Week 7 – Double your reading speed!

Total Time – One hour

Total Cost – Free

Disclaimer – I did not make a video for this week’s 5 and 50 at the normally scheduled time because I expect to receive my HD webcam in the mail very soon. This week’s challenge is, in my opinion, the best one yet, so I wanted to wait until I had access to my new camera before recording it.


This week’s 5 and 50 challenge is quite possibly the best investment of time that I have ever made. No hyperbole.

It only took me an hour to be able to nearly double my reading speed. Depending on how you want to look at it, this has either doubled the number of books I can read in a year or cut the total amount of time I will spend reading in half. If what I’m claiming is true (and it is), you will earn back the one hour you spent on learning how to “speed read” after just two hours of reading time. Even if you’re not an avid reader, doubling your speed will save you an incalculable amount of time over the course of your entire life. What are you waiting for?

I was first turned on to the idea of speed reading from Tim Ferris, a man who in many ways inspired 5 and 50. Instead of trying to explain the process for speed reading myself, I recommend check out Tim’s video on speed reading here, as well as his blog post on the topic here.

Before continuing, please consult this flow chart:

Did you watch.jpg

Welcome back!

You may have noticed that in the video Tim claims you can triple your reading speed in as little as 20 minutes, while I claim it took me an hour to only double it. What gives?

Tim prompts you to “ignore comprehension” and simply try to blast through as many words as you can while using his techniques to maximize your words per minute score (WPM). Though you’ll certainly bring up your WPM by doing this, at the end of the day you’ll have crammed a bunch of words into your brain without really understanding what you just read. If you define reading speed as “how quickly your eyes can recognize words”, then yes, you can easily triple your reading speed with various speed reading techniques. However, studies show that you won’t have processesed nearly as much as if you read at a normal pace. For the purposes of this article, I define speed reading as “how quickly can you read while maintaining total, or very close to total comprehension.”

As it turns out, speed reading is a much more controversial topic than I thought it to be. Speed readers claim to be able to read at speeds of over 1000 words per minute while maintaining 85% comprehension (the adult average speed is around 250), but the medical and scientific communities dispute that the human eye is even capable of processing anything close to this. While researching how to increase my reading speed online I found plenty of charlatans who claimed to be able to read at speeds which should be scientifically impossible.

I read books primarily for two reasons, to have fun and to learn new things. Following Tim’s speed reading techniques to a tee was neither fun nor sufficient for me to properly absorb what I was reading. That said, with Tim’s tips and a little bit of practice I was able to successfully double my reading speed under my own definition of speed reading. Here’s what I recommend:

  1. Watch the video and try out Tim’s techniques exactly as he describes them. Draw the lines in your book, read while following your pen, and measure your WPM before doing any practice.
  2. Now that you’re familiar with how eye movement relates to reading speed, go back and try to read a book while following your pen at a speed which is only slightly more than your normal comfortable speed. Keep reading this way until you feel totally comfortable keeping up with your pen.
  3. Slightly ramp up the speed of your pen again and practice reading at this speed until you are comfortable keeping up with the pen. I found that I was losing a little bit of comprehension during the first 20 or 30 minutes of this exercise, but by the time my eyes were practiced enough to keep up I wasn’t losing any comprehension at all. Repeat this process until your eyes are keeping up with your pen but you are starting to lose comprehension. The last speed before you started to lose comprehension is your new “maximum reading speed”. With practice, you should be able to bring up this number even more.
  4. Practice reading at your new maximum speed from the previous step without the pen.

This whole process took me about 45 minutes, at which point I stopped to measure my WPM. It nearly doubled my WPM from 236 to 453 while maintaining full comprehension. Since measuring my reading speed for the second time I’ve felt my speed has gone up even more with practice.

It’s really that simple. Watch a video, read an article, follow your pen while slowly increasing your speed, and enjoy all the benefits of your new skill. This was exactly the kind of challenge I had in mind when I began my 5 and 50 journey – a small input of time for a tremendous increase in ability. Please feel free to report back to me with your own results, and don’t forget to include a few good book recommendations!

– Aleco Pors

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