Need for Speed Reading? 10 Hacks to Help You

asian girl reading a book

No matter what your major, it’s likely you have between 50-200 pages of reading to get through every night of the week. Especially, when the end of semester is coming, with final exams and projects ahead. For those of us who are slow readers, that can be pretty daunting, especially considering that there are lots of other things that have to be done (think “laundry” and “cooking macaroni.”)

Did you know there are actually ways that you can improve your reading and retention speed without buying some weird As-Seen-On-TV program? Here are the best speed-reading hacks that actually work.

Scan for keywords

Look for keywords and new vocabulary, which are usually in bold or italics. Then, read the sentence before and after. You’ll have a better idea of the overall gist of what is happening and be a leg up for the quiz.

10-Second Rule

Skim through each page for a maximum of 10 seconds, looking only for the main ideas of the page. When you get to an idea that is new or that seems important, stop and spend another 10 seconds re-reading that section.


For each page of your book, take a minute and write one or two sentences that help you organize the main ideas of the page. You can even write them at the bottom of the page. This is a great help for when you are trying to find information to study at the end of the semester.

First and Last Sentences

A great way to get the gist of a paragraph quickly is to only focus on the first and last sentences. That’s where you are going to get 90% of the meat of the content. The rest is mostly filler.

Look for Visual Markers

Some text is more important than others, and it will show up on your test. Any text that is bold, highlighted, in a box, or a different color is text that is trying to get your attention. Also look for bullets, numbered lists, or any text that “pops” out from the rest of the page.


Unless you’re reading a math textbook, numbers and statistics are a good thing to stop and look at. Not only are they often included in tests (think years in your History classes), but they will make you look smarter in discussions. How many other people will remember the exact percentage of women holding Congress positions?

Color Mark

Although highlighting is not a very effective solution generally, it can be helpful if you use it effectively. Instead of using highlighters, though, invest in a pack of colorful mini-sticky notes. Then, as you scan through your textbook, mark your pages with the color that matches.
Here’s a good system:

  • Green – Got it! You understand the ideas on the page.
  • Yellow – Some ideas that need to be reviewed.
  • Red – Come back to this page in more depth.
  • Blue – This item WILL BE ON THE TEST.

Sentence Snapshot

Some of the best research on speed-reading has to do with how you look at the page. Instead of being trapped by word-by-word reading from left to right, try to take a mental snapshot of the whole sentence. Although you might not think you’re getting information, your brain captures and processes even while you’ve moved on to a new sentence.

Study Early

Speed-reading takes focus and concentration, and that’s the found most often in the early morning. Instead of trying to skim and remember late at night, wake up early. Your brain is primed to comprehend better when it’s not quite so exhausted.

Stop Talking To Yourself

Subvocalization is the act of internally saying words to yourself, and it has been shown to slow down reading speed. It is also connected with comprehension. While you are skimming your textbooks, eliminate most of your subvocalization – except when you come to something that is vital to be understood. Then, you can subvocalize or vocalize as much as is needed to understand the new concept.

As you practice using these speed-reading hacks, you will be able to get through your texts faster without sacrificing your ability to comprehend the material. Just keep looking for what’s important. Keep fluff out of your head and in the dryer where it belongs.

Have any speed reading tips to share? Want to leave your feedback? Welcome to the comments below!

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