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Help! I can't read fast enough!

Help! I can't read fast enough!


Did you know that the average person reads at around 200 words per minute (wpm). This is double how fast you speak! In other words, it's possible to read very quickly and still understand well if you train yourself to. Do you translate words while you read? Are you reading out loud? These habits might be slowing you down. Watch the video below for a cool way to improve your reading speed using the excellent program at If you like it, you might also like the app that spreeder make. 

How do I know my reading speed?

You can measure your reading speed at sites like or if you're interested, but it's ok to start reading and find a speed you can understand the text at, then work towards getting faster while still understanding. If you're wondering how you compare to Australians, you can do a test by Staples which will compare you to the national average. Keep in mind that improving your grammar and vocabulary might also be necessary for your reading skills to improve, but that's a whole article in itself so we won't get into it here! Lastly, these comparisons can be interesting, but remember that in the end, the only person to be better than is yourself yesterday. 

But if I read fast I don't understand:(

Then slow down! Like all good things, improving your ability to read and understand texts faster takes time. Give yourself lots of opportunities for practice and lots of rest! Some people find keeping a record of their speed and watching it increase helps. To ensure that you are always understanding what you read as you try to increase your speed, try strategies such as stopping while you read and trying to recall what you just read, or making up questions for yourself as you read (e.g. 'What was the main idea?' or 'How can I say this in my own words?').

Do I have to read fast? 

No. It depends on why you're reading. For example, if you're reading critically like this RMIT Learning Lab page explains, you will need to take more time. However, to pass an English test, you need to be able to read and answer questions AND check them within a time limit. Likewise, at university, you will probably need to read a lot of journal articles for research, not to mention long book chapters. So work towards a speed that allows you to understand the meaning but leaves you more time for fun! 

How often should I practise?

As always, the answer is 'it depends'. What does it depend on? Your other commitments, your energy levels, your learning goals, your resources etc. Ideally, you read at least one text every day if you're an English student. This is on top of any homework and practice on other skills, of course! In terms of speed, try reading above your reading speed for a paragraph, then dropping it back to your current speed. You can also increase the speed gradually every time you read by 10 wpm, but make sure the focus is always on understanding the majority of what you read. To really see improvement, reflecting on your past successes and having a schedule for your language practice is the final ingredient for success! 

In short:

  1. Work on improving your speed gradually.
  2. Be patient with yourself - it takes time.
  3. Focus on understanding meaning not individual words.

Reflect and then work out a schedule that allows time for both practice and relaxation. 

Let us know what you think with a comment, and come in for Academic Support or start a chat below if you have any questions. 

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