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

iStock
iStock

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.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Why Does Altitude Affect Baking?

This woman is going to make a quick stop at Whole Foods' bakery section before book club.
This woman is going to make a quick stop at Whole Foods' bakery section before book club.
nicoletaionescu/iStock via Getty Images

Even if you’re highly skilled in the kitchen, you might find yourself with a deflated cake or bone-dry brownies if you happen to be baking in Aspen, Colorado, for the first time. But why exactly does an oven at high altitude so often wreak havoc on whatever baked good is in it?

According to HuffPost, it all comes down to air pressure. The higher you are above sea level, the lower the air pressure is. This is mostly because there’s less air pressing down on that air from above, and it’s also farther from the gravitational forces on Earth’s surface. With less air pressure keeping liquid molecules in their liquid form, it takes less heat in order to vaporize them—in other words, boiling points are lower at higher altitudes.

“For every 500-foot increase in altitude, the boiling point of water drops by 0.9°F,” Dr. Craig F. Morris, director of the USDA ARS Western Wheat Quality Laboratory at Washington State University, told HuffPost.

Since liquids evaporate at lower temperatures, all the moisture that makes your signature chocolate cake so dense and delicious could disappear long before you’d normally take it out of the oven. To avoid this, you should bake certain goods at lower temperatures.

With less air pressure, gases expand faster, too—so anything that’s supposed to rise in the oven might end up collapsing before the inside is finished baking. Cutting down on leavening agents like yeast, baking powder, and baking soda can help prevent this. This also applies to bread dough left to rise before baking (otherwise known as proofing); its rapid expansion could negatively affect its flavor and texture, so you might need to adjust how much yeast you’re using.

If all the ways a recipe could go wrong at high altitudes—and all the experimentation needed to make sure it goes right—seem like a lot to keep track of, Betty Crocker has a handy chart with various types of baked goods and suggested modifications for them.

[h/t HuffPost]