We’ve all been there. It’s ten minutes before a big office meeting, and you just realized you forgot to read the documents your boss handed out last week to prepare.
But fret not my flustered friends, there’s still plenty of time to get prepped. We did our research and thanks to a few tried and true speed-reading strategies, skimming those documents—at least enough to absorb the basic info—should be no problem. Read ahead for eight ways to read faster, and smarter, in a pinch.
1. Read titles and section headings
Start by scanning the document for subject titles and headings—often in bolded or underlined font—at the beginning of each section. Carefully read each title and all the subheadings under it, as this will give you the gist of the topics at hand without having to go into detail.
2. Read the beginning and end of the document
Large documents and articles often have introductions or closing sections that quickly summarize the content. So, when time is of the essence, search the document for these two sections (after you have read the titles and the section headers) for a better sense of the topic. And if there isn’t a designated intro or summary in the text, no worries—just read the first and last paragraph of the document instead.
3. If necessary, read the first sentence of each paragraph
If you’ve read through the titles and section headings, as well as the first and last paragraph of the document, and still can’t seem to grasp the information, then your next best bet is to read the first sentence of each paragraph for clarity. You should be able to decipher the main points of each paragraph in the first line or two, so you can clear up any confusion by quickly reading over those.
4. Keep your mouth shut (and chew gum!)
If you thought subvocalizing, aka moving your throat as you imagine speaking the words you’re reading, was allowing you to read faster, then you’d be mistaken. While reading the worlds out loud might help you remember key concepts, it actually holds you back from reading more quickly. Instead of articulating each word as you go, try chewing a piece of gum while you read so you can keep your muscles busy without wasting time on talking to yourself.
5. But feel free to use your hands
Believe it or not, circling or underlining important words or phrases throughout the text will actually help you understand the key concepts more quickly. As you’re scanning through text, do yourself a favor and use a pen to make note of titles, subheadings, bold or italicized text, and words that are used frequently, so you can easily refer to them if asked.
6. Study pictures and diagrams
Whether you’re a visual person or not, there’s no denying the pictures and diagrams present a ton of information, with very little reading (if any) required. Take a minute to study any images or charts provided the document carefully, so you can better understand the topic (without having to actually read it).
If you’ve completed all of the above steps and still have a moment to spare, now’s the time to summarize. Once you finish speed-reading, take a second to write a sentence or so about what you learned, as well as any questions that may have arisen along the way. This way, you will have the opportunity to paraphrase the content in your own words, and you’ll be prepared with questions (and hopefully some answers) if you get called on during the meeting!
8. Try RSVP software
When all else fails, remember you can always download speed-reading software, known as Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP), to your computer or phone for extra help. Apps like AccelaReader allow you to copy and paste text directly into their program, and then flash each word, one at a time—at whatever speed you choose—right back to you on the screen.