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 Cody 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.)

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

  1. I didn’t feel like this was working at all while I did it, but I went from 180 to 522 wpm, and actually understood stuff at 522. This is lifesaving for me. If you don’t feel like it’s working, it is. Wait until you see the new # afterwards!

  2. So we’re not to worry about comprehension in the beginning so I won’t concern myself with it. But at what point do we concern ourselves? Or with the increased speed we will just naturally understand more of what we’ve read? Or are there tips to comprehension after you’ve done the exercises and increased your speed? thanks—

  3. Thanks a lot for this. I just improved my reading speed from a baseline of 176 words per minute to 363 words per minute. I intend to continue using these techniques to improve further. I’m so excited

  4. Re: Third – Perceptual Expansion – when you say “Begin x word(s) in from the first word of each line”, do you actually mean to not at all read the word and start from the second or third word, or concentrate on the second and third but also read the beginning word with my peripheral vision, while looking at the second or third word?

  5. I read your article “Scientific Speed Reading: How to Read 300% Faster in 20 Minutes “.But please tell me whether I should recite the words or just look at them when I will reading my textbooks for exams.

  6. Tim – this post changed my life, quite literally. The speed that I can consume books at with retention has enabled me to go on an absolute tear through my reading list. My way of thinking is now so different from the start of this year because of what I’ve been able to learn, thanks largely to this post.

  7. A very nice app that could help you practice this type of thing is called elevate. It is the perfect way to practice your speed reading & test the comprehension. Plus more exercises to test your grammar, math, spelling, etc…

  8. Does the technique change when one has mono vision? I.e. one contact lens reads close, and tho other is for far vision and is not able to focus on the page?

  9. I was skeptical to say the least – but 250 wpm to 400wpm simply wowed me! I hope this effect is not temporal! Has anyone kept on doing the exercises? Does that help?

  10. This is super helpful, but I have a clarifying question to make sure I’m doing it correctly:

    When you are looking just above the tip of the pen, are you looking at the whitespace and absorbing all the words in your peripheral vision, or are you looking directly at the letters and trying to read several words with one fixation?

  11. Thanks for the noble job Tim. I have been following you in many of your adventures and whenever I start something out of my comfort zone, I am reminded by your podcasts with amazing people (like Josh Waitzkin! I am a chess player too) and books like Tools of Titan. Thank you so much. 🙂

    I read this article. My reading speed shot up from 391 WPM to 1041 WPM. More importantly *I was able to smash my reading comprehension in 45 seconds down from 5 minutes*.

    1. Hi, I’m worried about whether or not I’m doing what’s described in this article correctly. I watched Tim’s video explaining this same technique and I’m still not sure. Can you summarize what you did? Seems like it worked for you. Thanks.

  12. Are you supposed to do what’s explained in “Third–Perceptual Expansion” in addition to or in replacement of “Second–Trackers and Pacers”? Thanks.

  13. Dear sir,

    I have been practicing of fast reading since last 1 month, but when i read fast i am not able to understand the paragraph, comprehension etc. As i understand in slow reading.

    Humbly i request you sir plz. Give me answer because i am totally depend on you sir.

    Thanking you

    Best regards

    (Kamal)

  14. I’m Dyslexic and have struggled with reading. Don’t know whether to be happy or sad, as this is exactly the technique I have discovered through trail and error and am already using. I’ve been successful until now without reading (I’m a Finance Director), but this technique has really enabled me to read comfortably and I can finally enjoy reading. A practice I previously hated. Alas my reading speed is still only 185 wpm (82% comprehension)

  15. Wow, pretty cool. I’m late for lunch so I’m a bit hungry and not at my optimal but I still increased my wpm, starting out at 208 wpm then upping that to 325 wpm after this exercise.

  16. This is brilliant. I have a medium sized book on Law to read for research purpose, with 700 pages. It looks intimidating but these tips have already given me great confidence. Thanks a lot.

  17. Hello Tim,

    Thank you for teaching me how to read faster. Your methods work! All my life, I have been back-skipping for fear of missing details. I was ignorant and didn’t know how to read effectively. Now I know! … Now, I can’t wait to finish reading books! (Hopefully!)

    This is a forever game-changer, and I am grateful.

  18. Thank you so much for this! The odd part to me was that my beginning WPM (I just completed this entire exercise) was 325. At the end, it was 975. And that is exactly 300% better. I don’t know how it happened, but thank you.

  19. I have been doing the technique every day for 7 days. I started at 90 wpm. Now I am at 114 wpm. I read a lot. Does anyone have advice how to improve more? Thank you.

  20. Hi Tim (or anyone seeing this that has answer)
    Im a 22 year old recent grad, and getting ready to pull the trigger for my dream life. My question is, why are we not concerning ourselves with comprehension? That is the sole purpose of me reading anything; I want to comprehend and understand the concepts mentioned. Thanks!
    Fran

    1. Hi, Fran! Just to help out real fast, the exercises are just that–exercises. The reason for some exercises not being concerned with comprehension is so your eyes and brain get used to things moving quickly. You’re just trying to get used to moving fast. It’s like running. Some days you don’t focus on pace–you simply run. As fast as you can. And it’s just so you get used to moving quickly. I hope that helps!! Happy reading 🙂

  21. So after practicing these exercises, when you are reading for comprehension are you supposed to start reading each sentence a few words in, and end a few words before the end? like in the perpetual expansion exercises.

  22. after completing these exercises, are you supposed to always uses the tracker/pacer pen to speed read, or it is a means to an end?

  23. Ok, so I did this! I am a terribly slow reader, which is why I was so attracted to this post. I performed the exercises. My starting baseline was 180 wpm, after completing the exercises the first time, that number jumped to 280 wpm. THANK YOU TIM!!! I started reading the 4 hour chef and I feel as though Ive already learned so many lifehacks and perspectives just from the first section of your book. I bought the 4 hour work week, the 4 hour body, and tribe of mentors. I cant wait to use this accelerated reading technique to read them ALL!!!!!

  24. Im i the only one struggling with “Do not decrease speed. ½ second per line for 3 minutes; focus above the pen and concentrate on technique with speed” i can’t keep my pencil doing this for 3 minutes this fast, how could i even keep my eyes on the tip of the pencil?