Test Prep

3 Ways to Increase Your Reading Speed

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You breathe a sigh of relief because you've just finished up the last of the Math questions on your ACT or SAT, but then, you suddenly freeze. What's next seems like even more of a hurdle — the long and tedious reading passages.

The fact that the Reading section can be tough to get through can really mess up your pacing on the test, and you do need to keep up your pace if you're going to complete the section within the given time.


So what are you to do? How do you keep yourself from falling asleep and answer the questions on time? Speed reading, of course! Speed reading is a helpful skill for test-taking, but will also help you later in college and in your career, when you'll have plenty of long texts and reports to plow through.

But speed reading is not just about zooming through a text, says Abby Marks Beale, speed reading expert, creator of an online speed reading course at RevItUpReading and author of several books on the topic.

“My definition of speed reading is that it’s a set of active, mindful and conscious strategies that allow you to get what you need quickly from any reading material in an efficient and effective manner. It’s not just faster speed!” explains Beale.

Whether you're preparing yourself for the SAT or ACT, here are three tips to help you quickly get through those passages and find the information you need to correctly answer the related questions.

1. Stay Focused on What's Ahead

One technique involves using a white card, like an index card, when reading on paper (not online). Place the card ABOVE the first line of text you plan to read, and then slowly but continually move the card straight down the text. Make sure you keep the lines you are about to read visible, and keep the lines you've already read covered. The point here is to stay focused on what you are about to read and not distract yourself with the lines you've gone through. Of course, you won't be able to use any index cards or pieces of paper during your test, but you can use your pencil or even your hand instead. Try this hand or pencil method on a practice test at home, and see how it works for you.

2. Let the Questions Lead the Way

You've probably heard that you should first skim the questions below the reading passage before you start reading. This truly does help you to hunt down the answers while you read the text so you don't have to keep going back to the passage over and over again — which will waste precious time! Understanding the questions also helps you get a sense of what you are about to read, providing you with good insight into the style and purpose of the text. Beale recommends using this approach for any kind of reading. “Before you start to read, ask yourself: 'Why am I reading this? What do I need to do with it?' The answers to these questions should guide you to the more important information.”

3. Skim With First Sentences

Basically, this means you get to skim -- but think of this as a kind of guided skimming. Try reading just the first sentence of each paragraph in the text before you go back and read the entire passage. The first sentences usually portray the main idea of the paragraph and will give you a good idea of the flow and outline (intro, main body with supporting arguments, conclusion) of the entire text.

If you feel like you're a slow reader, especially during a timed test like the SAT or ACT, be sure to try out these speed reading techniques. Boosting your speed can seriously help your score by making sure you completely finish the section on time.