7 Tips for How to Read Faster (and Still Understand What You Read)

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Whether you skim a blog post, peruse files for work, or browse through a book, you most likely do some type of reading every day. But slogging through dense passages of text can be time-consuming, mentally exhausting, and hard on your eyes. If you want to read faster while maintaining reading comprehension, check out these seven tips.

1. PREVIEW THE TEXT.

Viewing a film’s trailer before watching the movie gives you context and lets you know what to expect. Likewise, previewing a text before reading it prepares you to quickly gain an understanding of what you’re about to read. To preview a text, scan it from the beginning to the end, paying special attention to headings, subheadings, anything in bold or large font, and bullet points. To get a big picture understanding, skim the introductory and concluding paragraphs. Try to identify transition sentences, examine any images or graphs, and figure out how the author structured the text.

2. PLAN YOUR ATTACK.

Strategically approaching a text will make a big difference in how efficiently you can digest the material. First, think about your goals. What do you want to learn by reading the material? Jot down some questions you want to be able to answer by the end. Then, determine the author’s goal in writing the material, based on your preview. The author’s goal, for example, might be to describe the entire history of Ancient Rome, while your goal is simply to answer a question about Roman women’s role in politics. If your goal is more limited in scope than the author’s, plan to only find and read the pertinent sections.

Similarly, vary your plan of attack based on the type of material you’re about to read. If you’re going to read a dense legal or scientific text, you should probably plan to read certain passages more slowly and carefully than you’d read a novel or magazine.

3. BE MINDFUL.

Reading quickly with good comprehension requires focus and concentration. Minimize external noise, distractions, and interruptions, and be mindful when your thoughts wander as you read. If you notice that you’re fantasizing about your next meal rather than focusing on the text, gently bring your mind back to the material. Many readers read a few sentences passively, without focus, then spend time going back and re-reading to make sure they understand them. According to author Tim Ferriss, this habit, called regression, will significantly slow you down and make it harder to get a big picture view of the text. If you carefully and attentively approach a text, you'll quickly realize if you’re not understanding a section, saving you time in the long run.

4. DON’T READ EVERY WORD.

To increase your reading speed, pay attention to your eyes. Most people can scan in 1.5 inch chunks, which, depending on the font size and type of text, usually comprise three to five words each. Rather than reading each word individually, move your eyes in a scanning motion, jumping from a chunk (of three to five words) to the next chunk of words. Take advantage of your peripheral vision to speed up around the beginning and end of each line, focusing on blocks of words rather than the first and last words.

Pointing your finger or a pen at each chunk of words will help you learn to move your eyes quickly over the text. And it will encourage you not to subvocalize as you read. Subvocalization, or silently pronouncing each word in your head as you read, will slow you down and distract you from the author’s main point.

5. DON’T READ EVERY SECTION.

According to Dartmouth College’s Academic Skills Center, it’s an old-fashioned myth that students must read every section of a textbook or article. Unless you’re reading something extremely important, skip the sections that aren’t relevant to your purpose. Reading selectively will make it possible for you to digest the main points of many texts, rather than only having time to fully read a couple.

6. WRITE A SUMMARY. 

Your job shouldn’t end when you read the last word on the page. After you finish reading, write a few sentences to summarize what you read, and answer any questions you had before you started reading. Did you learn what you were hoping to learn? By spending a few minutes after reading to think, synthesize the information, and write what you learned, you’ll solidify the material in your mind and have better recall later. If you’re a more visual or verbal learner, draw a mind map summary or tell someone what you learned.

7. PRACTICE TIMED RUNS.

Approaching a text strategically, reading actively, and summarizing effectively takes practice. If you want to improve your reading speed, use a timer to test how many words (or pages) per minute you can read. As you’re able to read faster and faster, check in with yourself to make sure you’re happy with your level of comprehension.

Why You Should Never Charge Your Phone in Public USB Ports Without a USB Data Blocker

Creative-Family/iStock via Getty Images
Creative-Family/iStock via Getty Images

The USB charging ports that have popped up at airports, coffee shops, and even outdoor stations around cities in recent years are definitely a lifesaver when your smartphone is down to its last bit of juice. A dead phone is annoying at best and downright dangerous at worst, so it’s totally understandable why you’d jump at the chance to revive it at your earliest opportunity.

However, those public ports might not be as benevolent as they seem. According to Afar, hackers can load malware onto those stations—or on the cables left plugged into the stations—which can then deliver passwords and other data right from your device to the hacker’s. If you have used a public port recently, don’t panic; TechCrunch reports that these cases are fairly rare. Having said that, it’s definitely better not to risk it, especially considering what a nightmare it would be to have your identity stolen.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office explains that the easiest way to prevent becoming a victim of this type of scam, often referred to as juice-jacking, is simply to abstain from using public USB charging ports. Instead, invest in a portable charger, or plug your own charger into an actual AC power outlet.

But unoccupied power outlets are notoriously hard to come by in public places, and portable chargers themselves can also run out of battery life. Luckily, there’s a small, inexpensive device called a data blocker that will enable you to use public USB charging ports without worrying about juice-jacking. It looks a little like a flash drive with an extra slot, but it lacks the two wires usually found in USB chargers that can download and upload data. That way, your device will charge without transferring any information.

You can get two of them for $11 from Amazon here.

[h/t Afar]

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12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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