How to read more quickly in English

Summary: Twenty three commonsense reading faster in English tips.

Reading faster in English is very important for purposes like language tests, work, studies, and not getting bored when reading for general language development. This article gives 23 easy and reliable techniques for speeding up your reading, all without the need for weird special training.


Get out of the habit of reading slowly/ Get into the habit of reading more quickly

Many of the problems people have with reading speed simply come from getting into the bad habit of always reading slowly. Therefore, tips below like reading something easier and not reading out loud can help with your general reading speed simply by getting you used to reading more quickly.


Read something easier

As well as being easier to understand and so quicker to read, well-graded texts can get you used to reading faster and so help with the speed of reading more difficult texts too. Tips to find something easier include texts with a given level such as graded readers (Oxford Bookworms, etc), translations from other languages (especially your own language), things you already know information about (e.g. things you have seen the movie of), and similar things to what you have read before.


Read something with less text per page

Being able to quickly turn the page in a children’s book, graded reader, etc should be motivating and feel like rapid progress, and so hopefully work as a kind of placebo effect to make you actually read more quickly.


Read when fresh

Reading when you’ve had a good night’s sleep, have a large coffee and haven’t worn yourself out with other English study should help you read more quickly and get into the habit of doing so.


Don’t just read in bed

Getting into the habit of reading only before sleeping is likely to make you feel sleepy every time that you read, even at other times, and so reduce your reading speed.


Give up on things that make you read slowly

If you find that a novel, news magazine article, etc is taking you longer than usual, it is probably unsuitable (boring, too difficult, etc) and so no help in making you read more quickly.


Read for pleasure

Even if your real reason for reading is to learn English, you should mostly read as if the main purpose is just to enjoy the contents, as you would in your own language.


Read a page turner

Even if it isn’t something that you would usually read in your own language, a book such a thriller that has lots of plot and so makes you want to read on quickly to find out what happens next is a great way of naturally pushing up your reading speed.  


Use comprehension tasks

Although using multiple choice questions, true/ false tasks, etc obviously makes reading take longer, the techniques that you need to quickly find the right information and check the meaning so you can move onto the next question should help with quick reading more generally.


Time yourself/ Set a time limit

To stop comprehension questions slowing you down too much and to provide more motivation, you could check that you are managing each Cambridge B2 First reading, TOEIC reading, etc more quickly than before. You could also do something similar with each page of a graded reader, etc (although if there are no comprehension tasks, there is a danger that you won’t realise that your understanding is going down as your speed is going up).


Leave the dictionary until later

If a word or expression isn’t clear, keep reading in the hope that something later makes the meaning clear or you can understand the main message without it, continuing to read until you finally get the message or until you get so confused that you can’t go on without checking. To make it possible to go back later if you need to, you could quickly underline such language as you go past it.  


Don’t read again unless you really have to/ Don’t read again until later

This is a more extreme version of the dictionary tip above, in which you carry on as long as possible after any text you had difficulty with (because it had new vocabulary, it had a difficult sentence structure, or even your attention just drifted for a bit).


Reduce distractions

This could mean not listening to music, using non-distracting music to drown out background noise, clearing your desk, and reading on paper with all electronic devices turned off or hidden away.


Don’t be afraid to skip

There is no reason why you shouldn’t skip long descriptions, dialogue that doesn’t further the plot, information you already know, footnotes, or even that whole story (as you probably do when you read in your own language).


Stop reading out loud

To be able to read out loud, you need to read at a regular pace and concentrate on every word. This is the exact opposite of reading fluently in normal life, in which we speed up and slow down and even skip parts. As reading out loud is not the best practise of speaking, pronunciation, etc either, it is best to completely stop doing it.  


Stop reading out loud in your head

This is a more extreme version of the tip above, in which you try to silence the internal voice in your head if it is basically reading out loud but without the sound.


Try reading and listening at the same time

If your reading is so slow that you have problems keeping up with English video subtitles, find it difficult to read an exam listening transcript at the same speed as the recording, etc, this could be a good way of forcing yourself to read more quickly.


Avoid listening and reading at the same time

Although the tip above is useful for some people, for most people it has the same bad effects as reading out loud and so shouldn’t be the normal way of reading but instead saved for something to do after a listening that was difficult to follow.


Stop translating while you are reading

Perhaps the most common reason for really slow reading is (consciously or subconsciously) translating every word into your own language as you read. This also has other bad effects such as meaning that you have to translate back into English to be able to speak or write about those topics afterwards. Tips above like reading a page turner could help with this, as could avoiding translation in other parts of your English study, e.g. using an English-English dictionary and avoiding translation on your vocabulary lists.


Prepare before reading

This could be reading a plot summary (perhaps with a dictionary), learning a list of vocabulary on the topic (e.g. 50 typical words for talking about the environment), or imagining what you might read from the photo and/ or title(s).


Skim/ Learn how to skim

Skimming is quickly skipping from one part of the text to the next until you find the passage that has the information to answer the comprehension questions, the most interesting plot development, the part that is new to you, the part related to your research, etc. The name comes from a flat stone skimming the top of a lake, and the reading method is very similar to the movement of that stone (and so not like skimming milk). It is best done by very quickly reading the beginning of each paragraph until you work out the topic and whether it is of interest right now or not, then skipping to the beginning of the next part.


Read something with paragraphs

It’s quite difficult to skim a news story, as there are no paragraphs and therefore no topic sentences that you skip to the next one of, so you might be better off reading magazines such as news magazines.  


Scan/ Learn how to scan

Scanning is searching quickly for a particular (distinctive) word, figure, etc in text, for example to answer a question about that person or to find out more about that part of the city that you will visit. It is like a sci-fi robot focussing on a target that it will fire a laser on (and so nothing like a scanner that scans from top to bottom of a document). There is specific practice for this in IELTS Reading “who said what” matching tasks.

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