If you’re like most people, you have an ever-growing list of books to read, and you worry you’ll never get through it. With a speed reading app, however, you can make it through your list and more in no time.
It’s okay if you don’t know how to speed read. While you can take the time to formally learn how to speed read through a course or class, your brain is plenty capable of jumping in, although you might need to start at a lower words per minute (WPM) rate. Some speed reading programs do offer basic tips and guided practices you can start with, if you’re unsure about it. You can even take a simple test to gauge your current average reading speed, to start with.
How Does Speed Reading Work?
When reading, your eyes don’t move smoothly across one word to the next. You look at a word (or a group of words), pausing to process them, which is called a fixation. Then your eyes make a short jump to the next set of words, which is called a saccade. It’s similar to hand-drawn animation, which is drawn one frame at a time, but as we move from frame to frame and see everything all together, it looks smooth and is comprehended by us as a full story.
But other things can happen when you read that can reduce your reading speed, especially if the material is complex or you’re not already familiar with it. Stopping to go back and reread something, which is called regression, takes you out of your reading flow and slows you down. Additionally, saying the words in your head as you read them, called subvocalization, is also common and known to slow readers down.
Many of these speed reading programs make use of a method called Rapid Serial Visualization Presentation (RSVP). Instead of displaying all of the text you’re going to read, like you’d see in a web article or digital book, the method flashes one word at a time on your screen. This method claims to improve your focus and comprehension, though, this works better for easy material when reading for pleasure in contrast to more complex content.
What to Look for in Speed Reading Tools
The best speed reading tools make it easy for you to connect books, articles, and so forth to whichever device you want to read them on, and offer helpful extras. Here are the features every good speed reading program should have, along with why they’re worth having:
- Well-Rounded Device Compatibility: Because readable content is everywhere, speed reading tools should be available everywhere as mobile apps, web pages, or browser extensions. They should also sync your reading progress across multiple devices, so you can read at home or on the go.
- Great Text Compatibility: Some of these speed reading programs are only compatible with digital book files, while others can handle anything you throw at them. Be sure to know what types of content you want to speed read and ensure the program you choose can support them.
- Adjustable Speeds: Everyone reads differently, so one speed won’t fit all. Good speed reading apps let you control the pace and make it easy to hit pause when you need to take a break or go back and reread a section. Beginner and intermediate readers speed read at a pace of 200-400 WPM, while more experienced readers have claimed to read thousands of words per minute.
- Adjustable Fonts: Some fonts are trickier than others for the human eye to process, and good apps will offer you a few fonts to choose from, along with the ability to quickly and easily resize text or adjust the contrast against the background.
- Statistic Tracking: Most of these programs track your reading statistics, like your average reading speed, how your speed has improved over time, and so on. This isn’t a must-have feature, and it doesn’t have any impact on how the app works; it’s just something that’s fun to have for those that care about it.
- Training Options: Not all apps offer training for speed reading, but if you’re new to it, the feature is nice to have built into the app you’ll ultimately be speed reading from. The apps that do offer this should explain how the process works and offer a good variety of guided practice sessions. While having a training option is nice, you don’t need it; all you need to do is practice and be mindful.
Best Overall: Spreeder
Though Spreeder (Free) is a powerful and impressive speed reading tool in and of itself, its built-in training feature is where it really shines. Spreeder helps you identify bad speed reading habits, like regression and subvocalization, and teaches you how to eliminate them while simultaneously helping you increase your reading speed and comprehension. It offers guided training and warm-up courses to help you train your eyes and read faster without resorting to bad habits.
Spreeder is available as a browser extension, iOS app, bookmarklet, and web app. The app works with web pages, bookmarked articles, PDF ebooks, text and HTML files, and you can add anything you want to read to your Spreeder cloud library. The app includes 20,000 free ebooks you can read with topics like personal development, world history, philosophy, and more. It marks where you leave off, keeps things synced across your devices, and tracks basic stats like reading speed and time spent reading, so you can watch your progress and stay motivated. It’s also a cinch to customize things like fonts, reading speed, dark mode, and punctuation pauses, and all adjustments are saved to your cloud account.
Best Premium Option: ReadMe!
Working with Spritz’s technology, ReadMe! (Free/Subscription) makes it easy for you to read PDF, ePUB, and TXT documents, namely books. ReadMe uses the RSVP method, along with technology that locates the optical recognition point for each word, highlighted in red, so you can more easily identify and process each word.
With ReadMe, you can read as fast as 450 words per minute, and if you create and sign in with a Spritz account, you can go up to 1,000 words per minute. Features include the ability to save bookmarks, cross-device syncing, colorful theme choices, and settings books up for offline reading. The only downside is that a subscription ($2.99/month, or $29.99/year), or watching a few ads each day, is required to unlock every feature.
Best App for iOS: Outread
Outread (Free) is a solid speed reader for iOS users. It works with a wide variety of ebook formats and is easy to customize. The minimalist interface is free from cluttered features and gimmicky add-ons, which makes it easy to improve your reading speed and comprehension without distraction. Outreach lets you download and save books and articles to read later, and works with PDF, RTF, DOCX, and TXT files, though, it also has a built-in library of free ebooks and the ability for you to add your own DRM-free ebook files.
The app offers two reading modes: dimming, which shows one word at a time; or highlighting, which highlights the word you should focus on as it moves through the text. It can sync with Pocket, Instapaper, and Pinboard, and also supports offline reading, AirDropped files, and URLs. You can track your progress by reviewing your daily reading stats, customize your library, adjust fonts and your reading speed, and filter your content by date, length, or title.
Best App for Android: Reedy
Reedy (Free) is an intelligent reader app available as a Chrome extension and Android app. It offers three reading modes: speed reading, text-to-speech reading, and standard reading (like what you’d experience on a Kindle or reading an article online regularly. Reedy is compatible with ePUB, HTML, and TXT formats, making it great for avid book readers. It keeps styled links, images, footnotes, tables, and text intact, so you can still interact with them; and it can even automatically create a table of contents for a text file (if it doesn’t already exist) for better organization and bookmarking.
The app lets you customize text size, toggle between light and dark modes, lock the orientation of the screen, and copy and share text from documents. Reedy automatically keeps a quick list of recent files, documents, and bookmarks for easy navigation, and its minimalist interface is easy enough for anyone to use. It even pulls the main text from web articles, so you can easily read them without having to deal with ads or annoying formatting. Reedy uses the RSVP method for fast reading, and you can go up to 3,000 words per minute if you’re feeling crazy. The browser extension has plenty of keyboard shortcuts for optimal use, and works with or without highlighted text selection on a web page.
Best Chrome Extension: Spreed
If you just want a fuss-free speed reader to use in Chrome, Spreed (Free) is your best bet. The simple extension uses the RSVP method to reduce subvocalization as you read. The extension can help you read at 400 words per minute or faster, and you can control the app with keyboard shortcuts for pausing, rewinding, increasing and decreasing text speed and font size, and more. Though it’s currently missing a few features that would make it more user-friendly, like the ability to remember where you left off on a page if it gets reloaded, it’s still a robust option for a free browser extension.