Efficient Reading

The information explosion of the past 30 years, and the large amount of reading required of college students makes it necessary to read with maximum efficiency. The following is a discussion and explanation of the most current theories and techniques used in the field of reading instruction.

  • Mechanics of Reading
  • Reading Flexibility
  • Pre-Reading
  • Developing Speed
  • Developing Greater Comprehension

Mechanics of Reading

Reading is a two-part process.

  1. Physical
  2. Psychological


When reading, your eyes fixate on a word or group of words, then move to the next word(s) and fixate there, etc. It is during these fixations that the mind sees the words. Like a camera the eyes must focus on something before an image is seen.

Skilled readers make 3-5 fixations per line, while inexperienced readers can make 10 or more.


On a psychological level your reading rate is determined by three factors:

  1. Your familiarity with the material
  2. The difficulty level
  3. Your purpose in reading it.

This being said, there is no right reading speed. The ability to vary your reading rate, depending on the above three factors, is called reading flexibility.

Reading Flexibility

With reading you want to be able to “shift gears” in response to different reading situations. There are four general reading rates, each appropriate to a different purpose.

  1. Skimming Rate- A high speed search for a specific fact, a very quick overview, or just the few most important points.
  2. Rapid Rate- A faster than normal reading of easy material, rereading of old material, or a search for the main ideas.
  3. Normal Rate- Reading material of average or above average difficulty, focusing on main ideas and important details, and pleasure reading when you do not want to miss the literary beauty.
  4. Careful Rate- Reading very difficult material, often for study purposes; when knowledge of details is necessary; when a critical evaluation or creative synthesis is necessary; poetry reading.


  • Ask yourself periodically while reading, “Could I read this faster and still get what I want out of it?”


Next, you will want to assess what reading rate is necessary for the material you are about to read. Pre- reading is the key to this.

Most writers organize material using an: Intro, Development, Conclusion approach. Take advantage of this fact and pre-read as follows:

  • Read the intro or the first 2-3 paragraphs thoroughly.
  • Read the first sentence of the remaining paragraphs (excluding the conclusion).
  • Read the summary or the last 2-3 paragraphs thoroughly.


  • For longer textbook chapters divide the chapter into 2-3 sections and then apply the above process.
  • If you’re really in a hurry, instead of reading the first sentence of paragraphs, just read the section heading or other bold-faced paragraph titles.

Developing Speed

After assessing which reading rate is necessary for the material you are about to read, begin reading at that rate. As you read, seek the main ideas behind the words. Ask yourself, “What is the point of this paragraph?” As you search for main ideas, the details will fall into place.

Naturally, discovering the main ideas as quickly as possible is ideal. Try these tips:


  • Begin and end each new line about 1⁄2 inches in from the margin.
  • Avoid regressions. A regression is a rereading of a sentence. Most times it is unnecessary. Do not give into the urge unless you are truly confused.
  • If you mouth words while you read, you seriously limit your speed. Try reading while biting on a pencil.
  • Don’t sacrifice comprehension for speed.

Developing Greater Comprehension

As you work on developing faster speed, here are some tips to help you comprehend at a faster pace.


  • Read to understand, NOT to memorize.
  • Read aggressively; try to anticipate the author’s thoughts.
  • Ask these four questions after pre-reading and before your thorough reading.
    1. What is the thesis or problem here?
    2. What is your purpose in reading this selection?
    3. What is the sequence of ideas?
    4. What information or ideas are you hunting for as you read?
  • Remember, the first sentence of a paragraph usually contains the main idea.