The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Speed Reading (2008)


People think of many different things when they hear the phrase “speed reading.” Some might think of Evelyn Wood, the woman who pioneered speed reading in the 1950s, who offered free sample classes across the United States. Others might conjure up the vision of a finger zipping down the pages in record time while the other hand turns the pages. Many envy the thought of being able to speed read. Some just can’t figure out how it can really be done.

In this book, Pam and I have combined our more than 40 years of speed reading experience, both doing research and training others, with information gleaned from reading over 30 speed reading books and experience with over 10 speed reading software programs to come up with The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Speed Reading.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Speed Reading enables you to see and experience ways of getting through your reading workload with speed and efficiency. If you practice with the suggested strategies, you can easily double or even triple your current reading speed. In addition, you might find you concentrate better or understand what you read with greater ease.

As you go through the chapters, you’ll quickly learn that there are many simple options available to you for reading better and faster that you probably didn’t know existed. Once you know, I think you’ll enjoy putting them into action.

Because each reader comes into this process with varied levels of education, vocabulary, background knowledge, experience, and motivation, you learn how to speed read in your way. I present a buffet of proven ideas. Some will work for you better than others. There will be a lot you will want to keep and some you won’t, but the only way to know what’s best for you is to try everything, figure out which one(s) are best for you, and have fun along the way.

If you try something once and you feel it’s not working, consider trying it several times before deciding it’s not for you. I encourage you to experiment—or play, if you will—with the ideas in this book so you can come away with the most useful strategies to read faster and better to get you where you want to go. Remember, there is no one best way to read, just the way(s) you find most useful.

If you have any questions or want to send me your comments, please do so. I’d love to hear from you. (My contact info appears on the inside back cover of the book.)

Have fun speeding through your reading!

How to Use This Book

This book is divided into four distinct parts. Each chapter in each part builds upon the next with an opportunity to practice your speed strategies to solidify your learning. Here’s what you’ll find:

Part 1, “Getting Up to Speed with What You Read,” puts you directly in the speed reading driver’s seat. In these chapters, you first evaluate your current reading speed and comprehension using the One-Minute Timing Exercise. You are then introduced to several proven speed strategies, including using your hands and a card, reading key words, reading thought chunks, and spreading your peripheral vision to see more words at a glance. Another timing exercise, the 3-2-1 Drill, is also introduced as a way to challenge yourself to read faster than you might normally feel comfortable. Because comprehension is the biggest concern new speed readers have, I have included an entire chapter on helping you understand how comprehension is affected when you first learn to read faster and what you can do about it to secure it.

Part 2, “Get In, Get Out, and Don’t Go Back,” starts with helping you know how to best set yourself up for reading success. Good concentration is essential for reading with speed and comprehending most easily. The “getting in” part deals with the differences between nonfiction and fiction reading. It uncovers where the writer’s outline is located in nonfiction so you can quickly find the most important information and not waste time. “Getting out” guides you into thinking about how you are going to literally get out of what you’re reading as efficiently as possible through skimming, scanning, skipping, summarizing, and understanding the organizational patterns of most nonfiction. “Don’t go back” provides ways to keep your keepers and reduce your natural tendency to forget. To put all this into practice, I also share some of the best ways to read each different type of material.

Part 3, “Tuning Up Your Speed,” takes what you know about the speed reading techniques and the other effective general reading strategies to discover what to speed read and what not to. Included here is a fabulous chapter on speed reading on screen, which, as of this printing, is not found anywhere else. You learn how to adapt the hand and card methods for paper onto a computer screen as well as get some insights into how to print less to save trees and time. And finally, we look at how all readers can learn how to reduce daydreaming, back-skipping, and subvocalizing while reading to help their reading speed, concentration, and comprehension.

Part 4, “Overload Management,” deals with your piles of reading, both on paper and on screen, and some commonsense strategies for managing them both.

In the back, Appendix A is a glossary of some of the most important terms listed in this book. Appendix B and C are sections you’ll frequent because they contain the timed reading exercises (in Appendix B) and the personal progress charts (in Appendix C). Appendix D contains detailed information about how to figure words per minute on your own reading material.


Throughout, I’ve included some tips, techniques, insights, inspiration, definitions, and things to watch out for that will support and complement your speed reading efforts:

Speed Tip

Check these boxes for information you need to know as you go about your quest to read faster.


These boxes present definitions of words and concepts to expand your knowledge base as it relates to speed reading.

Speed Bump

Read these boxes for warnings all readers should be aware of when it comes to learning to speed read.

Speed Secret

Read these boxes for interesting nuggets of information or trivia about speed reading you might not be aware of.


All terms mentioned in this book that are known to be or are suspected of being trademarks or service marks have been appropriately capitalized. Alpha Books and Penguin Group (USA) Inc. cannot attest to the accuracy of this information. Use of a term in this book should not be regarded as affecting the validity of any trademark or service mark.