Reading is one of the best things you can do to prepare for standardized tests. The ability to read long passages (without falling asleep) and long, convoluted sentences (without zoning out halfway through) is critical to achieving a great SAT or ACT score. But you have to do more than simply read and comprehend well—you have to read quickly because of the exams' time limits.
So how can you actually increase your reading speed?
Read often. Read a lot. Read challenging material. And choose interesting topics!
In order to build your reading speed, you must practice … reading. Crack open a book or a well-written newspaper or magazine. This can seem like a chore when the book or article is on a topic you couldn’t care less about, but reading about a topic you’re fascinated by (or at least curious about) can make the time fly by.
Did you love the movie 1917? Try the WWI novel All Quiet on the Western Front. Consumed by current events? Don’t just read the headlines—dive into the full articles from the New York Times or Time magazine, or find a book addressing issues you care about.
Taking the ACT? Its Science section is really made up of science-based reading passages! So sprinkle in some articles from Scientific American or science articles from general interest magazines and newspapers. Or pick up a book by a cool scientist—like Neil de Grasse Tyson or Brian Greene or Stephen Hawking—that's written for mainstream audiences, not just academics.
For more ideas, check out our SAT & ACT Recommended Reading List.
Once you’ve chosen your material, there are some things you can do to read more quickly.
The good news is that by simply reading more, your reading speed will naturally increase—even if you're not actively focusing on reading more quickly.
The better news is that there are steps you can take to boost your reading speed even further. The most popular speed-reading techniques focus on reducing subvocalization and eye movement. There are apps that can help you do this by practicing using your peripheral vision to read a chunk of words at a time. If you focus loosely on the center word in each chunk, with practice, you can absorb more words at once, minimize the act of saying words in your head as you read, and still understand what the passage is saying.
Here are some other tricks you can try:
- Use context clues to decipher vocabulary you don’t know (or look up unfamiliar words while you're reading!). The more you build your vocabulary, the faster you will read.
- Use your finger or a pencil to follow along with the words you’re reading.
- Use an index card or other piece of paper to cover the lines you already read so you don’t end up rereading them in a loop.
- Use the index card to cover the lines coming up next so you know where you are and don’t jump ahead.
A word of caution: it's still important to make sure you understand what you're reading. You can continue to improve your comprehension by asking yourself questions about the point being made in the article or chapter and summarizing each paragraph for yourself as you read.
Need more individualized advice?
The recommendations above are general suggestions. If you have specific questions, reach out to our experts here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.
ArborBridge is the global leader in innovative, digital, one-on-one tutoring. With nearly a decade of experience teaching students online, ArborBridge supports students of all kinds: home schoolers, AP students, test preppers, and more. Our tutors specialize in creating personalized plans and in providing compassionate support for students and families.