Scientific Speed Reading: How to Read 300% Faster in 20 Minutes

hipster man in trilby hat with t-shirt that says "i like words" reading a newspaper while sitting on a loading dock.

(Photo: Dustin Diaz)

How much more could you get done if you completed all of your required reading in 1/3 or 1/5 the time?

Increasing reading speed is a process of controlling fine motor movement—period.

This post is a condensed overview of principles I taught to undergraduates at Princeton University in 1998 at a seminar called the “PX Project”. The below was written several years ago, so it’s worded like Ivy-Leaguer pompous-ass prose, but the results are substantial. In fact, while on an airplane in China two weeks ago, I helped Glenn McElhose increase his reading speed 34% in less than 5 minutes.

I have never seen the method fail. Here’s how it works…

The PX Project

The PX Project, a single 3-hour cognitive experiment, produced an average increase in reading speed of 386%.

It was tested with speakers of five languages, and even dyslexics were conditioned to read technical material at more than 3,000 words-per-minute (wpm), or 10 pages per minute. One page every 6 seconds. By comparison, the average reading speed in the US is 200-300 wpm (1/2 to 1 page per minute), with the top 1% of the population reading over 400 wpm…

If you understand several basic principles of the human visual system, you can eliminate inefficiencies and increase speed while improving retention.

To perform the exercises in this post and see the results, you will need: a book of 200+ pages that can lie flat when open, a pen, and a timer (a stop watch with alarm or kitchen timer is ideal). You should complete the 20 minutes of exercises in one session.

First, several definitions and distinctions specific to the reading process:

A) Synopsis: You must minimize the number and duration of fixations per line to increase speed.

You do not read in a straight line, but rather in a sequence of saccadic movements (jumps). Each of these saccades ends with a fixation, or a temporary snapshot of the text within you focus area (approx. the size of a quarter at 8 inches from reading surface). Each fixation will last ¼ to ½ seconds in the untrained subject. To demonstrate this, close one eye, place a fingertip on top of that eyelid, and then slowly scan a straight horizontal line with your other eye-you will feel distinct and separate movements and periods of fixation.

B) Synopsis: You must eliminate regression and back-skipping to increase speed.

The untrained subject engages in regression (conscious rereading) and back-skipping (subconscious rereading via misplacement of fixation) for up to 30% of total reading time.

C) Synopsis: You must use conditioning drills to increase horizontal peripheral vision span and the number of words registered per fixation.

Untrained subjects use central focus but not horizontal peripheral vision span during reading, foregoing up to 50% of their words per fixation (the number of words that can be perceived and “read” in each fixation).

The Protocol

You will 1) learn technique, 2) learn to apply techniques with speed through conditioning, then 3) learn to test yourself with reading for comprehension.

These are separate, and your adaptation to the sequencing depends on keeping them separate. Do not worry about comprehension if you are learning to apply a motor skill with speed, for example. The adaptive sequence is: technique ‘ technique with speed ‘ comprehensive reading testing.

As a general rule, you will need to practice technique at 3x the speed of your ultimate target reading speed. Thus, if you currently read at 300 wpm and your target reading speed is 900 wpm, you will need to practice technique at 2,700 words-per-minute, or 6 pages per minute (10 seconds per page).

We will cover two main techniques in this introduction:

1) Trackers and Pacers (to address A and B above)

2) Perceptual Expansion (to address C)

First – Determining Baseline

To determine your current reading speed, take your practice book (which should lay flat when open on a table) and count the number of words in 5 lines. Divide this number of words by 5, and you have your average number of words-per-line.

Example: 62 words/5 lines = 12.4, which you round to 12 words-per-line

Next, count the number of text lines on 5 pages and divide by 5 to arrive at the average number of lines per page. Multiply this by average number of words-per-line, and you have your average number of words per page.

Example: 154 lines/5 pages = 30.8, rounded to 31 lines per page x 12 words-per-line = 372 words per page

Mark your first line and read with a timer for 1 minute exactly-do not read faster than normal, and read for comprehension. After exactly one minute, multiply the number of lines by your average words-per-line to determine your current words-per-minute (wpm) rate.

Second – Trackers and Pacers

Regression, back-skipping, and the duration of fixations can be minimized by using a tracker and pacer. To illustrate the importance of a tracker-did you use a pen or finger when counting the number of words or lines in above baseline calculations? If you did, it was for the purpose of tracking-using a visual aid to guide fixation efficiency and accuracy. Nowhere is this more relevant than in conditioning reading speed by eliminating such inefficiencies.

For the purposes of this article, we will use a pen. Holding the pen in your dominant hand, you will underline each line (with the cap on), keeping your eye fixation above the tip of the pen. This will not only serve as a tracker, but it will also serve as a pacer for maintaining consistent speed and decreasing fixation duration. You may hold it as you would when writing, but it is recommended that you hold it under your hand, flat against the page.

1) Technique (2 minutes):

Practice using the pen as a tracker and pacer. Underline each line, focusing above the tip of the pen. DO NOT CONCERN YOURSELF WITH COMPREHENSION. Keep each line to a maximum of 1 second, and increase the speed with each subsequent page. Read, but under no circumstances should you take longer than 1 second per line.

2) Speed (3 minutes):

Repeat the technique, keeping each line to no more than ½ second (2 lines for a single “one-one-thousand”). Some will comprehend nothing, which is to be expected. Maintain speed and technique-you are conditioning your perceptual reflexes, and this is a speed exercise designed to facilitate adaptations in your system. Do not decrease speed. ½ second per line for 3 minutes; focus above the pen and concentrate on technique with speed. Focus on the exercise, and do not daydream.

Third – Perceptual Expansion

If you focus on the center of your computer screen (focus relating to the focal area of the fovea in within the eye), you can still perceive and register the sides of the screen. Training peripheral vision to register more effectively can increase reading speed over 300%. Untrained readers use up to ½ of their peripheral field on margins by moving from 1st word to last, spending 25-50% of their time “reading” margins with no content.

To illustrate, let us take the hypothetical one line: “Once upon a time, students enjoyed reading four hours a day.” If you were able to begin your reading at “time” and finish the line at “four”, you would eliminate 6 of 11 words, more than doubling your reading speed. This concept is easy to implement and combine with the tracking and pacing you’ve already practiced.

1) Technique (1 minute):

Use the pen to track and pace at a consistent speed of one line per second. Begin 1 word in from the first word of each line, and end 1 word in from the last word.

DO NOT CONCERN YOURSELF WITH COMPREHENSION. Keep each line to a maximum of 1 second, and increase the speed with each subsequent page. Read, but under no circumstances should you take longer than 1 second per line.

2) Technique (1 minute):

Use the pen to track and pace at a consistent speed of one line per second. Begin 2 words in from the first word of each line, and end 2 words in from the last word.

3) Speed (3 minutes):

Begin at least 3 words in from the first word of each line, and end 3 words in from the last word. Repeat the technique, keeping each line to no more than ½ second (2 lines for a single “one-one-thousand”).

Some will comprehend nothing, which is to be expected. Maintain speed and technique-you are conditioning your perceptual reflexes, and this is a speed exercise designed to facilitate adaptations in your system. Do not decrease speed. ½ second per line for 3 minutes; focus above the pen and concentrate on technique with speed. Focus on the exercise, and do not daydream.

Fourth – Calculate New WPM Reading Speed

Mark your first line and read with a timer for 1 minute exactly- Read at your fastest comprehension rate. Multiply the number of lines by your previously determined average words-per-line to get determine your new words-per-minute (wpm) rate.

Congratulations on completing your cursory overview of some of the techniques that can be used to accelerate human cognition (defined as the processing and use of information).

Final recommendations: If used for study, it is recommended that you not read 3 assignments in the time it would take you to read one, but rather, read the same assignment 3 times for exposure and recall improvement, depending on relevancy to testing.

Happy trails, page blazers.

###

Get the brand-new Expanded and Updated 4-Hour Workweek, which includes more than 50 new case studies of luxury lifestyle design, business building, reducing hours 80%+, and world travel.

Related and Recommended Posts:

Tim Ferriss interviewed by Derek Sivers

Tim Ferriss articles on Huffington Post

How to Tim Ferriss Your Love Life

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 500 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Leave a Reply to Lej Cancel reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

858 Replies to “Scientific Speed Reading: How to Read 300% Faster in 20 Minutes”

  1. Did anyone else have problems with nausea doing this? I’ve just started a few hours ago but really feel some sort of motion sickness towards this. Will it go away as my brain gets used to the increased speed? I love the technique but I am not usually prone to motion sickness so just wondering what is going on.

  2. I love how my eyes are literally dancing over the pages now unlike before. This article has really helped me, now all I have to do is practice this technique enough so it’s my perminant reading style. Thanx guys! !

  3. With so much book reading done on phones/kindles/pads, how does this concept continue to work? The phones basically remove the whitespace between margins and your left with only a few pages per line anyway.

  4. The control freak of my personality keeps getting in the way. I fear that I am missing something when I am reading so fast. This is counter intuitive to how I’ve always done my reading – slow, methodical dog-earring and underlining and annotating along the way. This probably explains why I only get through 25-30 books a year.

    So I guess my big question is this – how do you make sure when you are doing this process not to miss the big points and how do y/ou personally come back to capture them (highlight, underline, etc.) or do you

  5. hello, I want to know, how speed reading can memorise 10 pages in one minute? with what mechanism words stay in memory and brain. no one speak about this. thank you.

    1. and I point that: we know when we speak,when we hear,when we act our lesson, it can better save in our memmory (better neural communication in neurology)

      so what is neurological reson in speed reading?

    2. When you get out of its way the brain will start encoding and compressing the concepts so you will know what you read. At some point you will start remembering the phrases if you keep instructing it too. But you will need sugar if you are gonna be doing that kind of superman reading, so eat before you read.

  6. Wow Tim! I always knew I was a slow reader but even at slow speeds my comprehension is still bad! This exercise took me from 240 to 505/minute which I’m over the moon about.

    I’d love some tips about improving compression and retaining what you read.

  7. I am trying this technique but I don’t know if I am the only one with the issue that I feel I am not getting what i “read” and comprehend. If anyone had the same problem/feeling please let me know how or what you did to manage it.

    Thanks for this blog post.

    Cheers

  8. Wow, just read this!

    I wish I would have had something like this while I was in High School. Reading would have been faster !

    Yet there is something that I am doing wrong as I am Still not understanding how to do this so I can read faster or how should I start to put this information in effect. Hope some one can help. Thanks !

  9. Thanks for your work, Tim. This is a great one, but your oevre is now chockablock with great stuff. Quick question on this. Now that most of us use iPads and Kindles for much or the bulk of our reading. Have you found any research or do you have tips for how to get similar gains using those modalities? If you have already answered this one 100 times my apologies.

  10. Really amazing, I have been looking for a way t o speed my reading for months. Fast reading means a more books and more books mean a better life. Thank you so much

  11. Wow that’s insane. I’ve just read an 180 page book in a few hours. Normally it would take me a week of stoping and starting. Thanks for sharing these speed reading tips with me 🙂

  12. How can I improve my speed reading when reading on a laptop or PC? I am essentially going to take GMAT exam and Reading comprehension takes too much time. Kindly help.

  13. I have to admit that even after reading the four hour work week and hearing about this technique, I was skeptical. But, after just sitting down and practicing, I FELT myself reading faster. I went from 253 to 385 wpm! Please do this because it will train you to save time in your life.

  14. “As a general rule, you will need to practice technique at 3x the speed of your ultimate target reading speed. Thus, if you currently read at 300 wpm and your target reading speed is 900 wpm, you will need to practice technique at 1,800 words-per-minute, or 6 pages per minute (10 seconds per page).” Typo…3x target reading speed would be 2,700 wpm not 1,800…

  15. I tried this method and love it, so far I have increased my WPM from 232 wpm to 464 wpm in just 2 days using this method! Thank you Tim Ferris love the 4 hour work week. My one question is what is your most recommended book to read that discusses speed reading in depth?

  16. Great. What about the most important element though: comprehension? [Third phase in the adaptive sequence; seemingly not addressed in the content – Did I miss it …?]

  17. Where is the more comprehensive breakdown of the speed reading tutorial? I like it. So far I have doubled my words but I want more.

  18. I’ve always had trouble reading at a fast pace..worse than that I felt like I was wasting time with the pace that I was going, plus the rereading. Thanks for sharing this, Tim! You rock 🙂

  19. I’ve tried reading faster, but simply by adding a visual tracking technique such as your suggestion, I increased my reading speed by 250%. This is legit.

  20. Finally. A good tip on reading faster. I have tried it many times before. But now I have a tool I can come back to and hone the skill.

    Very usefull as I need to read a lot for my Masters Project.

    Went from 241wpm to 396wpm. Not astonishing but still better than before.

    I had a lot of issues with the 1sec 2lines. How the f… can you keep that speed with the pen and focus on the tip. I constantly loose it and this is frustrating. No matter how much I concentrate..

    Tim any tips? Would be very appreciated.

    And thumbs up for your 100+ Podcasts you have so far..

  21. Thanks Tim for sharing this fantastic technique! I’ve been trying this since few days but the point I don’t really get is: do i have to focus on the tip of the pen or focus on the words?!

  22. This definitely helped, but I’d like to make the improvement permanent. Do you have any suggestions on a routine to do a few times a week? Obviously I could repeat the above excerises, but I was wondering if there were any others. In the 4-Hour Work week you mention having taught a speed reading class.. what else did you teach those students in that sessoin?

    Thanks,

    Dyslexic that really wants to read fast

  23. Hi, I’ve just started listening to your podcasts and looking at your website. Very engaging and interesting interviewees so am hooked!

  24. this obviously is increasing my speed but i am unable to understand what i am reading when i read so quickly so how can i do both effectively i.e understang readig quickly

  25. I’m a big note taker when I read, particularly for non-fiction. I usually underline an especially relevant sentence then compile all my underlined passages after I finish the chapter.

    Do you have any advice for notetaking while speed reading? It was tough to find the right flow.

  26. I had almost no improvement after doing these exercises for at least 45 minutes. I just went from 235 wpm to 260wpm and im think i could have make the 260 in before if i hadnt focused on reading in ‘normal’ speed.

  27. In the end, I didn’t understand which is the final technique to use, as there are a few exercises, but in the end it just says “Read at your fastest comprehension rate” without pointing out which technique to use.

    Even though I increased my speed by 140%, I was confused as to which technique to use, so I just stuck with reading one word after the first word and stopping one word before the last word of each line while trying to keep time spent on each line to not more than a second.

    Which technique did you guys use? I assume it was not the one from the final exercise ( Start/Finish 3 words after/before the first/last word and spending 0,5 seconds per line.) since it presumes the lowest comprehension rate.

  28. I just read your 4HWW book and enjoyed it very much and am brainstorming autopilot business ideas. Here’s the thing–your book says see http://www.pxmethod,com for an example test page. However, that web address apparently expired 12/18/2015. Could you please check into this and renew the page? Thanks.

  29. Great! Didn’t think that reading skills could be trained in that way.

    From 191 wpm to 429 wpm on Finnish (a language with looong words)

  30. Just an observation: The math does not work: 900×3=2700 not 1,800??? It is maybe a typo?

    “As a general rule, you will need to practice technique at 3x the speed of your ultimate target reading speed. Thus, if you currently read at 300 wpm and your target reading speed is 900 wpm, you will need to practice technique at 1,800 words-per-minute, or 6 pages per minute (10 seconds per page).”

  31. Wow, this article is a gold nugget in a world of largely silver and bronze. Try this technique for a few hours and a lot of you will be blazing through text with better comprehension just like I am. At best, my reading was at a mere 280wpm before stumbling upon this article. After a couple hours of focused effort, I am getting at least three times out of my time investment.

    The increased comprehension is even more priceless though. Previously I’d get completely side-tracked back-tracking sentences; this would ruin my overall comprehension of the text. Now I have a better understanding of the big picture all while increasing the speed I’m able to assimilate the information.

    I am so impressed, I felt compelled to come here and share. Thanks for sharing this Tim.

  32. Hey Tim. I note of gratitude for doing what you do: deliver outstanding value. This speed reading article has increased by comprehension reading speed by 97% within one hour. I have a list of books to devour! Have an amazing day. Paul

  33. Ey Tim, you says “As a general rule, you will need to practice technique at 3x the speed of your ultimate target reading speed. Thus, if you currently read at 300 wpm and your target reading speed is 900 wpm, you will need to practice technique at 1,800 words-per-minute, or 6 pages per minute (10 seconds per page).”

    Doing maths, I think you should practice at 2,700 (9×3) words per minute.

    It´s only that.

    Great article, I like it!!! 😀

  34. Hi Tim (if you see this) I assume you have seen apps like Rush Reader, implementing this technology http://spritzinc.com which gets around the same issues you address in the training, by streaming the word letters in a single position on the screen. 700wpm is not hard to read with this.

  35. I am an avid believer in speed reading as I enjoy reading a new book every week. I think that the main thing to consider though is how fast one can actually read before they lose comprehension at a rate that makes reading pointless. It’s about being realistic. I didn’t even realize how slow I was reading (due to re-reading) until I took some classes. Not a reading roadrunner, but definitely faster than I was.

  36. I felt like I was reading twice faster just trying the first few steps myself in this very article. I am positive about this. This is a very helpful tool for anyone.

  37. “As a general rule, you will need to practice technique at 3x the speed of your ultimate target reading speed. Thus, if you currently read at 300 wpm and your target reading speed is 900 wpm, you will need to practice technique at 1,800 words-per-minute”

    Wouldn’t you want to practice technique at a rate of 2,700 wpm?

  38. How do you comprehend what your reading by doing this? Do you enjoy what your reading? It feels like your just getting the idea of it by scheming? Is this true, please tell me how your comprehension is with speed reading, I am very interested but don’t see a point if don’t understand what I just read.

  39. Great overview of a topic I have been interested in. Of course in addition to reading fast I want to comprehend what I am reading. I took a speed reading class in Santa Cruz but was unable to use it for school since my reading comprehension dropped as WPM increased. Ryan Hinchman

  40. very good ideas are there in your suggestions and directions about reading… NOOR From pakistan thank you

  41. WOW. I am a very slow reader. I have spent the bulk of my years swinging a hammer. This little exercise put me from 110 wpm to 290 wpm. That is amazing. I cant believe the change in just 20 minutes.

  42. In the “final recommendations”, when you say “read the same assignment 3 times for exposure and recall improvement”, are you not admitting that this method reduces comprehension?

  43. I am literally so happy I found and read this page. Thank you so much Tim. Following a comment from my partner this afternoon, who told me I read really fast. I thought I didn’t and it made me think about speed reading and taking a course – came across this and in around 30 mins of following your advice I have gone from 254.2 words per minute to 557.6. What an incredible skill, I can’t wait to practice more. I feel like I have just been given such a gift. Thank you x

  44. Okay so maybe I need to read this again but it seems like at every step he says not to focus on comprehension. If you’re only seeing words at 1,000 WPM you’re not reading. Where does the comprehension come in?

  45. In the beginning, when I was determining my wpm, I got 144 wpm….Being a political science student in her final year, I suffered tremendously and still do because of how slow I read. I’m going to try this technique from now on. Let’s hope it works!!!

  46. One thing is not clear to me. If the exercise takes 20 mins why in the description of the PX project it says that is a 3 hours experiment?…. “The PX Project, a single three-hour cognitive experiment…”

  47. That’s great but there much of the research, that showed that reading with UNDERSTANDING more than 500 words per min isn’t possible. There some documents that describe it

    “The Psychology of Reading and Language Comprehension”. You can read as fast as you like. But you will not able to process data fast enough – and then reading is usless. More here “Eye movements in reading and information processing: Keith Rayner’s 40 year legacy” . So 386% is … like … no true.

  48. Thx for the tips…I’m gonna try to improve my speed. I read a tremendous amount of books but my reading speed is way too slow. I have a rather lofty I.Q. but it certainly hasn’t helped my reading skills…

  49. Please do not read the bible this way. Read one word at a time, obsessing over it, also read between the lines and on the margin. The whole book is full of hidden meaning coded in by a supra intelligent being… other material?… zip along at the speed of light. If we can take the whole page in with one glance, the better.

  50. Wowzers! I started with a total of 140 wpm, and yes I know how incredibly slow that is. But hay, I now read at a pace of 460 wpm; which I know isn’t as impressive as these other guys or ladies going at 800 wpm or more, if thats even true. I can’t argue with progress though.

    After I get use to my new pace of reading I’m plaining on doing this exercise again to raise my speed another 300% or more.

  51. Unbelievable! My speed went up from 228wpm to 744wpm! Thats 320%, or 3x faster. And I surprisingly comprehended the idea or context, if not necessarily the names. Thanks Tim. This will make book reading less exhausting, and much more intuitive about the message the author is conveying. Thank you, Tim! 😀

  52. Awesome article. But only 10-15 minutes of drills from a 3 hour seminar. My wuestion is where to go from here? Extend 3 minutes to 6 maybe? Or instead of 2 lines/second move on to 3 or 4 per second?

  53. my speed is of 140 wpm which is increased to 217 wpm in 20 minutes. I m happy with that but I couldnt increased to 300 percent as u claimed, my improvement was 55 percent increase in 20 minutes. so is this okay? I have to practice every day this?

  54. Just used this method as described by Tim, helped me go from 300wpm to over 600wpm in just 10 minutes! Plus it is still enjoyable to read and I don’t feel like I am just skimming through the book.

  55. THIS ACTUALLY WORKS. Sure these are just some tips, but they are amazing. I was originally 167 wpm. Now I’m 737 wpm. 😀 So glad, now I can actually feel good about reading a book. \(^-^)/

    1. How??? And for how long did you practice? I ask cos I have to write a competitive exam day after……I am good at everything except reading fast and that’s bad considering I have to solve 200 questions in 2 hours……

  56. I started with a wpm rate of 160 (am I retarded?). After this exercise, my wpm fluctuated between 180 – 220 – 240, while I read different articles. I still think that I am retarded.

  57. A clarification – you say you need to read at 3x your target reading speed, so if targeting 900, train at 1800… that’s 2x. Which is it?

  58. New research says approximately we can boost our writing by 300% by following some steps like:

    Read in the morning approximately 30 pages everyday fot building vocabulary

    make your environment reading friendly

    coffee helps boosting your metabolism which helps freshness of your mind etc

    you can also read explanation about this research here is the link goo.gl/hDsBLz

    if you want guys hope this is gonna help you as this helped me too thats why i am sharing 🙂

  59. I did not get the technique. Are you telling to read the first part of the sentence from the beginning and the second part of the sentence from the end simultaneously and then combine them??

  60. Tim, what is your thought about photoReading? I paid like $400.00 few years back and bought it to use for nursing school, which I never ended up using. I came to know, once you learn a particular style of speed reading, it is hard to switch to another one. Kindly let me know. Thank you.

  61. Wht does ths mean????

    “Begin 1 word in from the first word of each line ,and end 1 word in from the last word”

    Whts ths 1 word in….wht exactly we hav to do…i m not getting it

  62. I am reading your book the 4 hour work week. I love the tip on accomplishing more in less time. Curious how long it took you to write this book and how you carved out the time ie 2 hours every morning for 6 wks ?

    1. Hi Pascal,

      I was curious how you understood the “Begin 1 word in from the first word of each line” , when he says begin, do you actually leave and NOT read the boundary words, or it’s only that you don’t look at them but use your peripheral view to read them? Because if you skip one word on each side, you won’t understand the text.