Perhaps the concept of reading with your fingers isn’t as foreign to you as you might think. After all, when you look for a number in the telephone book, do you use your finger to read down the columns of names? Or when you’re looking back in an article you read for some important fact, do you use your fingers to skim down the page? Many people do.

A pacer is a visual guide—your fingers, whole hand, or a card to move your eyes down and across the lines of text with the results of increased concentration and faster reading speeds.

Using your hands or a card, or any other kind of pacer when reading has many benefits:

• It forces your eyes to focus on a line or section of words.

• It naturally encourages concentration.

• It forces your eyes to move in a directed pattern across and/or down the page.

• It guides your eyes to keep their place and to find the next line accurately.

It involves more of your body in the reading process, which keeps you alert.

• It capitalizes on the human phenomenon where your eyes naturally follow movement. (If you are reading at the kitchen table and a fly flew over the table, your eyes would be attracted to it. If you were sitting in a room with windows, anything that went by the window would attract your eyes and attention. So intentionally putting movement on a page will encourage your eyes to follow that movement.)

• Ultimately, it allows you to read with speed!

When you read, you use your eye muscles to push and pull your eyes across and back over lines. Your hand is a stronger muscle and, when added to the page, adeptly forces your eyes to move along with it.

using fingers for speed reading

Using a pacer is the best way to get into high gears while reading. If you want to get into third, fourth, or fifth gears, add your hands or a card to the page!

When to Use Pacers, and When You Don’t Need To

Readers new to using pacers sometimes believe they have to use the method all the time and on everything. At first, you do want to experiment with it on all your reading. The more practice you have, the quicker you’ll get used to reading with a pacer and the more comfortable you’ll become reading at faster speeds.

Think of a race horse and jockey. The horse comes out of the gate with a lot of energy, and the jockey uses the riding crop repeatedly to stir the horse into keeping pace with the other horses. He doesn’t have to use the crop when the horse is running fast. However, when the horse’s energy starts to falter, the jockey uses the crop to push the horse toward the finish line with speed.

Reading with a pacer is a similar process. You start reading using your preferred method with a lot of energy and speed. As you continue to read, you find your eyes and brain reading quickly on their own and naturally find that you don’t need the pacer. Then for many reasons, such as coming upon unfamiliar material, excessive daydreaming, or various interruptions, you see your speed slipping. Now’s the time to use your pacer again to get you back up to speed.

Columns: Wide or Narrow?

Which do you think is easier to read, wide columns or narrow columns? Wide column text takes up the entire print space of the page going from the left margin to the right, making the lines you read long as well as the return sweep of your eyes back to the next line. The average number of words in a wide column, either on paper or on-screen depending on the page size, is 18 to 25 words. Research recently conducted by IBM shows that readers of wide columns with long line lengths have less comprehension and regress more than readers of narrow columns.

Regression, also known as back-skipping, is when your eyes go back over words they’ve already read.

Single Finger Methods

Let us discuss some of the methods that involve the use of your finger to increase your reading speed

Left Pointer Pull (B)

Left Pointer Pull is a great method for keeping your place and for encouraging your eyes to complete their journey accurately back to the beginning of the next line.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Start by pointing the index finger of either hand and curling in your remaining fingers. (Like you’re giving the “We’re number 1!” sign.)

2. Place your pointer finger on the left margin of the first line of text.

3. Start reading, moving your eyes to the right, and slowly move your left pointer finger down the left margin to the next line as your eyes approach the end of the first line.

4. Continue moving your pointer down the left margin. Encourage your eyes to move faster across the lines to meet your finger at the beginning of the next line.

Right Pointer Pull (B)

Right Pointer Pull is the exact opposite of the Left Pointer Pull. Instead of placing your pointer finger at the beginning of the line, on the left margin, you place it at the right margin. You read to your finger now instead of from your finger as before.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Start by pointing the index finger of either hand and curling in your remaining fingers.

2. Place your pointer finger on the right margin of the first line of text.

3. Start reading, moving your eyes to the right, and slowly move your right pointer finger down the right margin to the next line after your eyes reach the end of the line.

4. Continue moving your pointer down the right margin. Encourage your eyes to move faster across the lines to meet your finger at the end of the line. Starting finger position for the Right Pointer Pull.