Speed-Reading Tips for UPSC Civil Services Exam Preparation

If you are preparing for the UPSC civil services exam, you would probably be horrified at the sheer volumes of material you have to read. The UPSC syllabus is known to be extensive and comprehensive. You would be wondering to yourself, ‘If only I had a magic wand to help me finish off reading all those books.’ Don’t get disheartened. Speed-reading can be your saviour. For the uninitiated, speed-reading is a technique that can increase the number of words you read per minute. An average adult can read 250 words per minute. With speed-reading techniques you can double your speed to about 500 words per minute. Imagine the time saved!

Speed-Reading Tips for UPSC Civil Services Exam Preparation

Causes of Slow Reading

There can be various factors like sub-vocalisation, word-by-word reading, poor concentration, inefficient eye movement and regression while reading that leads to slow reading.


When you started reading at age 3, you would have read aloud every word. As you got older, you read silently. Even as you read this, notice the sound in your mind corresponding to every word you read. This is called sub-vocalisation. It is also called ‘silent speech’ or ‘internal speech’. This involves small movements in the larynx and other muscles. These movements are undetectable but necessary for reading. We cannot completely stop doing this, but we can minimise it to improve reading speed.

Word-by-word reading

When we read each word separately, our reading slows down. Experts recommend reading by ‘chunking’ together blocks of words. In fact, most of us are doing this already but we should try and expand the ‘chunk’, i.e., increase the number of words that we read in a block. The more the number of words you read in one block, the faster you read.


Concentration is an important factor that can increase or decrease your reading speed. Don’t multi-task while reading. Focus on your job at hand and read. You can increase your speed as well as comprehension with higher concentration levels.

Eye movement

Slow readers tend to keep their eyes a little closer to the reading material. This way the number of words you see per fixation is less. If you move a little away from the book (not too far as you should be able to read it), you can widen your gaze and increase the number of words per fixation. Also, your peripheral vision increases this way.


Regression means to go back to a word, sentence or page you have previously read. You generally do this if you feel you haven’t understood a point or you have forgotten it. This obviously decreases your pace. Avoid this by improved concentration.

Speed Reading Tips for UPSC

  • Skimming

When you read a lengthy text, it is not essential to read everything. Learn when and how to skim the important facts included in it. Look for bold headings and sub-headings. Look for highlighted text. This way you can get the gist and points to remember from your text. For instance, the author may have written a funny anecdote that is not required for the UPSC syllabus. Skimming is also an essential tool to solve the comprehension passage in the English language paper.

  • Avoid sub-vocalisation

As explained earlier, this ‘silent reading’ reduces your reading speed. Avoid this by conscious practice.

  • Use pointers

When you read, move a pointer at the text. This pointer can be your finger or a pen. Move it along the text and don’t stop.

  • Don’t regress

Avoid re-reading unless you absolutely have to. By focusing hard you can skip going back to what you already read and save precious time.

  • Chunking

Chunking is a method to increase the number of words you see in an eye fixation. You read by moving your eye from one fixation to the next. So, keep your eyes at an optimum distance from the book and try to expand your view. Incorporate more words per fixation and naturally increase your reading speed. This will also come with practice.

  • Focus

Any activity can be done more effectively and efficiently by concentrating hard. So, focus and get more things done in less time! Also read | How to Improve Concentration for UPSC Civil Services Preparation

  • Keep your eyes at an optimum distance from the reading material.
  • Genuine interest

It is said that you must love what you do. This way, work doesn’t feel like work! Similarly, you must have a genuine interest and liking to what you read. By liking what you read, you can improve speed and comprehension as well.

  • Practice

The only way to increase your reading speed is to practice. Don’t give up too soon. To cover the vast syllabus, you must employ some techniques in your UPSC civil services preparation.

  • Time yourself

While you practice, check how long you take to finish a particular portion. This way you can check if your speed-reading practice is giving you any benefits or not.

Caution: When not to employ speed-reading?

Remember when you are dealing with points of law, highly technical aspects which you are not familiar with, or complicated step-by-step processes and procedures, it is wise not to read too fast. There is always a trade-off between speed and comprehension. When you are in familiar terrain, employ this technique as your understanding levels are good enough.

Also read | Time Management for UPSC Civil Services Preparation

For more UPSC related preparation tips and articles, visit the links given in the table below:

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