Reading speed, skimming, levels of thinking, and critical reading checklist

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Increase your reading speed: Reading speed testSpeed reading: Using a pacerSkimming: a checklistLevels of thinkingFour levels of questionsCritical reading checklist

Increase your reading speed: Reading speed test

Take any randomly selected text of 250 words and read from start to finish, noting the elapsed time on your watch.

Then score yourself as follows:

Time Result
Under 20 seconds Very fast
21-30 seconds Fast
31-45 seconds Average
46-60 seconds Slow
61+ seconds Very slow

If you fall in the slow or very slow range, you may need to learn some strategies to help you increase your speed.

The relationship between reading speed and comprehension is paramount. Read too fast and you may comprehend less. Read too slow and you might fall behind in your readings.

You need to find a speed that is comfortable for you and allows you to get through the readings within your given timeframe.

Strategies to increase your speed

  • During the first read through, try to grasp overall concepts rather than understanding all the details.
  • Don‘t get hung up on single words, but DO look up key words that you must understand to grasp the entire concept. Create a glossary of key words as you read.
  • Use a pacer (e.g. kabob stick, ruler) to stop regression and guide your eyes forward.
  • Focus your attention and concentration. Read for shorter periods of time, if that helps.
  • Eliminate outside distractions (noise, email, etc)
  • Prepare an uncluttered, comfortable environment.


Modified from: Fry, R. (1994). How to Study. 3rd edition. Hawthorne, NJ: Career Press.

Speed reading: Using a pacer

Your primary school teacher was WRONG! Go ahead: use your finger to help you read faster. Using a pacer to guide the movement of your eyes across the page is recommended by reading experts. At first, not looking at each word might feel uncomfortable, so in the early stages use a guide or pacer to force your eyes to move ahead. Speed readers suggest using a very thinly pointed instrument, such as a kabob stick, as fingers are fatter and can obstruct your vision.

If you’re not convinced, try this experiment:

Sit opposite a friend and ask them to draw an imaginary circle in the air with only their eyes. Observe your friend‘s eye movements; they will probably look like the shape on the left below. Now, guide your friend‘s eyes with your finger by drawing an imaginary circle in the air. You will notice that the eye movements are smoother, like the shape to the bottom right. These changes suggest that if you use a guide to help your eyes move smoothly across a page, you will avoid wandering, regressing, fixating—all those bad habits that slow you down!

pentagon to describe unguided eye movements and an oval to describe guided eye movements

You can move the pacer in different patterns depending on your style and the column width, but start by letting the guide take your eyes along each line and down, line by line. When using a pointer, point at 2-3 spots in a sentence for full-length sentences. When you are comfortable with this approach, you may wish to use one of the faster alternatives:

  1. Slide down the middle of the page, especially for narrow column layout.
  2. Move in a zigzag pattern starting at one margin and moving to the other. This helps you target critical words, phrases and ideas. The zigzag pattern is prized by ‘speed readers’.

Erratic eye movements

If you suffer from erratic eye movements, e.g. your eyes jump around on the page and can‘t seem to stay focused on where you want them to be, try using a window slot. Cut out the centre of thick cardboard in the shape and size of one line of print. As you run the window down the page, the eye is limited to horizontal movements only.


Practice these techniques daily, even 5-10 minutes, and your speed will increase. Use the pacer until your speed is where you want it. Some find the pacer so helpful, they use it forever.

Skimming: a checklist


What is skimming?

  • Rapid reading
  • Extracting the gist of the material without reading every word
  • Skipping non-essential or less-essential material


When should I skim read?

  • To make use of my background knowledge
  • To get the general idea of the article/chapter
  • To discern main points and significant detail
  • To set work/ reading priorities


What do I look for when I skim?

  1. Text presentation: headings, numbers, graphics, type style and size, punctuation


  1. Answers to questions: who, what, when, where, why, how


  1. Direction words & phrases: e.g. “however” = idea is taking another direction; “furthermore”  = the preceding thought is still being discussed


  1. Relational words & phrases: e.g. “similarly”, “consequently ”


  1. Organization: cause/effect; chronological; concession argument; compare/contrast


  1. Statements of purpose: “This paper investigates how China and India have emerged as the new Asian Tigers of the world economy.”


  1. Statements of propositions: “The economies of China and India will overgrow those of Europe by 2020.”


  1. Statements of conclusions: “The economic boom in China and India will probably continue because…”

Levels of thinking

 pyramid of bloom's taxonomy

Create: innovate or invent a theory or product. Key words: generate, plan, produce

Evaluate: make judgments based on criteria and standards, often involving conflicting data. Key words: check, critique, judge


  • Analyze: identify components, relate individual parts to one another and overall structure or purpose. Key words: differentiate, organize, attribute, compare.
  • Apply: use a procedure in a given situation, solve a problem, move from theory to practice. Key words: execute, implement, solve

Understand: determine the meaning. Key words: interpret, exemplify, classify, summarize, infer, explain, describe, paraphrase

Memorize: retrieve relevant knowledge from long-term memory. Key words: recall, choose best answer.


Adapted from: Bloom, B.S. (2002). Revised Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Boston MA: Allyn and Bacon

Four levels of questions (in ascending order of complexity)

Questioning at various levels moves you to thinking at those levels. When we only ask basic questions, we think basic thoughts. Questioning at deeper levels leads to deeper thinking.

Summary & definition questions (focus on facts and details)

  • What is/are…?
  • Who…? When…? Where…? How much…? How many…?
  • What is an example of…?


Analysis questions (focus on concepts)

  • How…?
  • What are the reasons for…?
  • What are the types/functions/processes of…?
  • What are the causes/results of…?
  • What is the relationship between X and Y?
  • How does …apply to…?
  • What is/are the problems or conflicts or issues…?
  • What are possible solutions/resolutions to these problems or conflicts or issues…?
  • What is the main argument or thesis of…?
  • How is this argument developed…?
  • What evidence or proof or support is offered…?
  • What are the other theories or arguments from other authors…?


Hypothesis questions

  • If…occurs, then what will happen…?
  • If…had happened, then what would be different…?
  • What does theory X predict will happen…?


Evaluation questions

  • Is … correct or incorrect? … effective or ineffective?  …relevant or irrelevant? …clear or unclear? …logical or illogical? …proven or not proven?  …ethical or unethical?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of…?
  • What is the best solution to the problem/conflict/issue?
  • What should or should not happen?
  • Do I agree or disagree? What is my opinion? What is my support for my opinion?

Source: York University.

Critical reading checklist

Use the following set of questions to help you to read more critically.

  • What is the claim? What are the conclusions? What are the grounds or reasons for the claim? What underlying assumptions support the groups and claim?
  • What are the definitional and descriptive assumptions, the value conflicts, and the value assumptions?
  • What backup evidence supports those assumptions?
  • What refutations could be brought forward against the claim? Under what conditions can the claim not be made?
  • What qualifiers appear in the claim? What words or phrases are ambiguous?
  • Are the samples representative and the measurements valid? Are there flaws in the statistical reasoning?
  • Are there alternative causal explanations? Are there any errors in reasoning?
  • What significant information is omitted?
  • What alternative conclusions are consistent with the strong reasons? What are your value preferences in this controversy?