isn't a matter of learning complex theories or an expanded vocabulary, but rather improving your fine motor skills. If you want to learn how to get through more books in less time, here are 10 speed reading tips that can help:


Try skimming.

My high school English teacher would be cringing to read this, but one of the easiest ways to train yourself to speed read is to simply skim.

Skimming doesn't actually help you read faster, but rather finding out which parts of the book can be skipped and which are essential to comprehension. It's a great first-step to speed reading, and one I do before diving into any book so I go into each new read with a general idea of what's to come. Needless to say, this strategy comes with a major spoilers warning.


Use a visual guide.

Remember using your finger as a sentence guide when you first learned how to read as a kid? As it turns out, that method isn't just good for young readers, but great for speed readers, too. This method, known as meta guiding, uses a visual guide to help your eyes focus on the current words you're trying to read and move them along faster down the page overall.


Stop rereading.

A habit that is hard to break, rereading words or sentences is one of the biggest speed bumps in reading. Whether your eyes accidentally or subconsciously return to a passage you already gone over or you go back on purpose to better understand something, revisiting what you've already read will slow you down significantly. Instead, plow ahead and look for context clues for anything you may not have understood the first time around.


Use a free RSVP app.

When in doubt, ask your smartphone to help you read faster. With the help of Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) technology, which shows readers one word at a time, people can increase speeds up to 1,000 words per minute. Most speed reading apps, including Spritz, use this kind of technology, and are available for free in your app store.


Keep your mouth busy

One of the habits that slows readers down the most is subvocalization, or the process of saying the words you're reading in your head, subconsciously, or outloud. By avoiding it, people are able to read twice to three times as fast.

But how can you prevent it? Keep your mouth busy doing something else when you read. When your mouth is occupied chewing, sucking, or even humming keeps your vocal cords busy and prevents your brain from saying words as you read them. By preoccupying your mouth, you can free your mind to read faster immediately.


Expand your field of vision.

We are trained to read each word individually, one at a time, but by reading sets of words or entire sentences at once, we can increase our reading speed. This strategy, often times called word chunking, is the practice of expanding horizontal peripheral vision, taking in more words at once, and increasing overall words that are being perceived each time the eyes are fixated on a phrase, sentence, or passage.

Not sure how? Try this handy exercise and watch your vision field increase while your TBR pile decreases.


Create the right reading environment.

Reading faster isn't all about tricks and shortcuts from beginning to end. It's about improving your overall reading skills and experience, and it all starts with the setting. Whether you are speed reading for work or rereading for fun, creating the right environment — quiet, relaxing, comfortable, distraction-free — is essential to getting through a book quickly and enjoyably.


Read more often

You know the old saying: practice makes perfect. The same thing goes for reading. As basic as it sounds, the more you read, the better you read, and the faster you read.


Listen, don't read.

Okay, this may be cheating, but listening to audiobooks can sometime help you get through a book faster than physically reading. While you're listening to the book, you can be multi-tasking, meaning whether you're cleaning, showering, driving, or cooking, you can almost always be working on your TBR pile. Plus, there are several different speed settings on audiobooks, so you can listen to the narrator as slowly or as quickly as you want.